The Dead Sea Scrolls, containing the oldest copies of the Hebrew Bible ever found and scrolls describing the life, times and beliefs of the Dead Sea Sect, are arguably the greatest archaeological find of the 20th century. The Israel Museum’s Shrine of the Book is celebrating Israel’s 60th anniversary, and the momentous discovery of the scrolls one year before Israel’s establishment, by presenting for the first time in extended public display the Scroll of Isaiah, whose prophecies have become universal bywords for everlasting peace.
The Isaiah Scroll is one of the original seven scrolls discovered near Qumran by the Dead Sea in 1947. In subsequent years, some 800 manuscripts were found in the region, of which approximately 200 are biblical. The Isaiah scroll is the largest and best preserved of all the biblical scrolls, and the only one discovered in its entirety: The 54 columns contain all 66 chapters of the book.
This scroll is also one of the oldest manuscripts discovered in Qumran. It dates from about 100 BCE, and is thus 1,000 years older than the oldest Hebrew biblical manuscript known prior to the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls (The Aleppo Codex, on display at the Shrine of the Book). Some 20 additional, but fragmentary, copies of Isaiah were discovered among the Qumran scrolls. The book was the subject of six commentaries, and is frequently quoted in other scrolls.
A facsimile of the Isaiah Scroll has long been the dramatic centrepiece of the Shrine of the Book, in an exhibition hall designed to resemble the tops of the clay jars in which the first scrolls were discovered. A small fragment of Isaiah is also on display. Now, visitors will be able to see the original, 2.60 meters long and containing the famed words, “they shall beat their swords into plowshares...(Isaiah 2.4).
To illustrate Isaiah’s precious message, iron tools from the eighth century BCE, the period during which the prophet lived, will be shown alongside the scroll. A recently excavated and never-before-displayed Hellenistic seal bearing a dove carrying an olive branch, another biblical and universal symbol of peace, will also be shown. An international research conference will be held July 6–8, 2008, to coincide with the exhibition.
In honour of the 60th anniversary of the discovery of the scrolls last year, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), the custodian of the scrolls, which maintains a laboratory dedicated solely to their conservation, convened a conference this year on the urgent matter of their conservation. The IAA called on experts from the Italian Ministry of Culture to seek solutions to unsolved issues, such as releasing fragments that are still encased in the original glass plates in which they were placed in the 1950s.
At the newly opened Israel Museum’s Dorot Foundation Dead Sea Scrolls Information and Study Centre, an imaginative audio-visual presentation dramatizes the complexities of life in Second Temple times. Together with the adjacent Model of Second Temple, these elements become companion pieces illuminating a pivotal period of history and Scripture.
Israel Museum Website