In 1947, a young Bedouin shepherd searching for a stray sheep came upon a cave in the crumbling limestone cliffs near Qumran on the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea. Inside, he uncovered what is considered to be the most significant archaeological find of the last century: the Dead Sea Scrolls. The 2,000-year-old scrolls contained fragments from much of the Hebrew Bible—the Old Testament—as well as apocryphal writings and descriptions of life in the Qumran area twenty centuries before.
Selections from 10 of the original scrolls are currently on display through Sept. 7 at the California Science Center in Los Angeles. The exhibition, open to the public, features some scroll fragments that have never before been displayed in the United States and others that have never been seen on public display.
“We have the largest collection of Dead Sea Scrolls and other period artifacts ever mounted outside of Israel,” says Dr. David Bibas, a staff curator at the California Science Center. “So our guests can really get close to these 2,000-year-old artifacts and can see the role that science played in piecing together the story of the scrolls.”
The exhibition will feature examples of all types of scrolls that were discovered at Qumran, says Bibas. The sections of “biblical scrolls” contain the oldest known examples of parts of all the Hebrew Scriptures except for the Book of Esther. Other scrolls contain references to laws and rules of the community, war conduct, thanksgiving psalms, hymns, benedictions and liturgical texts. Most are written in Hebrew.
In addition to the scrolls, “about 600 artifacts that give a very rich historic and cultural context of the period of time from the first temple era going to the second temple era to destruction of the temple and beyond that” will be on display, says Bibas.
Among the objects: a three-ton stone taken from the Western Wall in Jerusalem, early Roman ossuaries, coins, jewelry, weapons, pottery and other artifacts from the period.
“And because we’re a science center,” says Bibas, “we always want to bring in the scientific aspect of an exhibition. We’ll have multimedia and hands-on exhibits so people can explore how tens of thousands of fragments of the scrolls were matched and pieced together and documented.” Other scientific displays include a hands-on comparison of papyrus and parchment, and explanations of how carbon 14 technique was used in dating the scrolls, and how spectral imaging, developed by NASA, can reveal formerly illegible text in the scroll material.
Accompanying the exhibition is “Jerusalem 3D,” a documentary film by National Geographic Entertainment presented in IMAX format. “It provides additional historical and cultural context for the exhibition,” says Bibas. “It shows Jerusalem from ancient times until today, and the current times are seen through the eyes of three girls—one Muslim, one Jewish, one Christian—who live there. It really immerses audiences in a cinematic journey with some really wonderful aerial photography of the Old City.”
The exhibition, says Bibas, has been a consistent weekend sellout. He strongly advises visitors to purchase advance tickets on the California Science Center’s website, californiasciencecenter.org.
The center is located in Exposition Park in Los Angeles, at 700 Exposition Park Drive (between the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and USC). It is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.