Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Mysteries of the Dead Sea Scrolls - Schoolhouse Crew Review

New Liberty Videos review
I love studying history, and the history of my faith and the Bible holds special interest for me. That's why I was very glad to have the opportunity to review Mysteries of the Dead Sea Scrolls from New Liberty Videos recently.
New Liberty Videos Review

New Liberty Videos is a family-owned company founded by former TV editor Brian Barkley. When Barkley became a Christian in 1977, he dedicated himself to producing quality Christian movies and DVDs. Schoolhouse Review Crew members recently had the opportunity to review several of the titles produced by New Liberty Videos:
The DVDs cover a variety of topics, from United States history to Biblical history. I chose the DVD Mysteries of the Dead Sea Scrolls. This 60-minute DVD is divided into three parts. Part One is about 15 minutes long and gives information about the discovery and background of the important archaeological find known as the Dead Sea Scrolls. Part Two is titled "Hebrew Word Pictures" and gives a brief overview (about 15 minutes) of the structure of ancient Hebrew and the layered meanings of the word pictures. Part Three is "The Forbidden Book" and is about 30 minutes of history of how the Bible came to us in English. 

New Liberty Videos Review

I had rather expected Mysteries of the Dead Sea Scrolls to be more of a documentary, but in fact the three segments of the DVD are filmed lectures at a museum. There really isn't information given about which museum or where, so I did a little checking, and my understanding is that it is filmed at The Bible Museum, Inc. in Arizona. The three knowledgeable lecturers are each presenting to a roomful of visitors to the museum, so it's more like joining in on the museum tour than watching an on-location investigative documentary show.
Part One: The Dead Sea Scrolls is presented by Joel Lampe. In about 15 minutes, Mr Lampe covers the basics about the Dead Sea Scrolls and their significance in archaeology and in Biblical studies. The term 'scrolls' is actually rather misleading, because there was only one complete scroll among the fragments found. In fact, there are about 19,000 fragments of writing, which scholars have been painstakingly piecing together since they were discovered in the 1950s. Mr Lampe explains and demonstrates how infrared technology finally made it possible to read most of the fragments; and gives an overview of the geography and history of the area around Qumran where the scrolls were found. He covers a lot of information in a short amount of time, and at times I was reminded of certain museum or historical site tours that I have taken where I felt that the tour guide was reciting the information on auto-pilot - with all the expected inflections of tone and emotion, but just a bit hollow. That said, if you want a good no-frills overview of what the Dead Sea Scrolls are, and why they matter, this covers it very efficiently.
Part Two: Hebrew Word Pictures with Dr. Frank Seekins was my favorite segment of this DVD. Dr Seekins gives a 15-minute crash course in reading ancient Hebrew. It was fascinating to see how our own alphabet letters are based on the ancient Hebrew characters, and that each Hebrew character represents both a sound and a picture. The language is also relationship-based, with additional layers of meaning in words and phrases because of the ideas represented by the picture characters, and how the picture characters are related to other characters in the same word. Dr Seekins shows several words and sets of words, and guides his (mostly older) audience in sounding out the words and understanding the relationship meanings of the words. An especially interesting example was the word for "mother/mommy" which also means "first or strong water", so she is an oasis and a source of life. It is also the same as the Hebrew word "amen" which means faithfulness; and Dr Seekins makes the point that God is using a mother's love as an example of faithfulness, and it helps us understand the word pictures that God uses to describe his own love for his people. I enjoyed Dr Seekins' presentation and could have gladly watched a much longer segment like this. 
Part Three: The Forbidden Book is a presentation by Dr. Craig Lampe, the owner of The Bible Museum, and the International Director of the World Bible Society. This segment is about 30 minutes long, and is a quick trip through history to highlight some aspects of church history and how the Bible was preserved and translated from the time of Byzantine Empire through the Reformation. Dr Lampe explains how Jerome's Latin translation became the only allowed version of the Scripture throughout the centuries known as the Dark Ages. He touches on the tyranny of religion during the 14th through 16th centuries, when women and poorer people were not allowed to learn Latin, and when it was illegal to teach children from the Bible in their common language. We also learn about John Wycliffe and his incredible task of compiling the Latin texts (which were very different!) and translate them into English; and teaching Biblical truths to as many English speaking people as possible. Later, Gutenburg's printing press made the Latin Bible more widely available, and the fall of Constantinople brought Greek and Turkish refugees to Europe. The renewed interest in Greek prompted Erasmus, a professor of Greek studies, to print his own parallel Bible - with Greek and Latin texts side by side. Then came Martin Luther, who eventually took that parallel Bible and translated God's Word into German. Finally, Dr Lampe tells about William Tyndale, the brilliant English linguist who went to Luther in Germany in order to work on translating the Scriptures into a picture langue in English. At the end of his presentation, Dr Lampe also talks a little bit about the original meanings of some of the Hebrew words and how our modern ideas of what these words mean are quite different from the original intent! Do you know that the word "Torah" means "what comes from the man nailed to the cross" and that the word picture meaning for "woman" is "mighty warrior"? This was another presentation that covered a lot of ground in a short time, making it a scramble to take notes, but I found it very interesting and it certainly whetted my appetite for more.
Following the second and third segments, there is a screen showing a book available by that speaker, along with a website where it can be purchased, but there is no 'sales pitch' or additional information about the speakers or the organization they represent. I had mixed feelings about that. I would have liked the DVD to make it clear who the speakers were, their credentials, and some information about when and where these presentations were filmed; but I'm glad that it didn't pressure me to buy something else. While there was undoubtedly a bit more to the presentations than what was shown in the DVD (and New Liberty Videos also has a full 60-minute DVD titled "The Forbidden Book" which I think would probably be Dr Lampe's full presentation), what was included here did feel complete.
What we liked best:
  • good overview of the topics - enough to satisfy curiosity and hit the highlights, and perhaps encourage further study.
  • the presenters, especially Dr Seekins and Dr Lampe, clearly had a passion for the subjects they were discussing and enjoyed sharing that knowledge with others.
  • although filmed very simply during a presentation before a live audience, I was impressed at the sound quality - there was no background noise or distraction from the audience that I could hear or see.
What I need to mention:
  • I wish information had been provided on the DVD or on its cover about who the speakers are, their background or qualifications to speak knowledgeably on their topics, and where these presentations were given. I had no idea who these people were, or what made them trustworthy sources of information.
  • While each segment does give plenty of information and is not boring, in my opinion, it is simply a video of lectures, with no flashy cinematography or on-location footage. Viewers should know not to expect that from this DVD, and it may not hold attention of younger viewers because of that.
Our bottom line: I felt that this was a good informational overview about the Dead Sea Scrolls, the ancient Hebrew language, and the preservation of Scripture throughout history. My husband and I watched the DVD, and our kids will watch it as part of their history studies, but in our home it wasn't something that the kids would have chosen to watch on their own. It may also be useful for adult Sunday School classes or Bible study groups that are studying these topics, giving background and understanding. For example, recently one of our study groups at church was discussing the Dead Sea Scrolls and many of the adults in the group knew very little about them or their significance - the perfect setting to show the first segment of this DVD.

New Liberty Videos Review

Would you like to see New Liberty Videos for yourself? Here's what you need to know:

Pricing: Mysteries of the Dead Sea Scrolls is available for $19.95. Visit the New Liberty Videos website for information about other titles and pricing.

Recommended Ages: Videos are for a general audience of all ages. In my opinion, Mysteries of the Dead Sea Scrolls is suitable for upper elementary through adult.

Visit the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog for more information and to read other reviews. Crew members reviewed other titles from New Liberty Videos, so be sure to check out those as well! 
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