The Dead Sea Scrolls went on public display today at the Science Museum of Minnesota, offering visitors a rare glimpse of the ancient religious documents.
The scrolls, many of them crumbled into fragments, include some of the earliest known texts of the Bible, dating back to over 2,000 years ago.
"This is a moment for people who come to the exhibit to just go back in time and imagine the world from which these come," said Dr. Michael Wise, a biblical scholar and museum consultant. "And for a religious person, this might be a time to have an experience with their God."
The exhibit, called "The Dead Sea Scrolls: Words That Changed the World," includes three sets of five scrolls each, along with other ancient artifacts. Science Museum officials say it marks one of the most important events in the museum's history.
A shepherd accidentally discovered the scrolls hidden in clay pots in caves on the western shores of the Dead Sea in 1947. Since then, archaeologists have excavated and pieced together tens of thousands of scroll fragments into more than 900 separate documents. The scrolls have been conserved and archived by the Israel Antiquities Authority, and first went on display in Jerusalem in 1965.
The documents have traveled throughout the world on public exhibit in museums, but have not been to Minnesota until now.
Scholars say the exhibit offers a glimpse into ancient Israel's culture, as the scrolls include religious and legal writings and commentary, in addition to biblical texts.
Wise said the ancient documents also have a broader meaning.
"They matter because they tell us about ourselves," Wise said. "We aren't necessarily all religious, but our laws are based on the ideas of these texts."
For example, he said, the scrolls include guidelines for how to treat the poor.
"You have no ideas how cruel the ancient world was," Wise said. "And then into this world come these ideas, these texts. And today we live in a world where we take care of people who are poor. We don't do it as well as we should, maybe, but we know it's something we should do."
The exhibit remains open through October 24.