Dead Sea Scrolls get new life

The most extensive public display of 2,000-year-old Biblical documents just got a refresh.

At the Discovery Times Square exhibit “The Dead Sea Scrolls: Life and Faith in Biblical Times," a new set of 10 documents have been installed to replace the previous set on display. The new collection includes a section from the book of Isaiah and two scrolls never before seen by the public, “Greek Minor Prophets” and “Job Targum.” was given exclusive access to observe conservators removing the set of scrolls and installing the new fragments. The latest 10 pieces of the scrolls were transported in special cases (we were asked not to describe them or take pictures) from Israel to New York.

Painstakingly replaced over the course of several nights, it took five evenings to update the entire exhibit -- work conducted in low light with black cloths shielding each section to avoid any unnecessary exposure of the fragile parchment.

Show curator Risa Levitt Kohn, a professor of religious studies at San Diego State University, told that the team worked fastidiously to protect the scrolls, which is why particular pieces were given only a limited run in the display.

While humidity, temperature and light are constantly monitored to prevent deterioration of the documents, the texts were only allowed to be on public display for three months at a time. The scrolls that were on display for the last 90 days are now being returned to vaults at the Rockefeller Archaeological Museum in Jerusalem.

The exhibit is designed to appeal to the general public, history buffs, and Christian and Jewish visitors. It contains, for example, 500 different artifacts dating back as far as 3,000 years, including a giant stone from the Western Wall and several ossuaries (stone containers used to store human bones). Among the ossuaries are those somewhat controversially speculated to have come from the family tomb of Jesus.

Among the newly installed scrolls is a section from the book of Isaiah, which will resonate with many Christians. Also included in the copy of Psalms are passages that will be instantly recognized by Jewish visitors as these words from thousands of years ago are still part of services today.

The Dead Sea Scroll fragments are part of a larger ancient library of approximately 900 different texts that are now in tens of thousands of fragments. The collection of parchment, which includes texts written in Greek, Aramaic and ancient Hebrew, was discovered in a series of 11 caves near the Dead Sea in the mid 1940s and 1950s.

The majority of the Dead Sea Scrolls collection from those caves are now housed in the Rockefeller Museum in Jerusalem. The Shrine of the Book in Israel holds some of the most intact examples. Additional scrolls, including the Copper Scroll detailing the location of other ancient treasures, are in the Jordan Archaeological Museum in Amman, while a number of other fragments are in university collections and private hands around the world.

Public displays of the Dead Sea Scrolls are rare. However, in the U.S. a fragment of the book of Genesis from the Dead Sea Scrolls had been on display at the Passages exhibit in Atlanta, GA. The Atlanta show features ancient texts related to the Christian Bible and is based on one of the largest such private collections, that of the Steve Green, president of Hobby Lobby.

The “The Dead Sea Scrolls: Life and Faith in Biblical Times" exhibit in New York City will continue at the Discovery Times Square until April 15.

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