New exhibit leaves more questions than answers

Meredith Gallagher

For over 2,000 years, the Dead Sea Scrolls had been hidden away from the world. Then, in 1947, a Bedouin shepherd discovered the first scroll preserved within an ancient clay jug in a cave at the abandoned settlement of Qumran, Israel. Since then, the scrolls have thrown the academic world into a whirlwind of questions. Who wrote the scrolls? Why did they write them? How did they get there? Why were they left behind? Though historians have yet to reach any conlusions, the Science Museum of Minnesota attempts to answer these question with their enlightening new exhibit The Dead Sea Scrolls: Words That Changed The World.

Labeled as one of the most important archaelogical finds of the 20th century, the Dead Sea Scrolls contain around 900 complete ancient documents–including the oldest known Biblical writings–written in either Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek. Dated between 150 bce and 70 ce, the scrolls have more significance than just biblical: they are a window into a way of life from over 2,000 years ago, and the exhibit reflects this. It contains hundreds of artifacts from ancient Israel–pottery, jewelery, sandals, linen, eyeliner applicators, combs, dried fruits–and highlights many of the objects found alongside the scrolls inside the caves.

The exhibit focuses primarily on the mystery surrounding the scrolls. Though originally attributed to the Essenes, an ancient Jewish sect, recent evidence has questioned this theory, and the exhibit thoroughly explores each viewpoint. With optional audio commentary from respected historians, professors, and scientists available to the visitors, the exhibit goes extremely in depth into all areas of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Whether it be the geography of the region, the daily life of the people in the area, or the debate on whether the scrolls were really all produced by the same Jewish sect, the exhibit includes all aspects of the scrolls.

The highlight of the exhibit awaits in the final room where four scroll fragments lay, lit beneath a protective glass. Next to each scroll is a larger inscription in its original language and then an English translation. The significance and history behind each text is also explained. Written simply on parchment, the scrolls look too fragile to have survived for 2,000 years, but survived they have, and it is awe-inspiring to be able to see the individual brush strokes created by a scribe who lived during the time of Jesus.

Though probably not the best exhibit for younger children, the academic, historical, and religious significance of these scrolls should not be missed. The exhibit is at the Science Museum through October, so there are plenty of chances to see it.