Dead Sea Scrolls in San Diego
I was in the San Diego area on business over this weekend and had a chance to visit the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit at the SD Natural History Museum. The exhibit starts off with photographs and exhibits covering the discovery, excavation, study and preservation of the scrolls and other artifacts. In addition to all the normal challenges faced by an archaeological discovery, the Dead Sea Scroll discovery had the added challenge of a divided Jerusalem and a complicated process for purchasing bits of scroll and other artifacts from the Bedouins who made the first discovery.
The exhibit covering scroll preservation included description of a disastrous practice. The original researchers used cellophane tape to join some of the scroll fragments together. Unfortunately, the tape adhesive combined with the pressure of sandwiching scroll fragments between plates of glass turned out to dissolve portions of the scrolls. Clean-up and recovery from that practice continues today.
The exhibit also described how researchers pieced the fragments together like a puzzle. The process involved several different areas of expertise. Biblical scholars would determine what was expected to go in the spaces between fragments; paleographers would match the script styles to try to determine the age of the documents and to match writers. By determining what was missing from the puzzle and creating gridlines, researchers could estimate how much of the puzzle was missing – just like you would do by matching jigsaw pieces from the middle of the puzzle to the box photo.
After setting the stage for how the scrolls were found, studied and preserved, the exhibit moves to some of the scroll pieces. It was truly awe inspiring to look at documents that were created 2000 years ago and had remained hidden until just 50 years ago. I was struck by how tiny the writing was and how well preserved many of the fragments were. It was also very interesting to learn that concepts like paragraphs and punctuation are relatively recent advancements. Scrolls found included scripture, descriptions of life in the community, a section of the copper scroll and even a land lease agreement. The most common scripture passages found have been Psalms. Among interesting tidbits, the segment exhibited has the Psalms in a different order than is found in any current scripture translation.
The copper scroll describes locations of hidden treasures. No one knows if it refers to actual treasure or something else. None of the treasures described are known to have been found. Interesting that the lease agreement and the copper scroll describing treasure are among the best preserved of the scrolls. Maybe people in ancient times were just as interested in money and business as we are today.
The SD Natural History Museum also has a video presenting a virtual reality tour of what the Qumran site may have looked like 2000 years ago.
If you live in or will be visiting the San Diego area, I highly recommend taking the time to visit this exhibit. It runs until through the end of 2007. Hours, costs, directions and online ticket purchase. Figure at least about 2-3 hours to get through the exhibit and catch the Qumran video (I recommend watching the video first). Better yet, just make a day of it at Balboa Park.