Dead Sea Scrolls at the Natural History Museum

    It’s not every day you get to see parchment older than Jesus. Though
    now until Dec. 21, you can — at the San Diego Natural History Museum’s
    Dead Sea Scroll exhibit. Widely considered to be some of the most
    important Middle Eastern artifacts ever found, the scrolls provide
    insight into a culture that lived and vanished with hardly a trace. The
    exhibit features two sets of scrolls on loan from the Israeli Antiques
    Authority and Department of Antiquities of Jordan; 10 of the scrolls
    are on exhibit for the first time.
    Dating from 250 BCE to 68 CE, the Dead Sea Scrolls are some of the
    oldest known texts from the Hebrew Bible. Because they were in caves
    near the shore of the Dead Sea most historians point to the nearest
    settlement, Qumran, as the most likely origin of the scrolls. The
    fortress city was probably an enclave of orthodox Jewish men who
    dedicated much of their time to diligently copying religious texts. The
    discovery of inkwells (also on exhibit) and a writing room furthers the
    argument that Qumran residents produced these texts. Archeologists
    eventually found 100,000 pieces of scrolls, spread across 11 caves,
    that have now been pieced together, forming 900 documents.
    Besides the scrolls, the exhibit also displays Israeli photography of
    modern-day Israel, the history of the discovery of the scrolls,
    artifacts from Qumran and a virtual tour through Qumran. The museum
    does an amazing job of providing background to how the scrolls were
    most likely created in the context of the scribes’ lives. The exhibit
    goes so far as to address the Scotch tape that plagued the restoration
    of the scrolls. Pulling upon patrons’ youthful curiousities, various
    hands-on displays allow museum goers to play archeologist, piecing
    together smashed vases. Still, other installments let visitors feel
    parchment that might resemble the Dead Sea Scrolls in their original
    form.
    While the exhibit was well planned and meticulously created, politics
    still impede a truly holistic view. The collection fails to address
    Palestine’s objections, despite its thorough attempt to represent the
    historical backdrop. Though the caves are located in Palestine, Israel
    bought many of the scrolls immediately after their discovery, and in
    the Six-Day War of 1967, Israel captured a museum where many of the
    remaining scrolls were housed. Israel claimed the scrolls represent an
    important part of Jewish history and therefore has not cooperated with
    Palestine in the return of the scrolls — an important part of history
    ignored in the current installation.
    The 12,000-square-foot facility dedicated to the exhibit take about
    three hours to navigate, so make sure you have the time and patience to
    absorb everything. The museum provides free audio guides that impart
    historical background and expert commentary, adding to the plethora of
    signs. To preserve the scrolls, the museum rooms are kept at a cool 68
    degrees and use low lights. Be sure to bring a sweater and a pair of
    reading glasses. Because it is not a traveling exhibit, this experience
    is unique to San Diego. Ten of the scrolls change on Oct. 15, so if you
    want to see both sets, get there soon. Tickets cost $20, with a student
    ID, on weekdays and $24 on weekends.
    ­
    San Diego Natural History Museum
    1788 El Prado
    San Diego CA 92101
    (619) 232-3821

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