Dead Sea Scrolls coming to Seattle

Here's a "heads up" about what promises to be a very big exhibit coming in fall to the Pacific Science Center-the Dead Sea Scrolls, which will be making a rare appearance outside of Israel.

Pacific Science Center museum president Bryce Seidl estimates the exhibit will draw between 200,000 and 250,000 visitors. Attendance records for the museum could be broken. Tickets to see the scrolls are now on sale at the Pacific Science Center.

The major new exhibition, "Discovering the Dead Sea Scrolls," will last from Sept. 23, 2006, to Jan. 7, 2007. It will feature 10 of the scrolls, including four scrolls never before seen by the public.

Also included is a collection of artifacts from the ancient settlement of Qumran near the Dead Sea, along with interactive exhibits explaining the science behind the excavation, preservation and interpretation of the scrolls.

Present at the press conference announcing the forthcoming exhibit was Mayor Greg Nickels, who likened it to the King Tut exhibit of a few decades ago. It will show us "a little picture of life 2,300 years ago," Nickels said. "We must know from where we came."

Also present was King County Executive Ron Sims, who said the exhibit will be a cultural highlight for our region, and will attract people from outside the state, including Canada. A number of state senators and other elected state officials were in attendance as well.

The city of Seattle is contributing $200,000, and King County is donating $250,000 to help sponsor the event. Regarded by many to be one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of the 20th century, the Dead Sea Scrolls predate Christianity and include the earliest known written texts of the Bible. Until the scrolls' discovery, there were no known biblical texts dated before 895 A.D.

Written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek, the Dead Sea scrolls are more than 1,000 years older, having been transcribed between 250 B. C. and 68 A.D.

The story of the scrolls' accidental discovery is nearly as impressive as their historical and spiritual significance. In 1947, a young Bedouin goatherd and his companions were exploring a cave near the Dead Sea, in the Judean desert about 13 miles southeast of Jerusalem. They found jars filled with words written on animal skins.

The scrolls are written with a carbon-based ink and are made predominantly of animal skins. Papyrus was used also, and one scroll is made of copper.

The unique climate of the Dead Sea region helped to preserve the scrolls until their discovery. The area is the lowest point on Earth, with the highest barometric pressure on the planet's surface.

The initial discovery spurred a search and excavation, by archaeologists and others, that lasted nearly a decade. Eventually the work of these scholars and scientists yielded thousands of fragments from hundreds of scrolls, all hidden among 11 caves for 2,000 years.

Today, most of the artifacts from the site are in the care of the Israel Antiquities Authority, which continues to research, conserve and preserve the manuscripts. Public exhibits, until recently, have been very rare. During the 1980s and '90s there were four shows in the United States.

"Discovering the Dead Sea Scrolls," a 12,000-square-foot exhibition, was developed by the Pacific Science Center in cooperation with Discovery Place in Charlotte, N.C., and is presented is association with the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Dead Sea Scrolls Foundation.

While some Dead Sea Scrolls previously have been seen in the United States, this is the first exhibition of its kind and the first time any of the scrolls will be displayed on the West Coast. Visitors to the Pacific Science Center will be the first members of the public-in the world, in fact-to see four of the scrolls. And another of the scrolls is making its first appearance outside Israel.

One of the Israel-based Dead Sea Scrolls Foundation's goals has been to boost the number of places the scrolls have been exhibited. Kansas City, Phoenix and San Diego are other cities on the list for exhibits in coming years.

Caring for the invaluable scrolls has presented its own challenge. The fragile documents must be kept at a precise temperature and humidity, and can be exposed to light only for brief periods of time.

In Seattle, the scrolls will be held in cases equipped with fiber-optic sensors that will turn lights on and off automatically to control exposure.

Seidl estimates the exhibit will cost about $1.8 million, which expense will be covered mostly by corporate donors. At a previous exhibit in Mobile, Ala., some of the Dead Sea Scrolls generated $990,000 in taxable revenue.

Weston Fields, director of the Dead Sea Scrolls Foundation, said that everywhere the scrolls have appeared they have been hugely successful.

"The Dead Sea Scrolls have been a lifesaver to every museum they've gone to."

Gary McDaniel lives in Magnolia.[[In-content Ad]]