Last September, I had the privilege of speaking at Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS) and meeting with students about participating in our Ai Expedition at Khirbet el-Maqatir excavation in Israel. I have known of the school since I began reading books by DTS professors as a new believer in 1970, and just visiting the campus was exciting for me.
That weekend my wife and I stayed in the home of Carroll, excavation staff member of our Tall el-Hammam Excavation Project (TeHEP) in Jordan. TeHEP director, Steve Collins, and his wife also joined us and that Friday evening we all went to the Texas Christian University vs. Southern Methodist University football game. This was the first college football game I have attended in over 40 years and it was lots of fun. Both of Carroll’s children attend TCU, so guess on which side of the stadium we sat? Since TSU went undefeated the whole season, including a win over Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl, and finished 2nd in the nation in both the AP and Coaches rankings, this was also an experience I will cherish for a long time.
Yet, there was one more thing that made this weekend so meaningful for me. I have wanted to write about it since that day, but I needed to wait until the school made a public announcement about the event. I recently read such a news report, so it is official and now I can share my story. On that Saturday, we were all invited to participate in a workshop for staff and graduate students at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS), sponsored by the school’s Tandy Institute of Archaeology.
During 2010, SWBTS acquired 6 fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls which have been in private collections for decades. Now, for the first time, they can be analyzed and added to the general body of knowledge about the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Biblical text. The workshop was developed around a very high-tech photography project sponsored by the school in association with the University of Southern California’s West Semitic Research Project (WSRP).
The West Semetic Research Project, under the direction of Dr. Bruce Zuckerman, utilizes the latest technology in high-definition digital images and has specialized in the enhanced imaging of Dead Sea Scrolls. The WSRP team was at SWBTS that weekend doing a series of high resolution imaging using equipment and technologies that seemed to me to be right out of CSI. In fact, the camera work was so sensitive that when they started shooting an image, we could not walk around the room to insure not the slightest vibration would affect the process. And we were able to see every image they captured through projection onto a large screen in the room.
Preliminary analysis indicated all the fragments came from the Old Testament – the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Psalms and Daniel. One of the fragments was of Psalms 22:4-13, called a Messianic Psalm which predicting the suffering of Jesus almost a 1,000 years before He was crucified. Daniel fragments among the Dead Sea Scrolls suggest that book was written in the general period of the story, not as late as many scholars suggest today.
This was such a special time for me. I got to handle Dead Sea Scroll fragments – although they were sealed inside small glass cases. And with the images being projected on the screen in real time, we got to view details on these fragments which had never been seen before. One particular notation on the Deuteronomy fragment caused quite a stir because the Zuckerman team had not remembered seeing such on any of the Dead Sea Scrolls before. I felt like a kid in a candy store.
But, probably the most meaningful thing was that it happened at all. In the fall of 2005, Dr. Bryant Wood and I had been invited to SWBTS to offer our assistance in reestablishing their graduate program in archaeology. We met with various faculty and staff, wrote some proposals and made our recommendations. That same week we also had lunch with archaeologist Steve Ortiz, in the area at that very time because Hurricane Katrina had damaged both his school and home in New Orleans.
SWBTS did begin that graduate program and, the following year, Dr Ortiz joined the SWBTS faculty as both Associate Professor of Archaeology and Biblical Backgrounds, as well as Director of the Charles C. Tandy Archaeology Museum. The Dead Sea Scrolls workshop we attended gave me the opportunity to see all that God had done to bring the archaeological department along since I was there in 2005. Honestly, the word that came to mind was “miraculous,” and it was particularly gratifying to me because I did my part to help get it started.
But, total disclosure here – I actually wanted the archaeological professorship Dr. Ortiz got. In reality, my own credentials were not sufficient and he was way more qualified. It’s not that I didn’t like my job at Helping Up Mission, but I wanted the opportunity to teach archaeology to future pastors. So, I understood that I was supposed to stay right here and continue doing what I do. I practiced what I preached and committed myself to “bloom where I was planted.”
That was over 5 years ago and, boy, have things ever happened around here since then! In fact, the word “miraculous” comes to mind – again. I am so glad I did not miss out on all the cool stuff God has done here at Helping Up Mission. And I have seen some of the plans for the future…you won’t believe it!
This is a special place and I am so grateful that God brought me and kept me here these 11 years. I love what I do and have made the commitment to stay here until I retire – that is 8 years from now, if anyone is counting. But I am also grateful for all the other ministry opportunities and life experiences the LORD has given me. It’s a wonderful thing to have a personal relationship with the God of the Universe.
Still working at it one day at a time,
Pastor Gary Byers
Spiritual Life Director