Last week I visited an exhibition of some of the Dead Sea Scrolls at the Science Museum of Minnesota. The five small scroll fragments on display are featured together under glass in a darkened room and they're carefully guarded.
The exhibit is wisely designed so visitors encounter the fragments after wandering through a large hall providing an historical and archaeological context. Maps, photos, artifacts and an excellent self-guided audio tour provide a sense of time and setting for not only the scrolls, but also for the origins of modern Judaism and Christianity. (A virtual tour of the Second Temple was so fascinating that I watched it three times.)
Among artifacts on display: small clay oil lamps, water jars, sandals, coins, glass bottles and bits of cloth. One water jar had a label indicating it was of the type mentioned in John 2:1-11, the wedding at Cana where Jesus performed his first miracle and turned water into wine.
I'd always pictured those jars as being very much larger; same for oil lamps, which turned out to be minuscule. On the other hand, the cloth was more colorful than I would have expected from a time and place when colored dyes were so difficult to obtain.
Since these small daily artifacts and the scrolls dated from around the time of Jesus, any one of them could conceivably have been seen, touched, or used by him, although given the ubiquity of such items in and around the Holy Land, that possibility is remote. Nevertheless, I found myself tempted to assign them more importance than they perhaps deserve. We do long for some actual, physical connection with him sometimes, don't we?
Anyway, while looking at the artifacts I found myself thinking about the Archdeacon and his treatment of the Holy Graal in Charles Williams' novel War in Heaven (which I highly recommend, BTW). The Archdeacon finds himself in accidental possession of a chalice he believes is the Graal. There is always a tendency to idolize such objects and some of his companions have started doing so. The balance is struck by the Archdeacon as he murmurs this prayer while putting the chalice away one evening, "Not Thou, and yet, Thou."
Scrolls, lamps, sandals, jars and coins, then and now.
Not Thou, and yet, Thou.
Interested in the Dead Sea Scrolls? Wikipedia provides a good introduction to the Dead Sea Scrolls, as does this interesting site that includes fresh news as well. Douglas Mangum reviews the Minnesota museum site here.