Ancient Words

August 23, 2010 | 18 comments

We drive north a few hundred miles for a final farewell to summer. We cram days with outlet malls and fast-food. We test stomachs on rollercoasters and waterslides and a wave pool where manmade breakers lift us — all giddy — off our feet.

But we save a day for this. Just. This. Words.

I lean against the wall in the museum lobby, waiting for the exhibit doors to open. The sign overhead reads: “The Dead Sea Scrolls: Words that Changed the World.”

I hold museum audio-tour players up to my daughters’ ears, and they strain to understand what the narrator says. Something about Bedouin shepherds and Qumran caves and fragments of scrolls that we would see once the big doors eased open.

I’m sure they’d rather be back at the hotel pool, cannonballing, but they’re here for their mama. They know what this means to me.

I lean my head back, close eyes, and think about all those years when I didn’t believe a word of the Word.

Now, I can’t survive without it.

The doors swing open wide their welcome, and before I step across the threshold, I read the sign again, the one about words changing the world.

And I think about words changing me, too.


Room after hushed room, the story of the Dead Sea Scrolls unfolds slowly behind glass displays. There’s so much, and I can hardly take it in, and we haven’t even seen the scrolls yet. It’s the pottery shards and the bits of ancient

phylacteries, and the science of words, long preserved. And I wish I’d brought a notebook, because I know I won’t remember it all, and I just want to get to the room where the real food is — the holy words on fragments of animal skin — but I can’t get enough of the archaeological appetizers either.

I hunger, deep.

The audio-tour guide tells about the paleographic evidence and the carbon-14 dating and a young shepherd searching for a stray goat in the Judean Desert. The guide says the shepherd accidentally stumbled upon jars filled with ancient scrolls. And I laugh out loud in a quiet room at the likelihood of this great and holy “accident.”

Signs mark the exhibits with dates like 75 BCE — Before Common Era. That’s a scientist’s way of describing what we’ve traditionally come to know as B.C., Before Christ.

I peer through glass at the soles of a 2,000-year-old pair of sandals. I wonder about the feet that wore them, padding through caves to hide words in clay jars.

And I want to hide words, too.

And I stand there frozen, taking it in. This I know: no matter what the scientists say, all of life comes down to BC and AD. All of life is defined by who we were BC — Before Christ came — and who we are becoming Anno Domini.

I need my faith to make full sense of all this science propped on easels and spread under glass.

And the eight-year-old girl understands it, too. She tugs on my pant leg and whispers her revelation.

“Mommy,” she says. “God made that goat go in that cave so the shepherd would find the scrolls.”

And I nod my enthusiastic yes. For I’m sure of it, too.


I wait now, outside the room that holds the five fragments. Just five of the 100,000 they uncovered from the caves are here in a Minnesota gallery. I turn the silver band on my right ring-finger to find the LORD’s name etched in Hebrew. I know it looks like this:


I want to see those four letters, all lined up in black ink on yellowed parchment. That’s all. Just the Lord’s name. I won’t be able to read any of the rest of it, written in Hebrew and Aramaic. I just want to see the name of Yahweh.

I shuffle along the wall, into a dimly-lit room with five glass cases.

I devour words I cannot read, looking for the name of the Lord. I hunch over display cases, hungry. Yet I cannot find His name.

God, I’ve come all this way. I cry on the inside a selfish prayer.

The fragments are smaller than I thought they’d be. They’re torn and fuzzy behind thick, dark glass.

I press nose to glass and leave fogs of desperate breath on one case after another.

I hover over the final display, tracing lines and parchments with squinting eyes. I plead once more. Is it too much to ask, Father?

I’m begging now, hunched over top of one of the oldest Bible texts known to man, and all I can see are undecipherable words and my own reflection.

And that’s when I see it: Not the name of Yahweh, but simple me.

In ancient words, I find myself.

And wasn’t that always the point? That in the very search for God, we would discover our true selves not for the sake of self, but for the sake of Christ? That we would search the Scriptures to find God, and realize He’s been there all the time?

I look at the woman in the reflection and realize, that in the midst of this fallen state of humanity, He calls me Redeemed, and calls me to be His image-bearer, a reflection of Him.

I carry יהוה

These words that changed the world?
They’re changing the woman, too.

I saw her in the reflection.


Photo: A fragment of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Courtesy of Israel Antiquities Authority.

by | August 23, 2010 | 18 comments


  1. Red Letter Believers

    Those words are amazing,aren't they? They have changed the world by changing lives.

    What an opportunity to see history — and true change

  2. Anne Lang Bundy

    Jennifer ~

    Our family traveled to see those same scrolls some years back. I can feel every word of your post pound in my heart. I also searched for YHWH. I wanted so badly to touch those parchments, as if they might bring me closer to His Word, and to Him Who is the Word.

    The reflection in glass. How apt a description of our image compared to His. We see dimly now. We will see face to face.

    I will one day reach out a loving finger and touch the face that made me, the scars that purchased me.

    "All of life is defined by who we were BC — Before Christ came."

    Amen, Jennifer. Amen!

    I loved this post SO much. *sigh* : )

  3. Laura

    Oh, Jennifer.

    This just gave me goosebumps! What a treat to see these ancient scrolls. Oh, my goodness, what I wouldn't give to go! You have captured the way a moment stands still so perfectly in this beautiful post. Thank you, my friend, for taking me there.

  4. Angel


    One word comes to mind – Inspired. I'm sure others will follow as I continue to chew on this feast of words and truth you've given us today. Thank you for this (and for your sweet visit to my blog this weekend.) I appreciate your encouragement as I too seek the revelation of ancient words.

  5. Sandra Heska King

    Oh, Jennifer. I don't think I breathed through this whole post. But my heart throbbed, and I trembled, I too wanted to see, to touch.

    And with your reflection, I see mine and His. And one day we will touch and see–face to face–with no veil or mirror between us.


  6. Deidra

    One year my family drove from Michigan to Virginia to see my grandparents for Christmas. We drove at night and gazed through frosted windows at the Christmas lights that twinkled through snow on houses and bushes and up flag poles.

    My mother broke the silence and said, "These beautiful lights wouldn't be here if it hadn't been for Jesus."

    It's been more than three decades since my mother said that to us in the dark. I remember it like it was yesterday. I remember it today as I read your words about the Word that changed the world – changed you, changed me, changes us still.

    This is so perfect. You are a blessing, walking around with that Word oozing out and changing things and people as you go…

  7. n. davis rosback

    yes, our search, when He is with us all along.

    i love it.

  8. Steph

    Jennifer we too went to see the scrolls this summer in June. I wept when I saw the words, they were so beautiful! I too looked for God's name, but I love how you said in your post you saw your reflection – the mark of God on you! That is awesome! Thank you for this it reminded me of the exhibit all over again. My kids liked the coins that we could see dated from when Jesus was alive!

  9. Sara

    This is beautiful! I had the great joy of seeing this tour when it was in Missouri. It was awe-inspiring to stand before these ancient parchments, to think of the hands that wrote down the words of faith and hope that have upheld us through millenia. Thank you for this beautiful post!!

    P.S. One of the interesting archeological finds for me was a louse still in a comb!!

  10. Duane Scott

    Oh my. How long is that exhibit going to be there? I've got to get up to the science museum. I want to see it too.

  11. Janis@Open My Ears Lord

    Awesome how His word changes us as we see ourselves captured by it.
    Sacred even in viewing its fragments.


  12. Karen

    What a blessing this has been to me…I felt as if I were looking in the glass cases with you…..

  13. Connie Mace

    2004…I'm standing in the "Shrine of The Book" in Jerusalem…museum of the Dead Sea Scrolls…tears flowing,on the verge of gulping sobs, gazing at words GOD told Isaiah to write…thank you Jennifer…for taking me there again

  14. Missy

    What an amazing and awesome experience this had to have been.

    Jennifer, you are such an example to what a true Christ follower should look like. Thank you for those of us that have not been believers for very long and who look to you as a role model.

  15. Lyla Lindquist

    Still trying to imagine this…

  16. Melissa Runcie | Madabella

    i saw some of the dead sea scrolls several months ago and still haven't fully processed it all…i almost feel like i don't fully understand the depth of what i've seen…

    and yes, His words. Oh His Word. They have changed me, too, sister friend. They are life source. Praying they will be my very breath – my inhale and my exhale…

  17. A Simple Country Girl

    A farewell to summer and a "hello" to so much more.

    You wrote a piece of beauty here.


  18. Jennifer

    Oh this image…just incredible.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Pin It on Pinterest