Press Contact: John Sullivan (202) 707-9216, Lucy Suddreth (202) 707-9191

April 6, 1993

"Scrolls from the Dead Sea" Exhibition

A Collaborative Effort in Conservation, Preservation and Design

A major exhibition, "Scrolls from the Dead Sea: The Ancient Library of Qumran and Modern Scholarship," opens to the public in the Madison Gallery, first floor, Madison Building, at the Library of Congress, on April 29. The exhibition, made possible by a generous grant from the Project Judaica Foundation with additional support from Hilton International, will feature the oldest known copies of the Old Testament scriptures. It will remain on view through August 1.

Considered one of the major manuscript finds of the 20th century, the Dead Sea Scrolls have been, since their discovery in 1947, the focus of great public and scholarly interest. Through historical, paleographic and linguistic evidence, as well as carbon-14 dating, the scrolls and the Qumran ruin have been dated from the third century B.C.E. to 70 C.E. Coming from the late Second Temple Period and covering the time when Jesus lived, they are older than any other surviving biblical manuscripts by almost 1,000 years.

The exhibition will feature 12 fragmentary scrolls, only one of which has ever traveled to the United States. Two of the fragments are among the most controversial. The "War Rule," or the "Pierced Messiah" text, is the subject of the "pierced or piercing Messiah" debate, and "MMT," for the Hebrew words meaning "Some Torah Precepts," was cited in the disputes over the scholars' accessibility to the scrolls.

The exhibition items were selected through a collaborative effort of the Library of Congress and the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA). Library of Congress experts were flown to Israel to collaborate in assessing whether the 12 scrolls and the archaeological items could safely make the trip to the United States. The Library provided recommendations for conservation methods already begun by the Israelis. The fragments, written on skin, are brittle and extremely fragile. As part of the conservation efforts, the fragments have been placed in a controlled temperature environment to prevent deterioration.

Library staffers designed, in consultation with IAA, and provided special housing units in which the fragments will travel and be displayed. The housing unit has 10 layers of protective material that includes ultraviolet filtering acrylic sheeting, spacers, polyester netting, linen cloth, acid-free blotter and polypropylene corrugated board. The travel cases are constructed of ballistic cloth with a hard inner core, and layers of foam, to ensure the environmental and physical stability of the fragments. The fragments' environment will be monitored digitally at all times.

The exhibition cases have been specially fabricated to meet environmental and conservation requirements. The scrolls will be displayed at an 18 degree angle to accommodate conservation and viewing concerns. The cases will be illuminated only when an infrared sensor is tripped by a viewer, and light levels will necessarily be low.

"Scrolls From the Dead Sea" will also feature 88 related archaeological artifacts excavated at Qumran, the ancient site whose inhabitants may have produced the scrolls. The pottery and stoneware found at the site have received considerable conservation treatment. The pottery consists chiefly of modest items of daily use - an inkwell, a jug, a vase, drinking goblets, cooking pots, bowls, plates, and a lamp with original wick. The stone vessels made of soft limestone were abundant in Qumran in a variety of shapes and sizes. The exhibited items highlight the fine expert workmanship. Chisel marks can still be seen on the large stone goblet, ritual urn and measuring cups that will be on display.

Because of unusually arid conditions in Qumran, many wooden objects, including bowls, boxes, mirrors, and combs, were intact when excavated. The exhibition will feature several wood pieces, including a bowl made from acacia trees prevalent in the southern valleys of Israel and hair combs made of boxwood.

This Judean Desert site has yielded several leather objects, which permit the study of ancient tanning techniques. Most are sheepskin. A few pieces, particularly those used as patches, are of goat and calf skins. Water skins, large bags, pouches, purses, sandals, and garments have been found at the various sites. The skins were tanned with vegetable matter, specifically tannic acid extracted from nuts and pomegranates. Leather tabs and thongs that were most likely used to bind and secure individual scrolls will be on display.

The climate also helped preserve the basketry and cordage excavated at the site. The basketry fragments displayed are made of palm fronds, a material abundant in the area. The woven patterns of the baskets are still replicated by weavers in the region today.

The linen textiles on display are two out of scores of pieces collected together with scrolls and other objects from the floor of "Cave 1" in Qumran, in the spring of 1949. Some of the cloth pieces were scroll wrappers; the remains of one scroll were found wrapped in a small square of linen. Other cloths, found folded into pads, may have formed a packing for worn-out scrolls inside the scroll jars. Other pieces -- with corners twisted or bound with linen cord -- may have been used as protective jar covers.

A complete description of the 12 fragments and 88 other exhibition items may be found in the Scrolls from the Dead Sea: The Ancient Library of Qumran and Modern Scholarship catalog that will be available when the exhibition opens on April 29.

The exhibition will be monitored by an elaborate electronic surveillance system.

For information about free access to the exhibition and ticket availability, call (202) 245-5284.

# # #

PR 93-049
ISSN 0731-3527

Back to top