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The Scrolls as a Start, Not an End

November 1st, 2011

The exhibition avoids conclusions. Instead it ends with a kind of ecumenism, referring to how modern Judaism and Christianity evolved out of the texts of ancient Israel and how Islam, too, grew out of these narratives.

But the show as a whole is more interested in the scrolls’ past. We see the scrolls only after we have walked through a chronicle of the region’s milestones, illustrated by archaeological finds in the collection of Israel National Treasures. And they position the scrolls not just as a part of religious history but also as a part of national history.

This is a reason that the exhibition establishes a parallel between the devotional fervor of the Qumran community (destroyed by the Romans in A.D. 68) and the zealotry of rebel holdouts at Masada, a cliff settlement overlooking the Dead Sea (destroyed by the Romans in A.D. 73). Displays about both communities include potsherds, seeds and dried fruit. There are ropes from Qumran and wool textiles from Masada. Masada has long been an Israeli national symbol, and Qumran is surely a religious one, but their connections are made clear.

The flaw is that we never really comprehend how such a religious culture and its scrolls evolved out of this history. But we do see a history exceptional in its traumas and influences. In this sliver of land, the curators explain, “the beliefs and material culture of locals, nomads and invaders have intermingled for millennia.”

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