Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit offers chance to explore sacred connections

Published: Thursday, March 6 2014 5:00 a.m. MST

Visitors look the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit at The Leonardo in Salt Lake City on Monday, Feb. 24.

Ravell Call, Deseret News.

SALT LAKE CITY — The Dead Sea Scrolls aren’t random words written on fragments of ancient leather.

Dating back more than 2,000 years, the scrolls are valued by Jews, Muslims and Christians alike, and many of them contain familiar scripture.

“The Lord is revealed in these texts,” said Donald Parry, professor of the Hebrew Bible and the Dead Sea Scrolls at Brigham Young University.

Portions of these religious texts are currently on display at The Leonardo in Salt Lake City, where members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are among the patrons who have the opportunity to gain tremendous insight from them.

Working in conjunction with BYU professors, the museum has created a lecture program to enhance the experience for members of the LDS Church as well as other visitors. In addition to these programs, some of the scrolls and objects on display hold interesting connections to Christianity and the LDS faith, giving members of the church the opportunity to reflect on the role of faith in the world today as well as the faith of the ancients.

“The connection to the past is so hard to put into words, but when you see this exhibit it’s just undeniable,” said Bryton Sampson, communication specialist for The Leonardo.

BYU connections

The staff at The Leonardo knew the Dead Sea Scrolls would be a hit with the Utah audience.

“When we heard that this was traveling the country, we knew it was going to appeal to the people of Utah and the Wasatch Front,” Sampson said.

He explained that the state’s appetite for the content, along with The Leonardo’s flexible floor plan, were big contributors to the staff’s desire to bring the exhibit to the museum. But he said an “even bigger” appeal was the work Parry and his colleagues at BYU had been doing with the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The Leonardo created connections with the local community by working with BYU, pulling from the university’s large pool of Dead Sea Scroll scholars to create a lecture series.

“By the end of the exhibit, every major expert will have spoken here,” Lisa Davis, media and public relations director for The Leonardo, said in a previous interview with the Deseret News.

Several BYU scholars have already presented as part of the series, and Parry is set to lecture at The Leonardo on Thursday, March 6, at 7 p.m. Previous lectures are available online.

A section of the exhibit is titled “Unlocking the Past: How Utah Scholars and Scientists Are Helping to Bring Ancient Texts Out of the Darkness and Into the Light.” A timeline within the section highlights some of the work of BYU scholars, as well as a computer area at the Dead Sea Scrolls Electronic Library. The computer program, produced at BYU with Parry as one of the editors, allows guests to digitally browse the contents of the scrolls. A jar purchased by N. Eldon Tanner is also displayed in this area and is believed to be a Qumran jar that held the scrolls.

Background and LDS connections

Housed in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, the first set of Dead Sea Scrolls is believed to have been owned by a sect of Jews called the Essenes. The scrolls were found in the Qumran caves near the Dead Sea in 1947. Discoveries continued over several years to the point that the collection now includes more than 900 manuscripts, about 200 of which contain texts from the Old Testament. According to Parry, at least fragments of every book of the Old Testament, with the exception of the book of Esther, were discovered in the caves.

“The Old Testament scrolls … signify in my personal faith belief the first testament of Jesus Christ,” Parry said. “(They) are books that almost emit light.”

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