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Guests finding faith, learning through Dead Sea Scrolls

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 25 2014 11:45 p.m. MST

People look at artifacts in the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit at The Leonardo in Salt Lake City, Monday, Feb. 24, 2014.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Boston resident Leah Ogden, who was in Salt Lake City for less than 48 hours this past week, saw banners for the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit hanging from city streetlights.

She said she missed the exhibit when it came to Milwaukee in 2010. She wasn't going to let the opportunity pass again.

"It was my little miracle," she said as she left, hours after she had entered The Leonardo museum.

The Dead Sea Scrolls are a miracle in themselves. "That they were preserved all those years, and that they found their way to people who actually would recognize what they were," she said.

The exhibit, which opened Nov. 22, is the closest many will get to experiencing the scrolls and artifacts, short of a trip to Israel, museum executive director Alexandra Hesse said.

"It brings home so much of what the basis is of our even current day-to-day life," Hesse said. "So much of what we are and who we are goes back to those documents and that time."

Hesse said the Dead Sea Scrolls is a significant exhibit for The Leonardo on many levels including the nature of the exhibition, the scale, delicacy and security.

"It's been, in many ways, the most ambitions exhibit we've hosted to date," Hesse said. "It has really opened the door. … It's made us better, I think."

Bryton Sampson, communication specialist for The Leonardo, said so far the museum has welcomed more than 65,000 visitors. He said museum officials hope to have more than 100,000 visitors by the end of the exhibit on April 27. Sampson said people should not wait to visit.

The Body Worlds exhibit brought a rush in its final weeks, and Sampson said the museum's doors were open 24 hours a day to accommodate visitors. But because the scrolls are under strict light restrictions, he said the 24-hour access will not be available with the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The Dead Sea Scrolls, Life and Faith in Ancient Times, sponsored and created by the Israel Antiquities Authority, is the largest collection of scrolls and artifacts that has ever left Israel at any one time.

Of the more than 900 scrolls, 20 have come to Utah — four of which have never been seen before. Ten of those scrolls on display were switched for a new set between Feb. 4 and 10. Specific regulations by the antiquities authority require those first 10 scrolls to be placed into complete darkness for at least the next five years.

"This is vital to the Utah community and to the Intermountain community," Brigham Young University professor of the Hebrew Bible Donald Parry said of the exhibit. "We have so many faithful communities of different beliefs and religious systems who are 'people of the book,' who love the Old Testament."

Parry, a member of the international scholars team that translated the scrolls, said the scrolls were the greatest archeological discovery in the past 200-300 years.

"These scrolls represent the world's oldest Bible," he said. "They are 1,000 years older than the previous known Bible."

Hesse said people have found the exhibition very powerful, regardless of their faith or religious background.

Adrian Ruiz, another visitor of the museum, said the exhibit solidified his faith. The significance of seeing the scrolls for Ruiz was thinking about faith, how far back it goes, and how our religious traditions have evolved since then.

"If you're a faith person, then you have to have something to have a foundation on. And there's the foundation," he said, motioning toward the exhibit entrance.

Parry said if visitors will pause and take time from their daily lives to visit the exhibition, they will feel something.

"There is something spiritual here for everyone, regardless of your background," he said. "And if you feel and then read and gain more knowledges, it's a tremendous value."

He suggests visitors can prepare for the exhibit by reading from the Old Testament, consider what the scrolls are and why they are so important. He has also instructed about 30 BYU students who give tours for groups geared toward members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Hesse said those of any faith or religious background can benefit from these tours. She also said there are many educational resources available ranging from lectures, film series, book clubs and a conference. These resources are free to the public and listed on The Leonardo's website.

General admission is $23.95. Discounts are available for students, seniors and military. There is also a special $10 rate for BYU and UVU students. Group prices are also available.

Email: eeagar@deseretnews.com

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