By Donna M. Airoldi
Special to DNAinfo
MANHATTAN — Several newly discovered ancient artifacts from Israel and never-before-displayed segments of the 2,000-year-old Dead Sea Scrolls are part of a new multimedia exhibit that makes its world debut in Times Square tomorrow.
“Dead Sea Scrolls: Life and Faith in Biblical Times,” one of the largest collections of Holy Land artifacts ever assembled, displays more than 500 items spanning from the Ottoman and Byzantine periods to the ancient era dating to more than 3,000 years ago.
“The exhibit starts in the present and ends in the biblical period,” said Dr. Risa Levitt Kohn, one of two curators of the exhibit. “Many of the objects have never been on display before, and some are from current excavations and have been found in just the past few months or year.”
The Dead Sea Scrolls, considered one of the most important archaeological finds, are manuscripts created from the 3rd Century BCE to the 1st Century CE that contain some of the oldest-known copies of biblical books from the Old Testament, along with hymns, prayers and other writings that shed light on a significant period of Judaism and early Christianity.
Pieces from 20 different scrolls, four of which have never been shown publicly before, are in the exhibit. Ten will be on display at a time, rotating every three months. Fragments from the books of Psalms, Leviticus, Isaiah and Deuteronomy—which has texts of the Ten Commandments—are part of the group currently on view.
The scrolls were first discovered by a Bedouin goat-herder in a cave near Khirbet Qumran near the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea in 1947. By 1956, nearly 100,000 fragments were discovered in 11 caves, and scholars have pieced them together into more than 900 separate documents. Most of the scrolls are written on leather parchment.
Videos show the excavation of the scrolls and their being analyzed during the 1950s, when less was known about preservation, producing cringe-worthy scenes of sunlight streaming onto the delicate parchment and workers smoking over the fragments and using Scotch tape to hold pieces together. In recent years, gloved specialists in temperature-controlled rooms have been working to carefully remove the adhesives and remaining resins.
While the scrolls are arguably the most historically important part of the exhibit, the accompanying Holy Land artifacts on display—jewelry, figurines, weapons, jars, mosaics, carvings, household pottery, coins—are fascinating in their own right.
Of particular note are a three-ton stone from Jerusalem’s Western Wall believed to have fallen from the Second Temple’s outer wall during the Roman invasion in 70 CE, a silver shekel from 28 BCE used to pay the Temple tax, a four-horned altar from the 10th Century BCE and items unearthed from Masada, the plateau fortress whose last inhabitants committed mass suicide rather than being captured by the Romans during the 1st Century CE.
“Israel’s archaeological sites and the artifacts they have yielded provide a record of extraordinary human achievement,” said Kohn. “[They] teach us about the past and also about ourselves.”
The exhibit is created by the Israel Antiquities Authority from the collections of the Israel National Treasures and produced by Discovery Times Square and The Franklin Institute.
“Dead Sea Scrolls: Life and Faith in Biblical Times” starts Oct. 28 and runs through April 15, 2012 at Discovery Times Square, 226 W. 44th St. between Broadway and Eighth Avenue.