Don’t miss ‘the most important archaeological discovery of the 20th century’

Denver’s Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition brings to life Judaism at time of Jesus

“Welcome to Israel, the Biblical land of milk and honey at the crossroads of Africa, Europe and Asia… an archaeologist’s paradise”: These words mark the start of a once-in-a-lifetime immersion into ancient Israel that the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition brings to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science March 16 to Sep. 3.

The exhibition, sponsored by the Archdiocese of Denver, not only displays the authentic Dead Sea Scrolls that have captivated millions of believers and non-believers around the world, but also a timeline back to Biblical times filled with ancient objects that date back to events written about in the Old Testament more than 3,000 years ago.

“We are convinced that the Dead Sea Scrolls discovered in the Judean desert are the most important archaeological discovery of the 20th century,” said Dr. Uzi Dahari, deputy director of the Israel Antiquities. “These scrolls, written in Hebrew, are the oldest copy of the Bible.”

In fact, some of these manuscripts are almost a thousand years older than the oldest copies of the Bible that had been discovered, providing a great wealth of knowledge about Judaism at the time of Jesus.

“So many things have changed [since this discovery],” said Dr. Michael Barber, professor of Scripture and Theology at the Augustine Institute in Denver. “We now understand first-century Judaism in a way we didn’t in the past and see how the Biblical authors are breathing the same air as other ancient Jews.”

An exhibition of the Dead Sea Scrolls at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science will be on display until Sept. 3. (Photos by Andrew Wright | Denver Catholic)

The air of first-century Israel was filled with expectations for the coming of the Messiah. The Dead Sea Scrolls, which have been associated with a unique religious Jewish community that lived a structured life, are a witness to this reality, he explained.

“[These communities] were trying to live in such a way as to prepare for the coming of the Messiah. They looked forward to a new covenant and the restoration of the glory of Adam” Dr. Barber said. “We see so many overlaps of how the New Testament is a fulfillment of the Jewish expectations of the time.”

The exhibition immerses guests into the history of the chosen people of God, from artifacts impressed with seals belonging to Biblical kings, such as Hezekiah, to an authentic stone block that fell from Jerusalem’s Western Wall in 70 AD.

“We preferred to select scientifically important items, some very small, some very large… but all of great significance,” Dr. Dahari said.

“Israel’s archaeological sites and artifacts have yielded extraordinary record of human achievement,” added Dr. Risa Levitt Kohn, curator of the exhibit and professor at San Diego State University. “The pots, coins, weapons, jewelry and other artifacts on display in this exhibition constituted a momentous contribution to our cultural legacy. They teach us about the past, but they also teach us about ourselves.”

COMING UP: What are the Dead Sea Scrolls?

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One of the greatest archaeological discoveries of all time is coming to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science March 16, and it has deep roots in the Christian faith.

The Dead Sea Scrolls stand as a crucial link between the modern age and the Church’s roots in history. Many skeptics of religion, especially Christianity, scoff at the idea that the Bible and its books are not meant to be read as a fairy tale – in addition to being God’s divine word, they are historical documents. The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls reinforces this fact indisputably.

The scrolls were discovered almost by chance in the mid-1940s. An Arab shepherd searching for a lost sheep discovered a cave in the limestone cliffs on the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea, around the site of Qumran in Israel. His curiosity led him to cast a stone into the cave, and to his surprise, the sound of breaking pottery greeted him back. It’s not known if he ever found his lost sheep, but needless to say, he found something much greater.

The clay jars housed seven nearly intact ancient manuscripts which, it would be discovered later, were only part of the remains of over 900 manuscripts that scholars dated to have been written between 250 B.C. and 68 A.D.

Upon their initial discovery, three of the scrolls were sold to a Bethlehem antiquities dealer (one of which was a full manuscript of the Book of Isaiah), while the other four were sold to another antiquities dealer. When Hebrew University professor Eliezer Lipa Sukenik caught wind of the Scroll’s discovery through an Armenian antiquities dealer, he became intrigued and decided to investigate the significance of the finds himself.

He wrote of his reaction to opening the Scrolls for the first time and the revelation that these manuscripts were 1,000 years older than any existing Biblical text in his diary:

“My hands shook as I started to unwrap one of them. I read a few sentences. It was written in beautiful Biblical Hebrew. The language was like that of the Psalms, but the text was unknown to me. I looked and looked, and I suddenly had the feeling that I was privileged by destiny to gaze upon a Hebrew scroll which had not been read for more than 2,000 years.”

When the scrolls were found, they were stored in clay jars such as this one (Photos provided)

It took several years for scholars to authenticate the Scrolls, but once they were deemed authentic in the early 1950s, further excavations took place around the site of the initial discovery and 11 other caves containing more scrolls were discovered.

The history of how the Scrolls were discovered is a fascinating story in and of itself, but one that pales in comparison to the contents of the Scrolls. The majority of the Dead Sea Scrolls are religious works, divided by scholars into “Biblical” and “Non-Biblical” compositions.

Each of the manuscripts provide a fascinating glimpse into the ancient time period before Christ walked the earth and even during, but the perhaps the most striking of all the documents contained is the representation of the entirety of the Old Testament of Sacred Scripture (except for Esther) in the original Hebrew. Also present are translations of scriptural text into Aramaic and Greek, including the books of the Apocrypha, which are considered canonical in the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Tradition but are not part of the Hebrew Bible.

The exhibit at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science will feature 10 of the scrolls on display at a time, and among those will be a portion of the Book of Isaiah and the Psalms.

Was it pure coincidence or divine intervention that led to the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls? Judge for yourself beginning March 16.

Dead Sea Scrolls
March 16 – Sept. 3
Tickets: dmns.org/dead-sea-scrolls