I’m a huge proponent of seizing rare opportunities, so when I heard the Dead Sea Scrolls were on display at the Boston Museum of Science I made plans to go. I’m not motivated by any political or religious motives. I was, however, at one time, an archaeology major, and while these artifacts lay well beyond my area of focus, there’s an odd allure to things that are ancient. These writings have defied the ravages of time and have survived centuries. I find that fascinating in itself.
Long introduction to the exhibit story short, they were discovered in Jerusalem about a mile from the north shore of the Dead Sea in 1947 by a sheep farmer who found a stray by the cave. He threw a rock in, heard the sound of breaking pottery, and came back to explore in hopes of finding treasure. What he found were clay jars containing scrolls. Not at all what he had hoped for, but the contents would one day become a natural treasure.
The scrolls themselves are in various states of preservation. Some are mere fragments with the writing almost lost to time. Others boast legible writing on fair-sized pieces. They’re mainly written on parchment (animal hide, or vellum), some on papyrus. They survived centuries below sea level, in the darkness of an arid cave off the salt crystal shores of the Dead Sea. That conditions aligned in this one place on Earth to allow the preservation of such material is remarkable. The history of how these scrolls were saved through times of political unrest is also quite impressive.
It’s postulated that the texts were part of a library of a Jewish sect, and include Biblical tales from the Old Testament, literary works, and more mundane documents such as deeds and letters. Most are written in Hebrew, but some are written in Aramaic, Greek and Nabataean. Remnants from between 825 and 870 separate scrolls have been identified. Most were written between the 2nd century BCE to the 2nd century CE,during which time different Judean groups struggled for control.
While you weren’t allowed to take photographs of the scrolls themselves, non-flash photography was allowed in the other rooms of the exhibit. All of the pictures of artifacts shown here are part of the exhibit. I enjoyed the showing immensely and would recommend seeing it for yourselves if you get the chance.