Sunday, June 29, 2008

Israel Museum Presents Great Isaiah Scroll For the First Time in Over Forty Years

Isaiah Scroll (1QIsaa) Written in Hebrew, Qumran, Cave 1. Ca. 120 BCE Parchment © Photo The Israel Museum, Jerusalem.

TEL AVIV.- On the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the State of israel, the israel Museum presents two major sections of the Great Isaiah Scroll – the most complete biblical Dead Sea Scroll document ever found and one of the world’s greatest archaelogical treasures – in a special installation in the Shrine of the Book. For the first time in over forty years, the public will have the rare opportunity to view the two longest sections of the Scroll, featuring Isaiah’s celebrated message of peace: "They shall beat their swords into plowshares…" (Isaiah 2:4). In order to illustrate this important message, artifacts from the days of the prophet Isaiah (8th century BCE), including a bent scimitar and agricultural tools, will be displayed together with the Scroll as part of this special exhibit. Swords into Plowshares: The Isaiah Scroll and Its Message of Peace will be on view in the Shrine of the Book at the Museum from May 19 through August 30, 2008.

“This special installation, held in celebration of israel’s 60th anniversary, provides visitors with a rare opportunity to view one of the oldest, most complete, and best preserved of the Dead Sea Scrolls,” said James S. Snyder, Anne and Jerome Fisher Director of the israel Museum. “The Isaiah Scroll, housed at the israel Museum in the Shrine of the Book, with its timeless message of peace, is one of the most important ancient biblical documents ever discovered.”

Swords into Plowshares presents the longest sections of the complete Isaiah Scroll: a 2.60 meter-long section comprising chapters 1-28, and a 2.38 meter-long section comprising chapters 44-66. Contextualizing the scroll, the Museum will also display ancient archaeological tools, including a bent scimitar and a newly excavated and never before displayed early Roman seal, depicting a dove-like bird carrying an olive branch. The exhibit is curated by Michal Dayagi-Mendels, Chief Curator of Archaeology, and Adolfo Roitman, Head of the Shrine of the Book and Curator of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The Great Isaiah Scroll

The Isaiah Scroll (Manuscript A) is one of the first seven scrolls discovered in 1947 in a cave near Qumran, on the northwestern shores of the Dead Sea. Of the 220 biblical scrolls found in the area, the complete Great Isaiah Scroll is one of the best preserved and the only one containing an entire biblical book. Dating from approximately 120 BCE, it is also one of the oldest Dead Sea Scrolls, some one thousand years older than the oldest manuscripts of the Bible known to us before the Scrolls’ discovery. The version of the text is close to the masoretic version found in medieval codices, among them the Aleppo Codex, which is also permanently held and regularly displayed in the Shrine of the Book. Unlike most of the biblical scrolls from Qumran, it exhibits “popular” spelling, shedding light on how Hebrew was pronounced during the Second Temple period. The prominence of the Book of Isaiah is consistent with the messianic beliefs of the community living at Qumran, since Isaiah is known for his prophecies concerning the End of Days.

The complete Isaiah Scroll was briefly on display at the israel Museum from 1965-67, as part of the original design conception for the Shrine of the Book. Since that time, due to conservation requirements aimed at the Scrolls' long-term preservation, Scroll sections are rotated on a regular basis in the Shrine, and the architects' original design intention is demonstrated through a facsimile. Swords into Plowshares represents the first time since their appearance in the 1960s that the two longest sections will be on public view.

From Weapons of War to Agricultural Tools

In the days of Isaiah, both weapons and agricultural tools were made from the same material: cast iron, the “steel” of ancient times. These implements were much stronger than their bronze and wooden counterparts used customarily before the 8th Century CE. The agricultural tools displayed in Swords into Plowshares, dating from Isaiah’s times, reflect the popular choice of peace through the production of plowshares and pruning hooks over swords and spears. As is written in the Book of Kings: “Judah and israel dwelt in safety, everyone under his own vine and under his own fig tree” (1 Kings 5:5).

Swords into Plowshares also presents a scimitar intentionally bent in antiquity to symbolize the death of the warrior who had used it and in whose tomb it was buried. During the historic visit in 1977 of the former president of Egypt, Anwar Sadat, to israel, the former prime minister of israel, Menahem Begin, presented the Egyptian leader with a replica of this sword as a token of peace in the region.

Celebrating Sixty Years of Discovery

Coinciding with this display, the israel Museum will hold a major academic conference on July 6-8, 2008, celebrating sixty years since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, with participating experts from israel and worldwide. The sessions planned for this three-day conference focus on such themes as: life in Qumran, biblical interpretation, scientific and cultural approaches to the Scrolls, language and Qumran literature, and the Scrolls as an educational tool. The conference is sponsored by the Dorot Foundation and the Nussia and Andre Aisenstadt Foundation, in collaboration with the Orion Center at Hebrew University.

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