A local university student-faculty team’s “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity to study the Dead Sea Scrolls recently resulted in a book that includes their research findings.
Lisa Wolfe, professor of religion and Endowed Chair of Hebrew Bible at Oklahoma City University, said she and her students were ecstatic when findings from their research project were published recently in “Dead Sea Scrolls: Fragments in the Museum Collection” (Brill, $119.00).
Wolfe said she and students Allison Bevers Jean, Kathryn Hirsch, Leigh Smith and Daniel Ethan Watt studied a Psalm 11 fragment from the Dead Sea Scrolls, which are the oldest known version of the Hebrew Bible.
She said the project was made possible through the Museum of the Bible’s Green Scholars Initiative, the research arm of the Museum of the Bible.
Wolfe said representatives with the Scholars Initiative reached out to her to gauge her interest in participating in the Dead Sea Scrolls project. She said she opened the opportunity up to students taking her Biblical Hebrew I and II classes and several of them became part of the research team.
Wolfe said it wasn’t a hard sell — not many college students get to study the Dead Sea Scrolls, which some historians, theologians and archaeologists consider one of the most important archaeology finds in the 20th century.
She said there are so few scroll fragments available that have not yet been researched in this kind of detail that getting a chance to research one was “mind-boggling,” especially after she discovered the OCU team would be working with a world class editorial team of Dead Sea Scroll scholars and that the end product would be a publication with all of the team members’ names on it.
“This was a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Wolfe said.
“Part of it is the ‘Wow, that is amazingly cool!’ factor” but there are definitely specifics and some of them are broad learning outcomes — things like gaining a different kind of understanding about the history and the nature of the biblical text and learning first hand how academic collaboration, research and writing works.”
Kathryn “Katy” Hirsch, who became part of the research team before graduating in 2015, said the opportunity to study the scroll fragment was life-changing. She said when she got her copy of the book, she showed it to her senior pastor at Edmond Trinity Christian Church with pride.
“As a ministry nerd and a history nerd, this was just the best thing that ever happened to me,” she said during a recent public forum held at OCU to discuss the project.
Another member of the research team, Ethan Watt, said he enjoyed the project so much so that he, like Hirsch, continued to work on it after his graduation from OCU in 2013. Watt said he serves as youth minister at First United Methodist Church of Duncan and he likes to discuss the research project with the youths he leads.
Michael Holmes, executive director of the Scholars Initiative, is a biblical manuscript authority and professor of early Christian writings.
He said the OCU student-faculty team’s project fit within the Scholars Initiative’s mission because the program’s main task is to connect artifacts in need of research with scholars who have the skills and knowledge necessary to research a specific artifact and who will involve students in the research process.
“This particular approach reflects the double goal of the Scholars Initiative: first, researching artifacts in the Museum Collection in order to understand and appreciate their significance, and second, encouraging the next generation of scholars by giving them an opportunity to join in ‘hands on’ primary research of ancient artifacts,” Holmes said.
Holmes and Wolfe said other university teams also studied Dead Sea Scrolls fragments as part of the project and their findings are also included in the new book.
Holmes said to date, the Scholars Initiative has 98 scholars and 151 students, representing 65 academic institutions, working on 70 different research projects. He said about 400 students have been involved in the Scholars Initiative research since the program’s inception in 2011.
Wolfe said she and her team members found themselves in a unique position because, unlike other university research teams across the country, OCU is just a few miles away from the Oklahoma City headquarters of Hobby Lobby, where the Green Collection of biblical artifacts has been housed.
The Green family which owns the nationwide arts and craft retailer, amassed what is called the Green Collection of biblical artifacts (now called the Museum Collection), which includes the Dead Sea Scroll fragment studied by the OCU team. The family is building the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C., to house these historic items and other related items.
Wolfe said OCU’s proximity to the Hobby Lobby headquarters made it easy for the team to visit the retailer’s headquarters twice to see up close the fragment they had been studying mostly through digital imagery.
Holmes said the OCU research team, like other Scholars Initiative teams, were given an opportunity to tour the entire Museum Collection and the collection’s work-research area, something that always excites visiting scholars.