I’d heard about the Dead Sea Scrolls but didn’t know any more than they’d been found in the 1940’s by some shepherds, and their discovery was probably the greatest of the modern era.  That got my attention and ventured there early Saturday morning during the hustle and bustle of the holiday season in Times Square.  It was a beautiful and unseasonably warm day for December, but the corner vendors selling hats and gloves and scarves were doing a brisk business.

I got to the Discovery Center, 44th and 7th, as soon as it opened.  I don’t do well with crowds, especially when trying to absorb something intellectual.  After showing my ticket, I was instructed to go down to the lower level where there were actually two exhibitions going.  One for the CSI fans (how to read a crime scene) to the right, and the scrolls’ exhibit to the left.  We were then instructed by very nice workers in blue polo shirts wearing headsets, into the large waiting room.  It’s very dramatic, like we were about to start a 3D ride at Disney.  Hebrew music began to play over the loudspeakers, and a psalm from the Old Testament was read.  All very much “in the mood.”

(sample of the Dead Sea Scrolls)

Then the big doors opened, and we were welcomed by a college-aged narrator, who stood alongside gigantic screens playing a video of what looked like the Dead Sea itself.  He told us about the findings of the scrolls, about the other items found in Jewish city ruins, like coins and jars.  I figured that the scrolls themselves would not fill out the tour, so other artifacts discovered over the time were added in. 

We had to keep moving, and then headed into another section, this time, with displays built into the walls, so that we could walk along and read bits of descriptions, like any museum display.  There was a lot of time and thought put into this, with the artwork depicting those early, early days, now called, “BCE” for “before common era,” and the traditional BC and AD not being used for “cultural diversity.”

There was a lot of pottery discovered, and many pieces had etchings and carvings which gave an indication if the owner was a king or a commoner.  Pomegranate-shapes were in, as we were doves: signs of divinity or fertility.  We could the history of the eras along the walls as we walked.  The rooms were spacious, darkened, and quiet. A piece of the Western Wall, from the Second Temple in Jersusalem, considered the Holiest of sites, was also on display.  According to the description, it was where Abraham made his sacrifice, where Jesus challenged the chief priests, and where God gathered the dust to create Adam.

But, what’s the big deal about these scrolls.  First of all, that they even survived over the thousands of years is a miracle in itself.  They were pages and pages of parchment, written by hand, using inkwells and whatever pens they had at the time.  The parchments were then rolled up in linen, tied with a leather strap and placed in jars in caves at Qumran, near the Dead Sea.  At the time, nearby cities were being sacked, and these documents were seen to be too valuable to lose.  Shepherds in the late 1940’s came upon them by accident, and they moved from antiquities dealer to dealer eventually being purchased by the state of Israel. (There was even a NY Times classified with a portion of the scrolls for sale.)   

According to What Are the Dead Sea Scrolls and Why Do They Matter, by David Noel Freedman and Pam Fox Kuhlken, the scrolls, “changed the course of biblical scholarships in that they prove that the text of the Hebrew Bible that has come down to us is more reliable than previously thought – that fewer scribal or editorial changes or errors had occurred over the centuries than scholars once imagined.”

In short, it legitimizes the Hebrew Bible: the book that inspired the religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

The last room featured the pieces of the scrolls in the round, with translations alongside.  Films were available to view, that ran in a loop, which described the discoveries, and the painstaking steps in preserving these documents.  One interesting fact was that the scrolls were originally scotch-taped so they wouldn’t fall apart.  A good try then, but now that we know more about caring for historical artifacts, scientists had to, piece by piece, remove the scotch tape so they could be cleaned, and protected. 

For kids who enjoy archeological stories, enjoy history, or want to learn more about the bible, this was an excellent exhibit found at a great time of year to visit NYC. If your older kids are studying religion, they might enjoy this visual proof of some things, like the 10 Commandment, for instance.

Tickets are $19.50 for kids 4-12, $25 for adults, and $21.50 for seniors.    Pricey?  Not for what you’re seeing, and not for the care these scrolls are being given.  Seeing them upclose was a very humbling, and an almost once in a lifetime opportunity since the scrolls are on loan by Israel’s Antiquities Authority.  The exhibition runs through April.