The Dead Sea Scrolls: The Holy Land's Historical Treasures
Many places all over the world pride themselves in important archeological findings, but nowhere else can you find archeological discoveries of the kind that have been found in the Holy Land: discoveries that take you back in time to eras when biblical stories took place, and when the First and Second Temples stood in Jerusalem. One of the most important archeological discoveries in the Holy Land is that of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
The scrolls were discovered by accident, in a story that could come right out of the pages of a pulp novel. In 1946, a Bedouin shepherd wandered into a cave at the Judean desert, attempting to find a lost sheep. He discovered several clay jars that stored ancient scrolls. Additional scrolls were discovered in the area, and they changed hands frequently until most of them came to the possession of modern Israel. Today, the scrolls can be seen at the Shrine of the Book, a unique structure at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.
What is it about the scrolls that caused so much excitement? First, they are dated to the times of the Second Temple, and some of them provide presumably first-hand descriptions about day-to-day life and worship practices at the Temple. Other scrolls include some of the most ancient available biblical texts, and their content is of incredible importance to researchers. The scrolls provide an amazing look into the historical roots of Jewish faith.
As noted above, the scrolls can be seen at the Israel Museum, in a special section called the Shrine of the Book. It is a place noted for its unique architecture, consisting of a white dome-like structure (inspired by the covers of the jars that hosted scrolls) built against a black basalt wall. The contrast between the white and the black structures symbolizes the "War of the Sons of Light against the Sons of Darkness", described in great detail in several of the scrolls. Entrance to the structure descends down in a manner recalling entrance to a cave – much like the caves where the scrolls were discovered. The historical marvel of the scrolls certainly resides within a marvel of modern architecture.
Not all the scrolls are on display in the Shrine of the Book: due to their age, the scrolls are highly fragile and long periods of exposure can damage them. For this reason, every three-to-six months different scrolls are put on display. But even without seeing the entire collection, visiting the Shrine of the Book and seeing the scrolls on display is an experience that should absolutely not be missed.
Another important item on display at the Shrine of the Book is pages from the Aleppo Codex. It is one of the most ancient biblical texts in the world, and arguably the most important resource for Bible scholars. Like the scrolls, the Aleppo Codex had a long and difficult journey to modern Israel, and alongside the scrolls, it is considered as one of the greatest historical treasures of the Jewish people.