Prof's talk looks at historical significance of Dead Sea scrolls at ROM

York history Professor Steve Mason will discuss the historical understanding of the Essenes in light of the discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls in 1947 as part of the Anne Tanenbaum Lecture Series at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) on Wednesday.

Mason, Canada Research Chair in Greco-Roman Cultural Interaction at York, will present “The Historical Problem of the Essenes” on Sept. 16 at 6pm and again at 8pm, at the ROM. The Anne Tanenbaum Lecture Series, featuring international scholars on the Bible and Dead Sea Scrolls, is being held in conjunction with the ROM’s Dead Sea Scrolls: Words that Changed the World exhibition, which runs until Jan. 3, 2010. Mason’s lecture is one of 14.

Steve Mason

Steve Mason

Historical understanding of the Essenes, a group known since antiquity from Greek and Latin historians, took a decisive turn with the discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls in 1947 and after, says Mason. The theory that quickly displaced all others during the 1950s held that the site of Qumran, and many of the scrolls found nearby, were Essene creations.

Mason's lecture reopens the question of the Essenes. Inviting the audience to enter the historian's study, the issue is thought through from the ground up. What is history anyway? How is a historical investigation constructed? How would historians investigate the problem of the Essenes today, if they were doing it for the first time? If historians follow the standard procedures of historical research, understanding the Greek and Latin evidence as it is in the 21st century, how might their investigation differ from that of the 1950s? Would it suggest different results?

These are some of the questions Mason will address during his lecture. To help illuminate these issues, he will compare other historical matters concerning first-century Judaea.