“Dead Sea Scrolls: The Exhibition” is the current Franklin Institute presentation of 20 ancient Biblical texts (10 scrolls at a time, in two rotations) that are part of the miraculously preserved trove known as the Dead Sea Scrolls. The scrolls are believed to date from around 250 BCE to 68 CE and were discovered in a group of caves near Khirbet Qumran, close to the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea in Israel.
The first cache of scrolls was discovered in 1947 when a Bedouin shepherd casually tossed a rock into a cave and heard a pot shatter. Over the following eight years, archaeologists excavated a series of caves and found thousands of parchment fragments that included the oldest known copies of the Hebrew Bible. The parchments, some no larger than a postage stamp, were pieced together during the decades that followed.
The identities of the people who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls remain unknown. Many scholars believe that they were written by members of a sect that broke away from mainstream Judaism and lived in the desert from the third century BCE until 68 CE, when their community was destroyed by the Romans. Other scholars believe that the Dead Sea Scrolls also include writings from other areas, including Jerusalem. Whatever their origin, they provide the most complete existing record of these writings that changed the world.
The discovery of the scrolls was hailed as the most important archaeological find of the 20th century for a number of reasons. Even at the time the Dead Sea Scrolls were written, scrolls were rare, though writing was fairly common in Egypt, Greece and the Middle East during the period. Most people were illiterate, and papyrus and parchment were expensive. Of the few scrolls that were created, even fewer survived, since parchment is very fragile. In addition to destruction in fires, floods, or battles, parchment can be damaged by humidity and light. The age of these scrolls is astonishing: the next-oldest surviving parchment scrolls bearing the words of the Bible date from nearly 1,000 years later.
“There are few periods in history that we can look back to as moments that defined the emergence of a world-changing civilization or a culture,” said Dennis M. Wint, Ph.D., president and CEO of the Franklin Institute. “The Dead Sea Scrolls are considered to be amoung the world’s greatest archeological discovieries, and combined with the hundreds of other rare artifacts, provides visitors with an unparalled look at what everyday life was like thousands of years ago in isreal. It was a crucial time for three of the world’s religions — formative years for Judiasm, Christiany and Islam — whose followers today make up a third of the world’s population.”
In addition, the discovery of the scrolls shed light on the language used in the Bible. The words and knowledge in the Bible were most likely spread through public readings of the scrolls. The beauty of the language that dates back over 2,000 years is found again and again throughout the texts, and is highlighted in the following prose: “In the year six hundred of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the first [day] of the week, on its seventeenth [day], on that day all the springs of the great abyss were split and the sluices of the sky opened and rain fell upon the earth for forty days and forty nights."
“Dead Sea Scrolls: The Exhibition” is on view from May 12 to October 14 at the Franklin Institute, located 2000 Benjamin Franklin Parkway. For more information, visit www.fi.edu.