NEW ORLEANS (BP)–Seven of the oldest surviving biblical scrolls are coming to Mobile, Ala., this month. After successful runs in Grand Rapids, Mich., and Houston, the traveling Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit opens in Mobile’s Gulf Coast Exploreum Science Center on Jan. 20.
With 12 authentic Dead Sea Scrolls on loan from the Israeli Antiquities Authority, the exhibit will not disappoint its many visitors. The Exploreum will host the traveling exhibit through April 24. New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary is a sponsoring institution for the event.
“The highlight [of the exhibit] will be the Deuteronomy scroll that has the entire text of the Ten Commandments,” said Ellen Herron curator for the exhibit. “This is such a rare opportunity.”
In addition to the Deuteronomy scroll, the exhibit includes six other 2,000-year-old biblical scrolls with the oldest surviving text of Genesis, Leviticus, Numbers, Psalms, Isaiah and Jeremiah. The remaining five scroll fragments are sectarian documents found at the Qumran site in Israel.
Discovered in 1947 by a Bedouin shepherd boy, the Dead Sea Scrolls are the most famous and important find in the history of biblical archaeology. The discovery, excavations and resulting research has confirmed and helped ensure the reliability of the Old Testament text found in modern translations of the Bible.
Herron was surprised to discover just how accurately current Bible translations have preserved the text found in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Over thousands of years, she said the text has “stayed so true.”
Unlike the exhibits in Grand Rapids and Houston, Herron said the Mobile stop will focus heavily on the biblical texts. The other exhibits included fewer biblical scrolls and more sectarian documents from Qumran.
“In Mobile, we decided that, due to the nature of the community and the region, we thought it would be particularly meaningful if there were a larger group of biblical scrolls,” Herron said. “This will be the largest grouping of biblical scrolls ever shown together in the United States.”
The exhibit has exceeded all attendance expectation at two previous showings. At the Houston stop, 10,000 people viewed the scrolls in one day. On Jan. 2, the last day of the exhibit in Houston, curators kept the museum open until 3 a.m. to allow more people to experience the scrolls.
Herron said the exhibit offers insight into Qumran and its residents through artifacts and a scale model of the community. Scholars believe the people living in Qumran were from the Essene sect of Judaism –- a group focused on lives of purity and prayer. In 68 A.D. the Roman army destroyed Qumran, but failed to discover the scrolls stored in a nearby cave.
Visitors will learn about the different types of literature present at Qumran and about the three languages (Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic) represented in the scrolls. This section also explains the research and resulting publication of the texts found in the scrolls.
Another section details the excavation efforts in a cave near Qumran. In all, archaeologists uncovered 100,000 scroll fragments during their digs in the desert cave.
“This is the most significant thing I’ve done professionally,” Herron said about her work with the exhibit. “The scrolls become very personal to you, you develop a protective affection for them. They are just so fragile, but they offer so much for people.”
The Exploreum is a nonprofit science museum located in downtown Mobile. Founded in 1998, the museum occupies a $21 million facility complete with interactive exhibits and an IMAX theater.
Tickets for the exhibit are $17 for adults, $15 for senior adults (60 and older) and youth ages 13-18. Admission for children is $12. Additional information about the Exploreum and the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit is available at www.scrollsmobile.com.