Science Center celebrates history of Dead Sea Scrolls

Students who have tired eyes from reading countless textbooks and e-textbooks this semester can take a break at the California Science Center to visit “Dead Sea Scrolls: The Exhibition.” It is an exciting and interactive presentation of artifacts that includes what many believe to be the most important discovery of ancient manuscripts.

It is strongly recommended that visitors purchase their tickets in advance, as there is a set entry time on each ticket. Guests are asked to form a line outside the exhibit so that all of the guests with a certain start time may enter together.

The first room in the exhibit is a dark, round space with six large screens and three clay vessels. A museum guide gives an introductory presentation about the exhibit, explaining the history of the scrolls and their significance while the screens show clips pertaining to the presentation.

In order to appreciate the importance of the scrolls, one must understand their origins. Discovered in 1947, the Dead Sea Scrolls were buried in caves for thousands of years. Some argue that the scrolls are connected to the town of Qumran, which was home to Jewish ascetics known as Essenes. Some scientists doubt that the Essenes wrote the scrolls, however, and instead argue that the site of the excavations went through two distinct periods of development between 120-68 B.C., so its purpose might have radically changed over time. Though there were remains of about 900 separate scrolls found in the caves 13 miles east of Jerusalem, the exhibit contains fragments of 10 different scrolls. The guide makes sure to highlight that all artifacts in this exhibit are originals and are courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority. Though some items are displayed without any protective encasing, there are no replicas.

The vessel closest to the entrance, for example, is not protected by any glass whatsoever, which is particularly notable as it was the property of an ancient Israeli king, making it an invaluable historical artifact.

As soon as the guide finishes, a side door is opened and guests are asked to step out into a hallway. Visitors are informed that there is no chronological order in which one should view the exhibit. This first dark hallway serves as a timeline, with artifacts displayed on the wall and dates relating to these artifacts written with light on the ground. The collection includes post, coins, weapons, jewelry and writings found around the same time as the Dead Sea Scrolls. Unfortunately, because of large crowds, it might be difficult to view this portion of the exhibit, and many people take their time viewing the artifacts.

It is interesting to note that throughout the entire exhibit, biblical quotations are presented before the information on the information boards; however, the entire exhibit uses B.C.E. and C.E. to identify dates rather than B.C. and A.D. in order to acknowledge cultural diversity.

Further down the hallway there is a large television screen with interactive maps and additional information about the location where these artifacts were found. The hallway leads into a dimly lit room with three large clay vessels, which were found in Canaan. At the back of this room is a model of a four-room house, representing a typical residence from the Iron Age (1200-550 B.C.). Following this room is another dark hallway containing several clay vessels, limestone proto-Aeolic capitals (1000-586 B.C.) from Hazor’s citadel gate, as well as iron arrowheads and other small artifacts.

At the end of this hall is a large round room containing the highlight of the exhibit: the Dead Sea Scrolls. The scrolls are presented in a circular exhibit in the center of the room, with a clay vessel in the center. The scrolls have little to no direct light on them and are encased in protective netting as well as glass, as they are extremely fragile. Since the scrolls are a historical treasure that attracts large crowds, they are mostly obscured by the large crowd that comes to view them. Instead of having a start and finish point, guests can move around from scroll to scroll randomly, causing great confusion and disorganization.

There are biblical and non-biblical scrolls, such as marriage contracts, with translations written in English next to the fragments. On the outside walls of this round room are exhibits highlighting Solomon’s Temple, the rise and fall of Jerusalem, and the Abrahamic roots of the scrolls, as this connects them to Christianity, Judaism and Islam. There is also a small side room dedicated to the Ten Commandments, including an interactive video where guests can zoom in on each of the commandments and hear an audio explanation.

Toward the end of the exhibit is a final hallway that presents a stone believed to have fallen from the Western Wall where one can write messages containing wishes or prayers that will be collected by the Israel Antiquities Authority and delivered to Jerusalem. In the brightly illuminated main hall of the California Science Center, there are more interactive displays about the science of studying the scrolls, including information on DNA analysis of the scrolls’ animal skin and steps for future preservation.

Though very crowded, this exhibit is definitely worth the wait. Dead Sea Scrolls: The Exhibition will be on display until Sept. 7