I wrote about the Dead Sea Scrolls: Life and Faith in Ancient Times exhibit when it visited Philadelphia last year. The scrolls still fascinate because they’re a kind of missing link between the closing of the Old Testament and the opening of the New, giving us a picture of some elements of Judaism as it was at the dawn of Christianity. They all still generate incredible amounts of controversy.
Because the final stop is at the Museum of Science, the exhibit is being tailored a bit to focus on science in the scrolls. Here’s what the Brandeis Hoot has to say:
“The museum had some role in choosing which Dead Sea Scrolls would actually be available for the public to see. I and some others advised the museum concerning that,” Brettler said.
The exhibit will feature 20 scrolls and fragments of scrolls total, as well as many artifacts from ancient Israel. “One of the areas we pushed, especially since they’re a museum of science, and I know which scrolls have more scientific material in them, I pushed them in that direction, so the exhibit would fit with museum’s goal,” he said.
“There are astronomical texts, or texts that deal with astronomy among the scrolls,” one of which will be featured in the exhibit. “So that’s science in antiquity,” said Brettler. The exhibit will also highlight the science of the scrolls itself—the technology of archaeological preservation has made huge advances since the scrolls were initially discovered in 1947.
“Especially because the exhibit is at the Museum of Science, one of the things that interests us a lot concerns science in the scrolls and science being used to preserve or decipher the scrolls,” Benjamin Federlin ’14, undergraduate representative to the committee said.
“Some of the mapping technology that has been developed by NASA in the jet-propulsion laboratory is being used for reading the scrolls, because sometimes you literally need to connect dots, you need to figure out what is a shadow, what is part of the writing, what is an ancient stain,” Brettler explained. “Some techniques that have been developed for mapping the earth from outer space end up being very useful in terms of the Dead Sea Scrolls.”
Science has made archaeology much better able to understand its findings, says Brettler. “Thirty years ago, people could have said, ‘Oh, this is a bowl that may have contained such-and-such.’ Now there are various techniques that can be used that we can really understand what these ancient containers contained. Scientific analysis of pottery makes archaeologists able to understand more about diets and changes in diet.”
“[The Scrolls] a great example of the leaps that have been made, and we have some faculty who could actually talk about that,” Federlin said.