Fascinating Dead Sea Scrolls appear in public for first time

Two Dead Sea Scrolls will be presented to the public for the first time ever in a major Israel Antiquities Authority exhibition, opening in Denver, Colorado.

Two fascinating manuscripts from the Dead Sea Scrolls collection will appear in public for the first time as part of the new Israel Antiquities Authority exhibition opening at the Denver Museum of Science and Nature in Denver, Colorado. The huge exhibition features some 600 artifacts, including a stone from the Western Wall weighing 3 tons, the largest and most impressive lintel ever discovered in Israel from a First Temple era royal estate, and the stars of the show – 20 Dead Sea Scrolls. To properly preserve these delicate documents, they will be displayed in two separate rounds of 10 each.

In the first round, a scroll dealing with matters of ritual purity and impurity will be shown, and in the second round, part of the scroll known as Musar leMevin (Instruction to the One who Understands), containing apocalyptic messages.

Although the exhibition is to be open for six months, the first 10 scrolls on display, under strictly monitored conditions, will be sent back to Israel in three months, to be replaced by 10 other scrolls. The scrolls returned from the exhibition will be kept for at least five years in the Israel Antiquities Authority scroll climate-controlled vault, in conditions simulating those of the Judean Desert caves in which they were found.

Scrolls written in Hebrew at end of 1st century BCE

The scroll on rules of ritual purity, designated 4Q274 Tohorot (Purities) A, was written in Hebrew at the end of the first century BCE and deals with matters of purity and impurity according to the Bible. Because only the ritually pure could deal with sacred matters, those who were ritually impure had to return to a state of purity. Ritual impurity could pass from an individual or object to another. To once again become ritually pure, certain actions had to be taken, such as ritual immersion or isolation for a certain period if the ritual impurity was caused by illness. The numerous ritual immersion baths and stone vessels found in archaeological excavations of the Second Temple period in Israel show that the laws of ritual purity were very significant in daily life from Hasmonean times and throughout the Second Temple period. This scroll, shown in public in Denver for the first time, is further evidence of the centrality of this issue. It states that ritually impure individuals had to be isolated not only from those who were ritually pure, but also from those with a different form of impurity. This attitude also appeared later in the ancient rabbinic literature.

Fragments of Scroll 4Q418, Musar leMevin (Instruction to the one who Understands), also to be shown for the first time in the Denver exhibition, is part of a wisdom composition from the end of the first century BCE. It is similar in character to the biblical book of Proverbs, although it contains apocalyptic messages. Written by a teacher or a sage, it contains instructions to a disciple on the moral conduct that will enable him to avoid evil acts and achieve success in all areas of life and the high spiritual level attained by the most righteous individuals. The instructions for daily living include advice on fair business practices as well as on marriage. One unusual characteristic of this work is the constant repetition of the Hebrew phrase raz nihyeh, a term whose meaning is still a matter of scholarly debate. Some scholars translate it as “the secret of existence,” but it can also mean “the approaching mystery.” The messages in this scroll are presented as information coming directly from God and conveyed through the sages to their disciples.

Most important archaeological find of the 20th century

Also among the Dead Sea Scrolls on exhibit in Denver in the two rounds are biblical, extra-biblical and sectarian scrolls from the Qumran Caves, which reflect the literary richness of this collection, as well as a document from the Bar-Kokhba Revolt (132–135 CE).

The Dead Sea Scrolls are considered the most important archaeological find of the 20th century, and this year marks the 70th anniversary of their discovery. They present a unique picture of the spectrum of religious beliefs in Judah in ancient times as well as daily life in the stormy Second Temple period. These delicate fragments of parchment and papyrus, including the most ancient copies of the Bible, were preserved for 2,000 years due to the dark, dry conditions in the caves in which they were hidden, and therefore they are now preserved in conditions that simulate those in the caves in the Israel Antiquities Authority scrolls storeroom. The scrolls may now be viewed on line in the Leon Levy Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library, which contains photographs and information on about 1,000 ancient manuscripts.

Courtesy Israel Government Press Office