Monday, April 19, 2010

The Dead Sea Scrolls Exhibit

Earlier today, I went to check out the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit at the Science Museum of Minnesota. I'd been looking forward to this for a while now, ever since I heard the exhibit was coming. Sadly, I wasn't permitted to take pictures inside the exhibit itself, so all I really have is the photo at left by the entrance. So I guess you'll just have to rely on my stellar descriptions.

The exhibit started with a short Power Point presentation, narrated by a Nathan Fillion look-a-like. That latter detail isn't really relevant, but I think he looked like Fillion, so there you go. Anyway, it was sort of an overwrought business, complete with shifting spotlights that he had to walk through. It was pretty silly and it wasn't a good way to start the exhibit.

But then we got inside. The exhibit provided a lot of context for the Scrolls, including historical details, cultural information, religious data, all sorts of different items to explain the time period in which the Scrolls were produced. There were satellite photos of the region, lots of artifacts found in the caves where the various Scrolls were found, timelines to explain where and when they were all found. And the whole time, the visitor has a cellphone like device so you can dial up a helpful narrator who explains what each little part of the exhibit is about. This device could also be used to call up further information, mostly statements made by various experts, including some professors from Northwestern University and the University of Minnesota.

I actually learned a lot from the introductory exhibits. For instance, I learned that the Scrolls were the products of the Essene community which some scholars believe lived in Qumran. That, however, is not the only theory out there. There's strong evidence that the Scrolls might be the Temple library, which is pretty cool if you think about it. Most fascinating for me was the discussion about the Copper Scroll. I think there might be a story in there somewhere. To put it simply, there was a lot of data to ingest.

Which brings up my one complaint about the exhibit. There was almost too much data to ingest. I wasn't keeping an eye on my watch by any stretch of the imagination, but based on what I remember, I think it took us close to an hour and a half to go through the preliminary part of the exhibit with nary a peek at an actual Scroll. At one point, my father turned to me and mused, "Do you think they have any Scrolls here?"

It turns out we didn't have to fear, for in a roughly circular room, we got to look at five of the actual Dead Sea Scrolls. Apparently there are actually three different sets of Scrolls. We saw the first set which was really cool. They included a portion of Isaiah's Suffering Servant song, so I got to see a fragment of a Messianic prophecy from 2,000 years ago. Also included was a portion of Psalm 119, in which the scribe had used a special spacing scheme and different script to set apart the tetragrammaton, the four-letter name of God (YHWH). But what I really liked was the portion of the Temple Scroll. It was the easiest to read and I spotted both the name Israel and the tetragrammaton.

But the exhibit wasn't over yet! Also included were pages from the Saint Johns Bible, the first illuminated Bible to be produced in close to 500 years. It was simply incredible. The illustrations were breathtaking and the display fascinating. I actually wished I could purchase a copy of the finished project. It turns out I could in the museum gift shop, but one reprint of one section cost close to eighty bucks. Yikes! It'd be worth it, but I can't justify the expense.

If you're in Minnesota, definitely go check out this exhibit. It's incredibly cool.


TCHusker - Nate said...

Laura and I are planning to see this exhibit. Thanks for the sneak peak!

Lisa Lickel said...

It's showing in Milwaukee now, too. We went several years ago when the exhibit came to Grand Rapids, and frankly, that was much better done. There were a LOT more pieces of the scrolls and a great movie on the restoration process done at the time of finding, etc. ANd not so much of the "opener." Even though they make a big deal of showing the actual scroll fragments and the illuminated Bible, etc. - it's reproduction except for a few items that travel, as what you described is also in Milwaukee right now through June. I missed Nathan, though. :)