Seven of the oldest-surviving biblical
scrolls are set to arrive in Mobile,
Ala., this week.
After successful runs in Grand Rapids, Mich., and
Houston, the traveling Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit is scheduled to open at
the Gulf Coast Exploreum Science Center in Mobile on Jan. 20.
The Exploreum is set to host the exhibit of 12
authentic Dead Sea Scrolls through April 24. During that time, New
Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary will serve as 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 said she was surprised to discover how
accurately Bible translations have preserved the text found in the Dead
Sea Scrolls. Through thousands of years, 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
“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. On Jan. 2, the last day of the exhibit in
Houston, curators kept the museum open until 3 a.m. to allow people to
view 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 be able to 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 of 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.”
Obviously, the famous biblical scrolls will be the stars of the
exhibit. However, ancient artifacts and rare documents from New Orleans
Baptist Theological Seminary will play a supporting role.
Herron visited the seminary in December to select items to help place the Dead Sea Scrolls in their historical context.
“What I really wanted to do was show people that you
don’t have to go to Israel or London or even Washington, D.C., to see
significant archaeological artifacts and rare books,” Herron said.
“(New Orleans Seminary) has some lovely things.”
At the exhibit, a timeline display places the Dead
Sea Scrolls in context with significant historical figures from the
Mediterranean region. The timeline includes Egyptian pharaoh Khufu, who
built the great pyramids; Abraham; David; Socrates; Plato; Jesus;
Constantine; and Muhammad.
Herron said the timeline feature utilizes a number
of pieces from the seminary, including fourth millennium B.C. pottery
cups, Egyptian bronze statues, cuneiform tablets, mosaic fragments,
clay figurines and a piece of Roman pottery.
Herron designed another portion of the exhibit to
address the history of biblical translation. She said many people today
do not have a clear understanding of how the Bible has been preserved
and passed down through the centuries.
“I wanted to give people an idea of the history of
this text that is so central to the lives of so many people,” she said.
“I wanted to show some significant translations of the Bible through
history. I can take what people have just learned about the scrolls and
say, ‘Here is how that carried forward.’”
To that end, Herron selected several historical
texts from the seminary library’s Rare Books Collection. The library is
loaning manuscript leaves from a 12th-century Psalter, Guttenberg Bible
leaf and several early English translations.
“This is an honor for the seminary to loan some of
our collection to this exhibit,” said Steven Ortiz, director of the
Center for Archaeological Research at the New Orleans school. “It
highlights the work of the seminary by displaying portions of our
Ortiz said he is excited about the opportunity to
display the seminary pieces that usually are kept in storage due to a
shortage of space. He said that the seminary collection offers a unique
look into the everyday life of ancient near eastern people and provides
insight into the biblical text.
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. Information about the exhibit is avail