Image courtesy of Wikimedia
Salt from a thousand years ago is prominently on display at the Science Museum of Minnesota’s The Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit. One big chunk of salt looks like sea coral ( which in turn looks like a stone brain — rocks for brains, heh) embedded with crystal bars. Ancient processed salt is also represented, thick flakes that make me wonder: if I put one of those flakes to my tongue, will it still be salty?
Skeletons coming to life
Of course there were things other than salt chunks and salt flakes of interest at the exhibit. There were sandals worn in the time of Christ. The sandals brought to mind the foot washing/hospitality customs of ancient civilizations. There were beautiful ancient glass bottles that looked like they belonged in a museum of art. There were models and scales of the area where the dead sea scrolls were found, interactive activities and much more. There was an educational display that taught me that, at one time, the Jews saved their bones for the future literal/bodily resurrection they believed in. This brought to mind the horror-movie-like images of Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of the dry bones — where the bones knit themselves into bodies and come to life in Ezekiel 37: 1-14. Click here to read “The Vision of the Dry Bones” B.C. 586.
Bring a magnifying glass
And then there were the scrolls. The scrolls were very hard to see because of the dim lighting used in displaying them (in a darkened room) combined with the thick layers of glass that made up the display case. The dim lighting is used to protect the scrolls from deterioration and breakdown caused by light. Understandable but also disappointing. I had imagined being able to clearly see these important historical artifacts but you can see them better in authorized photos than you can in person. I was particularly disappointed about not being able to see, for myself and with my own eyes, the tetragrammaton. The tetragrammaton is in the scroll fragments featured at this time at the exhibit. I read the text backwards and squinted while doing so but couldn’t swear that I discerned it.
Fiery eyes of text
That being said, the display featuring the ink used in writing on the scrolls was vivid and strangely moving. The blackest black (soot) and the rarest red (cinnabar ) were used to create the inks. In the reproduction display of the inks on scrolls, the colors glower and burn with eyes of text that gaze right back at you.
The scrolls themselves were made from animal skins (my fingers startled with surprise at the softened cardboard feel of the animal skin scroll we were allowed to touch) and, later, papyrus.
Papyrus is made from the sliced sections of the flower stem of the papyrus plant, pressed together and dried, and then used for writing or drawing. Papyrus appeared in Egypt around 2400 B.C.
The guide who hosted the papyrus exhibit was especially informative and used humor (mentioning Tomes and Scrolls, the specialty bookshop in Harry Potter’s Hogsmeade, in association with scrolls and The Marauder’s Map, again from the Harry Potter series, in reference to parchment) to reach his audience.
“The manuscripts fall into three major categories: biblical, apocryphal, and sectarian. The biblical manuscripts comprise some two hundred copies of books of the Hebrew Bible, representing the earliest evidence for the biblical text in the world. Among the apocryphal manuscripts (works that were not included in the Jewish biblical canon) are works that had previously been known only in translation, or that had not been known at all. The sectarian manuscripts reflect a wide variety of literary genres: biblical commentary, religious-legal writings, liturgical texts, and apocalyptic compositions. Most scholars believe that the scrolls formed the library of the sect (the Essenes?) that lived at Qumran. However it appears that the members of this sect wrote only part of the scrolls themselves, the remainder having been composed or copied elsewhere” — Shrine of the Book: Introduction to the Dead Sea Scrolls
Overall, worth going to see. The admittance price is spendy, in my opinion ($34 for an adult and $28 for children from ages 4-12), but I’m glad I went. (Ticket prices)
The exhibit runs through October 24. Advance reservations are strongly recommended.
The Dead Sea Scrolls Exhibition floor map PDF
Links of interest:
Can salt lose its saltiness?
Educational Site: Dead Sea Scrolls
The Red Ink Of The Dead Sea Scrolls
25 Fascinating Facts About the Dead Sea Scrolls
The Tradition And History of Paper Making