17 April 2018

From darkness to light: the scrolls of Qumran

At the Israel Museum, the Shrine of the Book houses the Dead Sea Scrolls, the oldest extant biblical manuscripts.

Archaeology, Culture, and other Religions

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The Israel Museum was established in 1965 as a national institution to preserve the history of this land, especially that concerning archaeology. This archaeology relates the stories of many Peoples who lived here and who left physical traces of their cultures.

Since its construction, the Shrine of the Book has housed the Dead Sea Scrolls, the oldest extant biblical manuscripts, discovered between 1947 and 1956, near Qumran.

Studium Biblicum Franciscanum
They were found in eleven caves, and they comprise the remains of about nine hundred and fifty scrolls. I say “remains” because, not surprisingly, very few of the scrolls were preserved in their entirety. Most of them are fragments; some of them large, but others small enough to fit into the palm of a hand. Many fragments are as tiny as a fingernail.

The documents found at Qumran, attributed to the Essenes, some think, offer us an almost tangible impression of that community and their view of the World.

Head of Curatorial Affairs – Israel Museum
Through the architecture of the museum’s Shrine of the Book, the visitor enters a kind of cave which is simultaneously physical and metaphorical. Here many objects can be seen and admired, and these tell the story of the sect’s members, illustrating their daily life. Finally, emerging from the cave into the high white interior of the shrine, one can see the Dead Sea Scrolls.

An experience which offers a journey through time, from darkness to light, through fragments of manuscripts and religious texts; through biblical comments, hymns, Psalms, and community rules.

Head of Curatorial Affairs – Israel Museum
The architecture of the shrine presents two important symbolic features, namely a black basalt wall and a large clean white, one might say pristine dome. Together they symbolize a parchment which relates the story of the Sons of Light and the Sons of Darkness. According to a scroll, the history of these two groups will eventually end, and the Sons of Light will be victorious. Then the Messiah will appear.

From March to June, In celebration of the 70th anniversary of the discovery of the scrolls, the only existing copy of the Genesis Apocryphon, which dates from the First Century BCE, and which was found in 1947, is being exhibited.

Head of Curatorial Affairs – Israel Museum
What we have been able to bring to light, precisely for Passover this year, are fragments of the scroll of Genesis Apocryphon, which, of course, is not canonical. In particular, these fragments are able to tell part of the story of the biblical Flood. The name of Noah is written several times; rain is mentioned, as is the sacrifice of Noah. With small variations, surely, it is a story that we all know.