Posted by: Tim | July 17, 2009

Dead Sea Scrolls at the ROM

Tonight I visited the Royal Ontario Museum to see the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit. It was a fascinating experience to see the famous 2000 year old manuscripts, arguably the greatest archaeological find of the last century. The Dead Sea Scrolls are a collection of ancient biblical and extra-biblical manuscripts, including much of the Old Testament, which date from before the time of Christ. This timing is significant because it puts to rest the idea that some of the amazing prophecies about Jesus (in Isaiah, for example), were doctored by the early Christians. It also shows the amazing transmission of the Bible as more recent manuscripts show very little difference from the Dead Sea Scrolls which is hundreds of years older.

The exhibit was large and very well done. It was in the lower level of the new wing of the ROM. Somehow I expected that I would walk in and spend about half an hour looking at a bunch of scrolls, but it was far more than that. It followed a zigzagging path with one display after another relating to ancient Israel, Jerusalem, the Qumran (sp.?) community, and finally the scrolls themselves. There were a number of short documentary films amidst ancient pottery, coins, clothing, and other artifacts. There was a lot of reading to do, with each display having a paragraph or two attached to explain it.

The exhibit started off with artifacts from a Galilean town (the name slips me, it began with ‘S’ and was not one of the famous Biblical towns). This helped give the feel of ancient Israel at the time. Next there was some focus on the city of Jerusalem, with a spectacular 8 foot (est.) square picture of Jerusalem. Then the exhibit focused on the Jerusalem temple expanded by Herod the Great. The Qumran community was then highlighted, with an intriquing display of the tiny little caves in the side of a cliff where the scrolls were found. There was a long wall showing the timeline of Israel, and of ancient manuscripts (Judeo-Christian texts and other religions as well). Finally, the scrolls themselves were displayed.

Again, my expectations were way off. I had expected to see significant parts of the collection, and that they would be…well…scrolls.  But the actual Dead Sea Scrolls on display would probably fit on my dining room table, and they represented only a very small fraction of the whole of the Dead Sea Scrolls.  Biblical documents included sections from Genesis (about Joseph & Potipher’s wife), Psalms (102-103?), and Daniel (ch2? I think it was the part right after Daniel tells the meaning of the first dream and the God of heaven is praised.) There were some other extra-biblical scrolls too. The scrolls were not scrolls, but mostly ‘scraps’ of paper, written in Hebrew. I wish I knew Hebrew so I could have read them! They were very ‘old looking’ (that’s a technical term!) and torn halfway through sentences.

The last part of the display was three books: 1. a bound Old Testament handwritten in Hebrew, hundreds of years old, 2. a Latin Vulgate Bible, again handwritten and hundreds of years old, and 3. a two hundred (or so) year old Qu’ran. The purpose was to show ancient Scriptures of the three Abrahamic faiths, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, since the Dead Sea Scrolls are of interest to all three. I thought the inclusion of the Qu’ran was pushing the connection a bit, since Scriptures in Judaism and Christianity are shared and are both directly connected to the Dead Sea Scrolls, whereas the Qu’ran is only indirectly connected (no Dead Sea Scroll text forms the Muslim Scriptures).

So all in all it was an excellent night. I thoroughly enjoyed the ROM’s Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit and would highly recommend it to anyone in the Toronto area. It will be at the ROM until January 3, 2010.

A few other notes:

– I went with my Aunt Wendy, her friend Debbie, and my cousin Michael – cool to see it together with them!

– Friday nights 4:30-9:30 are half price at the ROM $11, + $6 to see the Dead Sea Scrolls

– After seeing the Dead Sea Scrolls, we went to the Dinosaur exhibit and I got a great picture of the TRex! They also  had a big 70 or so foot Brontosaurus type dinosaur (I know they don’t call them that anymore, but you know what I mean), and a giant turtle

– there was some guy protesting out front of the ROM, with about 15 or so police officers watching him. His sign said something about “The Global Jihad” and also made reference to Israel. The protester was about sixty years old and he was wearing a Canadian flag like a Superman cape. Weird.

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