Everything about the Dead Sea Scrolls suggests mystery. Collected by a radical Jewish sect, perhaps Essenes, who lived monastically in the arid and almost lifeless Judaean wilderness, the scrolls include over 800 Jewish manuscripts—many biblical—dating from as early as 250 B.C. The scrolls were hidden in the caves of Qumran, on the northwest corner of the Dead Sea, so that the Roman armies would not destroy them on their way to conquer Jerusalem. The Essenes, of whom we know little, expected to liberate the scrolls when their community was liberated by the Messiah. The Romans prevailed, however, and so the scrolls stayed hidden for almost 1,900 years. But the mysteries don't end with the scrolls' discovery 50 years ago, which many label the archaeological event of the century. Since then, the scrolls have been a pawn of Mideast politics and the cause of an unusual number of academic scandals.
Which makes Trinity Western University in verdant British Columbia in Canada an unlikely port into this cryptic world. A half a globe away from the caves of Qumran, the campus's spiraling western cedars and low-hanging utility lines have nothing in common with the stark terrain of the Judaean desert. And when it comes to history, the school boasts only its Seal Kap House, where the sealable cap for milk bottles was invented.
But step through the front door of the Seal Kap House and you are transported back to ancient Palestine. The languages of choice are Aramaic and its descendant Syriac, Hebrew (biblical, Qumranic, and rabbinic), Greek, and Latin. The residents are twentieth-century evangelical Christian scholars Peter Flint, Martin Abegg, and Craig Evans, who form the core of the school's Dead Sea Scrolls Institute, but ...1