Experience a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to witness one of the greatest archaeological finds of the 20th century—the Dead Sea Scrolls, which include the earliest known Biblical writings.I will comment on the Milwaukee exhibit in a separate post. For a much more thorough review than I intend to do, see John’s post here.
If you are in the Twin Cities any time between now and October 24th, I highly recommend you take a few hours to go see the exhibit at the Science Museum. Of the three exhibits I’ve seen, the scope of the MN exhibit is the most comprehensive in terms of background information related to the Scrolls and the site of Qumran. I’m more familiar than the average person with the various theories and debates related to the DSS, and the main thing that impressed me about the MN exhibit was how it laid out all the options related to the identity of the sect and the possible uses of the site without privileging any particular angle. The exhibit does not play up a simplistic either/or dichotomy of Jerusalem origins vs. Qumran Essene origin that might have been assumed from some of the media coverage. While past exhibits have mentioned the existence of multiple theories, this is the only one I’ve seen that incorporates the information on multiple theories throughout the exhibit and doesn’t “spin” the evidence in favor of any particular perspective. (Concerning the San Diego exhibit, Bob Cargill pointed out that his documentary at the exhibit laid out the options. While that may be so, I saw the exhibit but not the movie and the exhibit itself was very much oriented toward the “Standard Hypothesis” of Qumran Essene origin for the scrolls.)
Now I have a theory for why museums and other popular presentations of controversial issues like this present one theory as stronger and more certain than it really is. People like certainty and proof (just ask Scott). They’re uncomfortable with uncertainty, ambiguity, and tension between competing interpretations. They also don’t like to think for themselves. So while multiple theories and raw data might be presented, they’re usually told which one is the “right” answer. Not so at the MN exhibit. All the options are laid out and you’re left to decide for yourself who makes a stronger case. (In case you want someone to tell you what to think: The scrolls were not composed at Qumran by a monk-like group of Essenes. Pick any other theory and it makes more sense of the data.)
The flow of the exhibit works well and the free audio tour was a definite plus. (The Milwaukee exhibit charges an extra $6 for an audio tour which I did not purchase.) Most of your time at the exhibit won’t be spent in the Scrolls room. There are only 5 scrolls on display at a time at the Science Museum. But the Scrolls display is really just the climax to a very comprehensive exhibit of artifacts from Second Temple Judaism and the archaeology of the Dead Sea region. One of my favorite parts of the exhibit was on how Israel is working now to preserve the scroll fragments, contrasting current methods of preservation with the “what-were-they-thinking” techniques from the 1950s (involving scotch tape, plate glass, and cigarettes – you can see the plate glass and the tape still in use on the DSS fragments displayed in Milwaukee).
As an added bonus, 28 pages of the Saint John’s Bible are on display in an additional exhibit at the end of the DSS exhibit. The Saint John’s Bible is a hand-written illuminated Bible, the first of its kind since the invention of the printing press. Scribal culture is getting a mini-revival of sorts! The artwork and script is amazing and well worth seeing.
If you get the opportunity, the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit at the Science Museum of Minnesota is well worth the trip. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!