Review of Discovery Time Square’s Dead Sea Scrolls Exhibit

The Scrolls are back in New York!  Recently a colleague and I were treated to an educator’s preview of the new Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit which opened on Friday. The Discovery Times Square Museum, located on 44th between 7th and 8th ave. (the heart of broadway), is the latest museum in New York to exhibit some of the Scrolls, as well as over 500 archaeological artifacts (e.g., “the Jesus, Son of Joseph” ossuary, Qumran phylacteries, and a 3-ton Herodian stone that was once part the Kotel, i.e., the Western Wall).

Your first stop is a darkened room where four translations of Gen 12:1 appear on the wall. To begin, the Hebrew verse is lit and a woman’s voice (in the style of a Bat Qol) is heard chanting the passage. After the English version is highlighted and recited, you are welcome to the exhibit and ushered into a room where you are surrounded  with six HD screens. Part of the floor is decorated with sand and gravel and upon the screens is a moving panoramic video of somewhere on the shore of the Dead Sea. Accenting the room are three ancient jars, the last of which is the jar-type attested at Qumran. A presenter appears standing by the first of the three jars as images of excavations and the Dead Sea begin to appear on the screens. As he moves from jar to jar, he explains the importance if the Land of Israel to the three Abrahamic faiths. He concludes at the Qumran jar just after the audience is treated to a moving panorama of the Western Wall.

Two doors are then opened to next part of the exhibit and you begin walking down a hallway length display that is intended to usher you back into the ancient world by way of artifacts (starting with the Ottoman period). The display is complemented in the center of the hallway with several lights that indicate you century by century passage into antiquity. The length of the hall works to give some sense that you are passing into the past. Your entry into ancient Israel is complete as you pass large ancient limestone jars and a display which reveals the kind of house your normal Israelite might inhabit. Against the back wall are two large displays of different artifacts. LCD tv’s centered on each side help to tell some of the story of the artifacts on display, as well as provide a digitized 360 degree view of some others. Some of the highlights of this area were the giant Pheonician inspired column capital, several beautifully preserved bullae, a small pomegranate with a dove perched on top, two four horned altars, and finally a fully restored terra-cotta bath from Dan. Surprisingly this lovely part of the exhibit was only the first half of the total exhibit and helped to contextualize the Israelite backgrounds of the world that eventually developed into the diverse landscape of Second Temple Judaism.

A quick walk downstairs brings you a large open space. Centered in the middle of this room is a large circular table with a single Qumran jar in the middle. But the Scrolls are now intended to be te first thing you see. The flight of stairs leaves you at the very beginning of a long circular display that houses artifacts from the Second Temple, Islamic, and Christian periods. All told, the circular format seems intended to mimic the inside of a Qumran jar which eventually leads you to the scrolls themselves—although it seems that none of the scrolls were actually found in the jars (though these jars are peculiar to the Qumram site). Some of the highlights here, apart from the Scrolls, are the architectural friezes from the Huldah Gates, the newly announced menorah etching discovered in the Siloam drainage ditch (see blog here), and the ossuaries from the so-called Jesus Family Tomb (which in fact has nothing to do with Jesus)—unfortunately, the inscription from the famous “Jesus, Son of Joseph” ossuary is turned away from the view of the spectators. Accenting the room are three side rooms, one which reads portions of the decalogue from the Deuteronomy Scroll, one that has a short video where L. Schiffman, E. Tov, and J. Magness appear discussing the discovery of the Scrolls, and one final room with a live camera of the Kotel. Just beside this room is a 3-ton Herodian stone laying on the floor. Prayers which are written and placed upon the stone will be shipped to Israel and placed in the Western Wall.

After all this, you are finally ready to see the Scrolls—even though you can always just skip all of the side artifacts and go straight to them (Its up to you how you go about seeing the exhibit). Making your way around the circular table there are several scroll fragments, the majority of which are in Hebrew, except for one Greek text from Nahal Hever, and Aramaic Levi. The Hebrew texts you will see are one of the recensions of the Community Rule (1QS), a Psalms Scroll, and Pseudo-Ezekiel, among others. Though the writing is often minuscule, and the scrolls are kept dimmed in order to prevent further deterioration, the display provides a well lit close up of the text and an English translation of a portion. Overall, the exhibition is phenomenal and perhaps even better than the San Diego exhibition held during SBL’s annual meeting in 2007. I look forward to going back and taking students. It is an exhibit that shouldn’t be missed.

Several Reviews have already been posted (here are some):
CSN News
AM New York
News Network Archaeology
CBS News
Discovery News
New York Post
HT: J. Lauer for the news links.

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