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The Dead Sea Scrolls: Mysteries of the Ancient World

The Dead Sea Scrolls: Mysteries of the Ancient World
NEW YORK  •  The Jewish Museum  •  Ongoing

The exhibition at The Jewish Museum includes six Dead Sea Scrolls.  These fragments of parchment documents consist of the Book of Jeremiah (225-175 BCE), one of the earliest copies of the Hebrew Bible in existence; an early example of prayers from the Words of the Luminaries; the Book of Tobit, a Jewish text that was not included in the Hebrew canon but later accepted into some versions of the Christian Old Testament (Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox); the Aramaic Apocryphon of Daniel, which mentions a son of God; the Community Rule, which lays out the regulations for joining and being a member of a sect; and the War Rule, which describes a great war at the end of days. Each represents an aspect of the diverse religious milieu in which they were created more than 2,000 years ago. In an adjoining gallery, visitors will learn that scholars still do not agree about the origins and meaning of the scrolls decades after their discovery.

The Dead Sea Scrolls date from the late third century BCE through the first century CE. The texts consist of biblical books and commentary, poetry and prayers, and the communal rules and writings of one or more dissident Jewish religious groups.  The scrolls were in use during a period of successive political upheavals, from the Maccabean revolt for Jewish independence to the reign of King Herod to the Roman destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple in 70 CE.  This was also a time that saw the development of two religions – early Judaism and Christianity.

At some point in the first century CE, the people who treasured these scrolls placed them in eleven caves along a five-mile stretch of cliffs in the barren Judean Desert, close to the Dead Sea.  Nearby was a small settlement at Khirbet Qumran, inhabited from the late second century BCE to the first century CE. No one returned to collect the scrolls from the caves, and they lay there undisturbed until their discovery in 1947.

Scholars have two basic theories about who used the scrolls. The first posits that the scrolls all belonged to a single religious sect that probably lived at the settlement of Qumran.  Most scholars identify this group as the Essenes described in the writings of ancient historians, although other groups such as the Sadducees and even proto-Christians have been proposed.

The second theory proposes that the scrolls were a random collection of texts reflecting the beliefs of many Jewish groups of the period. They represented either a single priestly repository or public library, or the sacred texts of various Jewish communities from Jerusalem and elsewhere in the Land of Israel. During the Jewish revolt against Rome beginning in 68 CE, refugees from further north hid their precious texts in the Dead Sea caves. This hypothesis holds that there is no connection between the scrolls and the settlement at Qumran, and that the site was a fortress, a villa, a farm, an industrial site, or a commercial center.

Some scholars remain cautious about adopting either theory, and await more information from new publications of the scrolls and the Qumran excavations.

Still other scholars remain cautious about adopting either theory, and await more information from new publications of the scrolls and the Qumran excavations. The display also includes some artifacts from the site of Qumran and its vicinity. A jar and linen wrapper that protected the scrolls, the earliest phylacteries, dishes and vessels, and objects of daily life such as sandals, hairnets, and combs will illuminate the current scholarly debates over who used and who hid the scrolls.

According to the press release, Susan L. Braunstein, Curator of Archaeology and Judaica, selected texts that illustrate the diversity and transformations in Judaism during the Second Temple Period, when the written word and prayer were rivaling sacrifice in worship, as well as early Christianity’s connections to Judaism. The exhibition was created by the Israel Antiquities Authority from the collections of the National Treasures.

The Jewish Museum Website

Contact: The Jewish Museum
1109 Fifth Avenue at 92nd Street
New York, NY
Tel: (1) 212 423 32 00

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