Sunday 25th April

Unlocked for Lockdown?

The Judean desert, as you may have seen for yourself, is a place of gaunt beauty much of it little changed since Biblical times. Among many striking features are the caves found near the ancient settlement of Qumran. Their entrances can be seen high up on the towering precipices all around.

The story relating to the caves riveted the attention of school parties we took there on trips to Israel. The caves, you’ll recall, held the Dead Sea scrolls, a collection of Jewish texts discovered by Bedouin shepherds in the 1940s and 1950s. Subsequently cleaned and studied, the writings shed valuable light on a range of literature, much of it Biblical.

Very recently, some twenty further pieces of parchment were found (among other remarkable items) in the Cave of Horror – so called because of the skeletons of women, men and children uncovered in earlier excavations.

These newly revealed fragments are believed to be the remains of scrolls stashed in the cave during a Jewish uprising against the Roman Emperor Hadrian between AD/CE 132 and 136. They are Greek translations of the Hebrew Bible books of Zechariah and Nahum, when, as ever, vital ingredients of civilized living like truth and justice were in short supply.

The only fragment quoted in the article about the discovery is uncannily timely – ‘unlocked for lockdown’, one might say. It reads: ‘These are the things you are to do: speak the truth to one another, render true and perfect justice in your gates’ (within your communities).

At a time when too many political leaders brazenly lie, to gain or retain their power, and care little about justice (fair sharing of wealth and resources), the wisdom of the ancient prophets is hauntingly relevant. For if we are to confront our own Cave of Horror (Covid-19, accelerating species extinction, global pollution, the climate crisis), it’s surely imperative that leaders and people in every sphere of life do indeed ‘speak the truth to one another, and render true and perfect justice’. 

Edward Hulme