In 1947, a young Bedouin scrounging around some caves about 15 miles from Jerusalem came across some sealed clay urns and unearthed one of the most important archeological discoveries of the century -- the Dead Sea Scrolls. The scrolls are 2,000-year-old fragments of Hebrew manuscripts written on parchment, leather and copper. Some are transcriptions of Torah portions, others contain commentaries on the Torah, and still others contain records of a separatist Jewish sect in the mid-Second Temple era that established itself high on the hills of Qumran, where the scrolls were found.
A Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit is currently on display in Los Angeles, at the Visitors Center of the Mormon Church in Westwood. Mormons have a particular affinity for the Dead Sea Scrolls. They see parallels between themselves and the ascetic Qumran sect, and they believe that the history of a group of Jews who opposed the rulers in Jerusalem and went to live in the desert as described in The Book of Mormon is actually talking about the Qumran community.
For the past few years, Mormon scholars from Brigham Young University have been collaborating with scholars from Hebrew University in Jerusalem and the Israel Antiquities Authority to translate, study and electronically preserve the scrolls on CD- ROM.
The exhibit contains a model of the Qumran community, models of the urns that the scrolls were found in and facsimiles of the scrolls themselves, including 24-foot long replica of the Isaiah Scroll, the largest of all the Dead Sea Scrolls. On display are genuine artifacts from the era -- a few coins from that were minted in Qumran and some clay oil lamps that were found near the scrolls themselves. It also has information about the process used to decipher the ancient scrolls, many of which were completely blackened with age when they were found.
While the exhibit is small, containing only five stations, it is enough to whet one's appetite for the very big history contained in the scrolls themselves.
The Visitors Center is located on Temple Hill at 10777 Santa Monica Boulevard. To arrange for groups or for more information, call (310) 474-1549.