June 14, 2007
San Diego museum culls worldwide collections for Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit
(Page 2 - Previous Page)The Copper Scroll, arriving for the first time in the U.S. from the Department of Antiquities in Jordan, is the most mysterious and intriguing of all. Hammered into a thin sheet of copper, the text cites some 64 locations where more than 100 tons of gold, silver, scrolls and priestly items were supposedly hidden.
They have never been found, and nobody knows why, or if, they ever even existed.
Kohn is particularly moved by the Psalms scroll.
"We have a very large piece of the Psalms scroll coming, and when I saw it - it's one of the easier texts to read if you can read any Hebrew - I recognized immediately that there were prayers in the psalms on the scroll that are still used in synagogues today," she said. "I thought, 'wouldn't it be amazing to stand in front of the case and look at the text and hear how the prayers are sung today. So I enlisted the wonderful voice of a friend of mine who came in and we taped her."
Upon entering the exhibition visitors will be surrounded by stunning photographic landscapes by Israeli photographers Neil Folberg and Duby Tal, exploring Israel's unique beauty and the lowest, saltiest place on earth - the Dead Sea.
Visitors will then enter an area called "Discovery and Science," where they will be transported back to the original mid-century excavation of the caves where the scrolls were discovered, and of Qumran, a site close to the caves. Original archaeological tools, artifacts, photographs and a replica of the archeologists' tent will re-create the excitement of the scrolls' initial discovery.
The discovery area will give way to an exploration of the science of the Dead Sea Scrolls, where visitors will see how scientific methods unlock the mysteries of the scrolls and help researchers better understand them. The exhibit investigates scroll preservation, DNA and chemical analysis, infrared technology, Carbon-14 dating, and digital document reconstruction.
"Techniques such as computer imaging weren't available in 1980, and four or five years ago it wasn't possible for people to have access to material in high-resolution form," said Bruce Zuckerman, director of the West Semitic Research Project and associate professor of Hebrew Bible at USC's School of Religion. These techniques allow him to look at what had previously been a blur and "to read the inks as they cross each other, and know which stroke is over which stroke." And the fewer times scholars need to access the fragile original fragments and can instead work from digitally reconstructed documents, the longer the scrolls can be preserved, decoded and shared with the public, he said.
Re-creating the goat herder's experience, visitors will enter through a cave like one of the scroll caves near the Dead Sea. Then they will explore the archaeological site of Qumran at the height of its existence, around 100 B.C.E. to 68 C.E. Authentic artifacts, including coins, sandals and an inkwell will provide insight into the lives of this community. Included in the price of admission, a virtual reality tour of Qumran (see Page 9) will be featured in the Museum's giant-screen theater. By the time visitors reach the scroll room they will have a far greater understanding of the scrolls' history, significance and context.
"For some people, simply sitting in the space where the scrolls are is a spiritual experience," Kohn said. "Some of them for religious regions, some of them simply because these documents are so old. For Jews to look at a biblical text like Deuteronomy, the Ten Commandments and see the same Hebrew writing that you see in Torah scrolls today and realize that this is our oldest copy of this text, is a very moving experience."
"Dead Sea Scrolls," June 29-December 31, 2007, San Diego Natural History Museum, 1788 El Prado, Balboa Park, San Diego. (619) 232-3821. www.sdnhm.org.
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