- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 19, 2003

An exhibit featuring replicas of the Dead Sea Scrolls has opened at the visitors center at the Mormon temple in Kensington, Maryland.

The free exhibit, sponsored by the Institute for the Study of Ancient Religious Texts at Brigham Young University, chronicles the creation of the scrolls in the ancient city of Qumran on the northwestern rim of the Dead Sea, as well as their discovery by a Palestinian shepherd in 1947.

The exhibit also presents exact replicas of several of the more than 800 complete and fragmentary scrolls that have captured the attention of biblical scholars since their discovery. Among the displayed scrolls are “the Great Isaiah Scroll,” which measures 24 feet in length, and like the majority of the Dead Sea Scrolls, is written in Hebrew.

Other displays include “the Rule of the Congregation,” a scroll describing the daily religious life of the people of Qumran. Also shown is a sword found with the manuscripts.

“The Dead Sea Scrolls have shown us that Judaism and Christianity and the Essenes are all religious movements derived from the Old Testament,” said Noel Reynolds, director of the institute. “It gives us a richer background.”

The original scrolls, now stored in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, are believed to have been written by the Essenes, one of the three main branches of Judaism at the time, between 250 B.C. and 70 A.D., he said. The intact scrolls and scroll fragments provide portions of all the books of the Old Testament, excluding the book of Esther.

“The Dead Sea Scrolls give us versions of the Old Testament that are two times as old as any previous versions we have,” he said. “They help us understand how the Bible has changed and stayed the same over thousands of years.”

Steve Feldman, managing editor for the Biblical Archeological Review, described the scrolls as a “very early testament to the text of the Hebrew Bible” that gives insight into the evolution of that text.

The scrolls depict a religious lifestyle in Qumran that can be seen as a precursor to both Christianity and modern Judaism because of their apocalyptic attitude and expectation of the coming of a Messiah.

Such an attitude is particularly evident in the manuscript referred to as the “war scrolls,” Mr. Reynolds said.

“The Essenes are just sitting out there in the desert waiting for the coming of the Messiah and an apocalypse where they will battle the Sons of Darkness,” he said.

David Knight, director of the visitors center, said the church is particularly interested in the scrolls because of the Latter-day Saints’ belief in other ancient texts in addition to the canonized Bible. According to LDS doctrine, the Book of Mormon is one such text.

“The LDS Church is very interested in ancient records being discovered and being available in modern times,” Mr. Reynolds said. “But for anyone who would like to understand the Dead Sea Scrolls better, this exhibit it designed to help them understand the source and context.”

The exhibit is scheduled to run through Dec. 31.

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