Donald Parry: Dead Sea Scrolls expert

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Seven thousand miles away, in the depths of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, Donald Parry’s excitement begins to build. Behind a series of heavily armored doors, security checkpoints and cameras similar to a scene in a Hollywood movie, lay the Dead Sea Scrolls.

“Working on the actual Dead Sea Scrolls and going into the room where they are located … it’s like Christmas or my favorite birthday,” Parry said. “To work on scrolls that date to the time before Jesus Christ — it’s unbelievable.”

Not everyone is allowed to view, let alone handle and study, the sacred documents, but Parry, a professor of Hebrew Bible and Dead Sea Scrolls at Brigham Young University, has been a member of the International Team of Translators of the Dead Sea Scrolls since 1994 and visits Jerusalem about once a year to study the ancient artifacts.

[media-credit name=”Mindy Jeppesen” align=”alignright” width=”300″]Professor Donald Parry works on the Great Isaiah Scroll.[/media-credit]
Professor Donald Parry examines the Great Isaiah Scroll.
The Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered between 1947 and 1956 in a series of caves near the Dead Sea. They are a collection of religious texts, including books from the Hebrew Bible, that date back to the time before Jesus Christ. The scrolls are considered invaluable to all religions, including Christianity and Judaism.

“They are priceless,” Parry said. “Literally priceless. I don’t think there is an insurance company that could insure them for any amount what they are worth to scholars, who value their content far more than their monetary value.”

Parry grew up in Melba, Idaho, but his interest in ancient scripture peaked shortly before his mission to Liverpool, England, while studying about the Prophet Joseph Smith.

“I was impressed that Joseph Smith, and others in the school of prophets, took time out of their busy schedule to learn how to read and translate the Hebrew Bible. They were so serious about it that they even hired a professional Hebrew instructor.”

Joseph Smith is credited with making statements that the Hebrew Bible is clearer and more correct than the translated versions. That inspired Parry to begin learning Hebrew and spending his free time studying the scriptures.

“I just love the scriptures so much,” Parry said. “I thirst for scriptural knowledge. When I found out that I could get a degree in what I loved to do on my days off, I was overjoyed.”

After earning both bachelor’s and master’s degrees from BYU, Parry furthered his education with graduate studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Over the years, Parry and his family have lived in the Israeli capital a number of times for a total of close to two years. It was an experience that his wife, Camille, said blessed their entire family.

“It was life changing. One of the best things that came out of it is that it made our family extra close,” she said. “The caliber of people that you meet is very interesting and I was able to get to know some of the natives of the country. You also get to meet people from all over the world because it is a pilgrimage destination for so many.”

Camille has been by Parry’s side for nearly every step of his career. The two are college sweethearts who met at BYU when she was a freshman and he worked at Carson’s Market, now the BYU Creamery.

“I forgot one ingredient for that dinner, so I went to the store, and as I was picking out a can of apple pie filling, he approached me and asked if I was going to make him an apple pie. I said, ‘First of all, I don’t know you, and, besides, this is going to be an apple cake.’ That generated a conversation and then he asked me out.”

Together the couple have raised six children and, aside from Parry’s intense study and research habits, continued to forge bonds with their growing family.

“He’s a character and a fun-loving, great guy,” Camille said. “One of the things that impresses me most about him is that he wants to be with his family more than anything. He is very dedicated in everything he does.”

That dedication is evident, as Parry is currently working on finishing another book on the Dead Sea Scrolls to go along with his other 37 published books.

“For being such a serious and busy scholar, Don is certainly a pleasant, helpful colleague,” Meredith Nelson, professor of modern Hebrew, said. “He has a distinct ‘How are you?’ that I often hear through my office door and that is unaltered whether he is talking to a freshman or a fellow professor.”

Parry is the head of the Hebrew section in the Department of Asian and Near Eastern Language and is a part of several international professional organizations associated with the Dead Sea Scrolls. He was also a member of the Board of Directors of Brigham Young University’s Institute for the Study and Preservation of Ancient Religious Texts until 2005.

Along with these many accomplishments, Parry said he feels very fortunate to be in the position he is today.

“I found my passion,” Parry said. “I just started pursuing it with degrees, started studying the Hebrew Bible and now I am blessed to be doing what I love to do so much.”

Parry will give the University Devotional Tuesday, July 31, in the de Jong Concert Hall at 11:05 a.m.

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