Step back in time to the start of many major religions and life 2,000 years ago with a visit to the Dead Sea Scrolls: The Exhibition at the California Science Center. Presented in cooperation with the Israel Antiquities Authority, the downtown Los Angeles exhibit explores historical artifacts from the Judean desert as well as the significance of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Over half of the scroll pieces on display in L.A., starting March 10, 2015, have reportedly not been included in previous exhibits of scroll fragments on display in other U.S. cities.
The centerpiece of Dead Sea Scrolls: The Exhibition is 20 texts (being presented 10 scrolls at a time, in two separate rotations) that are part of what is widely acknowledged to be among the greatest archaeological discoveries of the 20th century. Shedding light on formative years of Judaism, Christianity and other religions, the scroll pieces date from 250 BCE (Before the Common Era) to 68 CE (Common Era) and were discovered between 1947 and 1956 by the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea in caves near Khirbet Qumran.
Thousands of fragments of text were discovered, and scholars have assembled the puzzle pieces into more than 900 separate documents. Most passages are in Hebrew, though some are in Greek or Aramaic. One piece in the exhibit looks like yellowed notebook paper with a margin and clear rulings visible beneath the Hebrew text.
The majority of the Dead Sea Scrolls are housed in Israel under the care of the Israel Antiquities Authority. There are also some scrolls in Jordan, the United States and in Europe. Many of the pieces in this presentation have traveled to other museums around world to share their discovery.
Like the Mona Lisa at the Louvre, the actual pieces are protected from the public and not easy to see up close. However, the exhibition includes enlarged images next to each fragment. The Dead Sea Scroll fragments on display contain passages from:
- Parts of the Book of Psalms, which make up the largest number of Dead Sea Scroll pieces found in the caves. The Psalms date from 150 BCE through 68 CE. The order of the psalms found in the caves does not follow numbering that was passed down through the centuries. There are also extra words in antique versions that are not found today.
- A Ketubah, a Jewish marriage contract found in caves that dates back to the 1st Century.
- Manuscripts from the book of Genesis that refer to Jacob and to Esau.
- Text from Exodus that contains the scene with Moses at the burning bush.
While the scroll remnants get the marquee treatment, the exhibition features a wonderful sense of the historical periods the area has gone through arranged for visitors to travel backwards in time as they walk through the museum show. There are pottery pipes from the Ottoman period (1516-1917), oil lamps from the Crusades (1099-1291) and a 1000-year-old bowl coated with glaze that looks contemporary. There are also figurines and coins from the early Islamic period (638-1099), glass tubes from the Byzantine era (325-638), and items (particularly pottery) from Romans, Persians and other civilizations that conquered the area around what is now Jerusalem.
Items on display include:
- Carved “household goddesses” from the Iron Age (8th century BCE),
- A terracotta bathtub with a seat from 9th century BCE,
- 200 clay bullae, seals and seal impression that are dime size and show the owners of scrolls or jars,
- A Tyrian shekel coin, minted before 19 BCE, that was used to pay taxes in the Temple,
- Limestone measuring cups with pouring spouts and handles from first century BCE to 70 CE,
- A mosaic featuring two menorahs from a 6th Century Samaritan synagogue.
While the exhibit is not geared toward young visitors, there is a Discovery area that accompanies the exhibit that is for children. It includes with a pottery puzzle for children to reassemble an urn like archeologists do, information about radiocarbon dating, ancient alphabets and more.
For those who want to visit the Dead Sea Scrolls and other exhibits, including the Space Shuttle Endeavor, the California Science Center is located in Exposition Park, near the Coliseum, University of Southern California and Museum of Natural History. Timed entry tickets are required for special exhibits, like the Dead Sea Scrolls, so purchasing ahead online is recommended.
By Dyanne Weiss
Preview visit on March 5, 2015
California Science Center
Dead Sea Scrolls
Photos by Dyanne Weiss