The Dead Sea Scrolls Exhibition

Dr. Hava Katz

Ever since their discovery, the Dead Sea Scrolls have been the focus of archeological research. The importance of the Dead Sea Scrolls to the history and development of Judaism and Christianity is unquestionable. At the same time, they leave us with many unsolved questions and much room for debate as to their interpretation. The Scrolls are also a rich source of scientific research material for a wide variety of disciplines such as paleography, radiocarbon analyses, DNA studies, etc. They were found in a very fragmentary condition, comprising thousands of fragments varying from small pieces measuring a few centimeters in size, to substantial fragments that were better preserved.

Why do the Scrolls continue to generate such fascination? They include the earliest examples of biblical compositions - the same texts that are still read by millions today. The expression "The People of the Book" has received further support with the Scrolls' discovery. The treasuries of the Jewish people are not filled with precious objects but with written words that have contributed to the cultural and spiritual development of mankind. Although the texts are mainly religious, they do provide hints of historical data, offering us a tantalizing glimpse of life during the Second Temple period and the opportunity to understand the attitudes, the desires and aspirations, as well as the art of the people of that time. These scrolls, hidden away in the barren hills of the Judean Desert near the shore of the Dead Sea, reveal to us the theological doctrine of a sect that had separated itself from mainstream Judaism, and tended towards asceticism and apocalyptic beliefs.

Although the word Essene is not mentioned in the scrolls, the attribution of the site to the Essenes quickly achieved a consensus. Surveys and excavations carried out in the area in the last decade have led some scholars to question this view. The archaeological evidence found at Qumran and in the surrounding caves can be interpreted in a number of ways and today, various hypotheses exist concerning the site, the people and the connections between the site and the scrolls. Still, many scholars continue to view the site and the scrolls as being of Essene origin. In the exhibition, we have chosen to follow these scholars, but also to provide room for critical assessment and interpretations on certain issues. In addition, academic conferences and a series of public lectures round out the exhibition, enlightening the deferent aspects of research.

The Israel Antiquities Authority is committed to exhibiting the Dead Sea Scrolls before as wide a public as possible, so as to pass on the knowledge that we have accumulated, and to establish a direct connection between Israel and the peoples of the world. The Dead Sea Scrolls were first exhibited in the Library of Congress in Washington in 1993. As opposed to other temporary exhibitions, the appeal of the Dead Sea Scrolls has not faded over the years. They still awaken in audiences feelings of identification, intellectual stimulation and excitement. The Scrolls have been exhibited in four continents; yet there are still many new requests to host Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition. Consequently, the Israel Antiquities Authority must balance its interest in exhibiting the Scrolls with its duty to conserve and preserve them in optimal conditions. This is accomplished by displaying only selected scroll fragments for short periods of time.

The main focus of the Scroll exhibition is the fragments of the scrolls themselves, representing the books of the Hebrew Bible as well as sectarian writings and "extra-biblical" (apocryphal or pseudepigraphical) literature. The Scrolls are accompanied by related archaeological finds from the nearby site of Qumran. These simple artifacts, representing the material culture of the inhabitants, reflect the social tenets. That can be compared with artifacts from other, contemporary sites. The exact composition of the exhibition varies from place to place, and tries to keep pace with the most current research and discoveries.

A team of curators and conservationists of the Israel Antiquities Authority is constantly improving and updating the exhibition. This has contributed to its long-lasting popularity.

The page presents a summary of the exhibition: the Scrolls, their historical and archaeological context and the wide range of other finds. The Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition offers an opportunity to contemplate the relationship between ancient Israel's spiritual and material cultures, and opens a window upon one of the most important chapters in the history of the two religions, modern Judaism and Christianity.

Contributors - Israel Antiquities Authority

  • Donald T. Ariel, Curator of Numismatics
  • Hava Katz, Chief Curator of the National Treasures
  • Robert Kool, Curator of Numismatics
  • Tamar Rabbi-Salhov, Curator of the Dead Sea Scrolls
  • Alegre Savariego, Curator of the Rockefeller Collections
  • Orit Shamir, Curator of Textiles and Organic Materials
  • Naomi Sidi, Curator of Special Projects
  • Tanya Bitler, Conservator of the Dead Sea Scrolls
  • Joseph Bukengolts, Conservator of Pottery
  • Elisheva Kamaisky, Conservator of Pottery
  • Elena Libman, Conservator of the Dead Sea Scrolls
  • Oded Raviv, Conservator of Stone
  • Pnina Shor, Head of the Department of Artefacts' Treatment and Conservation
  • Tania Treiger, Conservator of the Dead Sea Scrolls
  • Asia Vexler, Conservator of the Dead Sea Scrolls
  • Raisa Vitinsky, Conservator of Textiles and Organic Materials
  • Clara Amit
  • Tsila Sagive
  • Mariana Salzberger

Additional Information

For more information, please contact Dr. Orit Shamir , Coordinator of exhibitions abroad - National Treasures

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Linen Wrapper, Qumran