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The Dead Sea Scrolls

Curved perimeter walls in the Scroll Room at the Denver Museum of Science and Industry contain “aperture” exhibits behind windows and large circular scroll table.

Curved perimeter walls in the Scroll Room at the Denver Museum of Science and Industry contain “aperture” exhibits behind windows and large circular scroll table.

The Dead Sea Scrolls are coming to Denver.This rare opportunity to view these authentic ancient manuscripts opens at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science on March 16 through September 3.

The regional premiere of the exhibit—sponsored by the Sturm Family Foundation of Denver and organized by the Israeli Antiquities Authority—showcases the oldest known Biblical documents dating more than 2000 years ago. They are displayed in a massive exhibit case with full English translation.

If you’ve ever wondered what exactly the Dead Sea Scrolls are—no, they didn’t emerge from the Dead Sea—this is your chance to find out. Fragments from 10 scrolls will be displayed when the exhibit opens. However, due to strict preservation requirements, they will be replaced by 10 different scrolls halfway through the show’s run. Each rotation includes a scroll that has never been on public display.

Among the most significant on view will be excerpts from the Book of Genesis, Isaiah and Psalms. Also included are sections from the Community Rule, a how-to guide of laws, rules and regulations on the proper way for people to live.

In addition, the largest collection of artifacts ever assembled from the ancient Middle East for display—more than 500—will include weapons, stone carvings, terra cotta figurines, textiles, ceramics and jewelry.

Viewers will be interested in the small re-creation of the Western Wall from the Old City of Jerusalem, and an actual three-ton stone from the Wall believed to have fallen in 70 CE. So named because it faces the western side of the city, it is all that remains of the retaining wall from the Second Jewish Temple built by King Herod, after its destruction by the Romans.

Also known as the Wailing Wall and regarded as a holy site, people from around the world go there to pray and leave notes between the stones. More than a million are left each year, and when they overtake the Wall, they are eventually removed and buried to make room for others.

Visitors to the museum exhibit will be able to leave their own handwritten notes in the wall, which will be delivered to Israel after the exhibition and placed in the Wall in Jerusalem.

The origin and mystery of the scrolls, written between 150 B.C. and 70 A.D. primarily in Hebrew as well as Aramaic and Greek, remains the subject of scholarly debate and controversy to this day. But the story of their discovery reads better than fiction.

In 1947, a young Bedouin shepherd was minding his herd of goats along the Dead Sea near the ancient settlement of Qumran. Actually a salt lake bordered by Israel, Jordan and the West Bank, it is the Earth’s lowest point on land at 1,300 feet below sea level.

While exploring the nearby limestone hills in search of a stray, he came upon a cave in the rocky hillside. Inside, he found large clay jars containing old scrolls made of leather and papyrus. This was the beginning of one of the greatest archaeological finds in the 20th Century.

The shepherd and his companions sold their seven scrolls to an antiquities dealer in Bethlehem, who then sold them to another dealer. The scrolls passed through many hands and four were eventually smuggled into the U.S. by a Syrian archbishop who took them to a Syrian church in New Jersey.

In a bizarre twist, after failing to sell the scrolls to several universities including Yale, the archbishop placed an ad in the Wall Street Journal in 1954: “Biblical manuscripts dating back to at least 200 BC are for sale. This would be an ideal gift to an educational or religious institution by an individual or group.”

Following a secret undercover operation by Israeli authorities who wanted their scrolls back, they were purchased for $250,000 by an American middleman and returned to Israel. But news of their existence spread like wildfire as archaeologists raced to excavate a total of 11 caves over the next nine years. 

The remains of 900 Dead Sea Scrolls contain the entire Book of Isaiah, and fragments of every book of the Old Testament except the Book of Esther.

Today, most of the scrolls are kept in two locations in Jerusalem—the Rockefeller Museum and the Shrine of the Book at the Israel Museum. Others are in various museums and in the hands of collectors.

The exhibition will be open from 10:00 a.m. -5:00 p.m., Monday-Friday, an hour later than the rest of the museum. This is because of carefully scheduled “light hours” for the fragile scrolls. Hours on Saturday and Sunday are 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. Timed tickets are required and reservations strongly encouraged. 

For more information

The Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library:

The Dead Sea:

Six Reasons Why the Western Wall is Holy:

If you go

Denver Museum of Science and Industry: 2001 Colorado Blvd., Denver, CO 80205, 303-370-6000

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