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If you are ever in sunny southern California, browsing through the library of the Claremont School of Theology, you might find it rewarding to wander upstairs. In a seemingly inconspicuous conference room you would soon be greeted, and possibly daunted, by the imposing figure of a stele displaying the ancient Code of Hammurabi.

After composing yourself from any hint of initial consternation, you would undoubtedly want to know how such a valuable artifact came to reside in such foreign (un-Babylonian) accommodations. Having come this far, you would soon discern the caption conveniently placed beside the monolith. You might be disappointed in the revelation that the stele is actually a reproduction; its provenance lies not in the faraway, arid deserts of Mesopotamia but in the neighboring, metaphorical jungles of Hollywood. However, any consumer of popular culture would be placated in learning that the copy before you is even better known and more beloved than the original that inspired it. The counterfeit stele is, in fact, a genuine movie prop from the classic, though not classical, 1950's Hollywood blockbuster The Ten Commandments.

Tearing yourself away from those first moments of enchantment with the handsome figure, your eyes might suspiciously dart around the no-longer-ordinary conference room in which you found yourself. At least mine did—and I am happy to attest that the stele is the only movie replica situated in the room, but that the space also contains various other items no less beguiling than this relic of Hollywood history.

While the room is prosaically named the "Trever Seminar Room," Qumran buffs will immediately recognize the significance of such an appellation. John C. Trever may not be as publicly acclaimed as Charlton Heston, but his role in discovering, acquiring, and photographing the Dead Sea Scrolls is equally legendary. The reproduced stele and genuine artifacts interspersed about the conference room are all parts of the John C. Trever Dead Sea Scrolls Collection, which Dr. Trever bestowed upon the Claremont School of Theology in 1981. The Trever Collection is furthermore adjunct to Claremont's larger Ancient Biblical Manuscript Center (ABMC), which is also available for public perusal.

Among the most evocative items in the collection is the actual camera that Trever used to take the first photographs of the scrolls during the period of February-March 1948. In addition, the miscellany also includes pottery shards from Qumran, an extensive collection of ancient oil lamps, and various photographs of the Dead Sea Scrolls in both intact and fragmentary conditions. Another focal point of the room is an "unrolled" reproduction of the great Isaiah A scroll, which was spliced from prints of Trever's original photos. The scroll, spanning roughly twenty feet, lines an entire wall of the room and is truly an impressive sight. The actual parchment now resides at the Shrine of the Book in Jerusalem, but only two columns of the scroll are currently on public display there due to the rapid deterioration of the scrolls since their discovery. Thus, Claremont's reproduction is a unique experience, in that it allows the visitor to admire the scroll in complete and impressive fashion as it existed five decades ago and before it began to succumb to fading and fragmentation.




As mentioned earlier, the Trever Collection is only part of the larger Ancient Biblical Manuscript Center, which—albeit not as accessible to the casual visitor—is far more significant for current biblical scholarship. Like the Trever Collection, the ABMC is open to the public, though only on Mondays and Fridays.

Appropriately enough, the ABMC began with the accumulation of Qumran materials. In the decades following its inception, the Manuscript Center further expanded its holdings of photographic archives of Jewish and Christian texts, and it now possesses the world's most comprehensive collection of Dead Sea Scroll images. The collection also preserves material from the West Semitic Research Project, Bruce and Kenneth Zuckerman's groundbreaking photographic and computer imaging effort, which has allowed scholars to examine previously undecipherable manuscript material. Additionally, the ABMC offers images from its collaboration with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. With the use of digital and infrared photographic techniques, it has been possible to illuminate formerly indiscernible text from the Dead Sea Scrolls, as well as identify and interpret palimpsests. Yet another highlight of the collection is the high-resolution images from the Leningrad Codex, which an ABMC team photographed in 1990. These materials represent only a small sampling of the photographic stock stored in the center's climate-controlled vault. While all of these materials are available to the public, they are of most value to those with fluency in ancient languages. Therefore, unlike the artifacts on display in the Trever collection, the manuscripts of the ABMC will most likely appeal only to those with scholarly backgrounds and interests. Unfortunately, and for all its merits, the ABMC has not sought to preserve photographs of Hollywood memorabilia!

For more information about the Ancient Biblical Manuscript Center, or to schedule an appointment, you can contact either Mariko Yakiyama (myakiyama@abmc.org) or Susan Bond (sbond@abmc.org) at the center. You can also visit the website at: http://www.abmc.org

Ben Su, graduate student, Creighton University, benjsu@yahoo.com

Citation: Ben Su, " The Ancient Biblical Manuscript Center," SBL Forum , n.p. [cited June 2005]. Online:http://sbl-site.org/Article.aspx?ArticleID=413

 
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