The Dead Sea Scrolls: A Path to the Book Of Mormon Interview with Stephen Ricks

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Darryl: Hi, I’m Darryl Alder, with the searchsaiah.org team and this is Discover with Darryl. Today, we have Shirley and Stephen Ricks with us who’ve had experiences in the Jerusalem center. Steven is probably one of the only people I know besides Don Perry, who’s had a chance to examine the Great Isaiah Scroll.

Steven: I haven’t, but Don has had good experience with reading and studying the Great Isaiah Scroll.

Darryl: I was fascinated to find this book, The Dead Sea Scrolls: Questions and Responses for Latter-Day saints. It Seems like there’s 70 if I remember, and lots of them were timely. So, one of the things that we’re finding in working with college students, millennial age students, they have a lot of questions about the validity of the Book of Mormon. They hear about Deutro-Trito Isaiah, and there’s some insights we could probably gain from the Dead Sea Scrolls. Can you share some thoughts with us?

Steven: The writers of the Dead Sea Scrolls were deeply interested in Isaiah. It is perhaps the most thoroughly studied and widely quoted book that one finds in the Dead Sea Scrolls. I think only the book of Psalms are quoted more frequently. And the Great Isaiah scroll that you had mentioned before that my colleague, Don Perry, has been working on is the only scroll that has been copied completely.

Darryl: Do we have all 66 chapters of Isaiah?

Steven: All of the chapters from the Great Isaiah scrolls are still extant and accessible for reading.

Darryl: So, your background is in the humanities, and you speak Hebrew?

Steven: I have studied Hebrew, as a student studying biblical Hebrew.I also studied for a couple of years at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. I say to people, even though I got my degree from the University of California, Berkley and Graduate Theological Union in Near Eastern religions, I got my education at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. It was huge and determinative in my life, and I did not spend a great deal of time studying Isaiah, but I have been able to study Hebrew and the other Semitic languages.

Darryl: When you look at ancient Hebrew, is it vastly different than what you studied?

Steven: Not a great deal different. Modern Hebrew is a renewal of the ancient and medieval Hebrew languages. If you can read modern Hebrew, Biblical Hebrew was not particularly difficult, although there may be a few changes in grammar and syntax, and in vocabulary. When you know modern Hebrew, it’s a little trickier, but you can learn. If you know Biblical Hebrew, you can learn modern Hebrew.

Darryl: When you look at the markings on The Great Isaiah Scroll, is that something you could still read?

Steven: Yes. The Great Isaiah Scroll is something that those who look at The Dead Sea Scrolls in Hebrew would be able to read. There are no vowels since vowelling didn’t get developed until about the 7th or 8th century AD but it’s quite legible. I’m guessing my colleague, Don Perry, who has done a great deal of study of this when he teaches his class also asks them to read the Hebrew script, which is quite recognizable from the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Darryl: If we refer back to this book again, The Dead Sea Scrolls: Questions and Responses for Latter-Day saints,  is there one that stands out for you, a question and response that you and Don gave?

Steven: The one thing that I do recollect is the similarities between what we find in the Dead Sea Scrolls and what we find in the Book of Mormon.

Darryl: And you wrote a paper about that, I’ve seen it at the Maxwell Institute. I love the beginning, where you talked about, they left the mother city…

Steven: They left the mother city because they saw that it had become irretrievably corrupt and was ripe for destruction. They went out into the wilderness whereas the peoples of the Dead Sea scrolls settled in a community there. The family of Lehi continued down, what we describe now as the Silk Road through the Arabian Peninsula and continued from there across the Arabian Peninsula and took a ship from the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula to the Americas.

Darryl: So, are there some other similarities between the Qumran community?

Steven: They loved the Scriptures. Excuse me for interrupting you. Those that were part of Lehi community, with the exception possibly of Laman and Lemuel and the members of the community at Qumran, they loved the Scriptures. Nephi particularly was keen about the book of Isaiah. Just as the writers of the Dead Sea Scrolls quoted extensively from Isaiah and devoted their attention to copying Isaiah, so we find in the Book of Mormon extensive quotations from Isaiah.

Darryl: One of the things that I noticed as I was looking through your publications, is that you had worked with other scrolls, not the Isaiah Scroll. Did anything jump out at you as you examined any of the other Qumran scrolls?

Steven: Yes, the role of the community among the Dead Sea Scrolls is the one that I have done the most extensive work with, and though I haven’t yet published about it, I have become fairly well acquainted with the background of it. It is the regulations for the life of a community that lives out in the desert. I do remember a connection between what we find in Isaiah chapter 40 and what we see quoted in the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Whereas in the Isaiah materials, we find a phrase, a voice crying in the wilderness, ‘kovl kovre’ the voice that cries in the wilderness, prepare ye the way of the Lord. The Dead Sea scrolls writers seeing themselves as that true Israel that had made their home in the wilderness, recasts it to be a voice of one who calls out ‘In the wilderness’ prepare a way for the Lord.

So, the wilderness becomes crucial to them for preparing a way for the Messiah. The peoples of the Dead Sea Scrolls, also the family of Lehi was Messianic Israelites. The Messiah was keenly a part of the focus of the writers of the Dead Sea Scrolls as also Lehi and his family, and Isaiah as well.

We see in the quotations that we find of Isaiah in the Book of Mormon, some of the key themes that are mentioned by Isaiah. They include the Messiah, the temple, and the scattering and gathering of Israel. Isaiah, I could describe quite easily as a Messianic Israelite.

The family of Lehi can easily be described as a family of Messianic Israelites, and the writers of the Dead Sea Scrolls can be described as a group of Messianic Israelites. They all looked forward with great anticipation to the coming of the Messiah, all of them.

Darryl: And all of this six to seven hundred years before Christ was born.

Steven:  That’s right.  It’s as though, even before the birth of Christ, there were people who were Messianists. They were Christians before there was a Christian Church. We can understand the Book of Mormon better if we see it as a record of Messianic Israelites that left Jerusalem and made their way to the new world and lived there with great messianic expectations.

Darryl:  Well, we really appreciate you coming in for this interview today. We hope to have you come back really soon, thank you for joining us.

Steven: Thank you so much.

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I am a retiree from Scouting. There I blogged for VoiceOfScouting.org, a site with more than 250,000 readers. During 42 years in the workplace, I've had many years senior level management with the BSA, professional associations, and high tech user groups. My background includes capital fundraising; outdoor adventure program development; property and construction management; event/conference planning; risk management and safety; lobbying federal, state and local government agencies; public relations; strategic planning; member advocacy and staff/volunteer training. Along the way, I have also taught Gospel Doctrine Classes and been both the ward and stake Sunday School President. In these settings, I have seen teachers and class members minimize Isaiah, a book Christ has commanded us to "search diligently." (3 Ne 23:1) With that in mind, I will do my best to explore and post my discoveries about the book of Isaiah. I am not a Bible scholar; like you, I read Isaiah in the Old Testament cycle of study in LDS Gospel Doctrine Classes and again in the Book of Mormon Cycle, so this is a whole new scripture adventure for me.

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