When I was a little girl, my parents would take my brothers and me to the library. There they would set us free, allowing us to wander to whatever section of books we wanted, following our childhood curiosities and interests to different areas of the library. A few hours later they would hunt us down to go home; I was always found reading books on ancient Egypt or Rome, fascinated by the way people lived thousands of years ago.
Decades later when I was deep into the study of my journalism degree at the University of Utah, I would find myself wandering to the anthropology section of the class list when picking my schedule, thinking how much fun it would be to study those ancient cultures in school. Eventually I gave in to my curiosity and signed up for my first anthropology class. It would be the first of many; before the course’s final exam I declared anthropology my second major.
Long before I finished my anthropology degree — about 2,000 years before, to be exact — a group of Jewish religious scholars wrote what would later be known as the Hebrew Bible on a series of scrolls near the Dead Sea in Israel. They put the scrolls in jars for safe keeping and stashed the jars in a cave. Scholars continued doing this over the course of many years, writing scrolls in Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek and Nabataean. The scrolls remained in the cave, eventually forgotten, for thousands of years, until 1946 when they were discovered by a shepherd.
Over the next decade, a total of 972 scrolls were discovered. Known as the Dead Sea Scrolls, they are the oldest known writings of the Hebrew Bible and are collectively considered one of the most significant archeological finds of the twentieth century.
The Dead Sea Scrolls
The Dead Sea Scrolls are so fragile they rarely make public appearances, especially outside of the Middle East. But they are on display at The Leonardo in Salt Lake City until April along with 600 artifacts from the Biblical to Byzantine Period in Israel (including a piece of the Wailing Wall). Salt Lake City is one of only 10 cities in the country that will host this exhibit.
Last week the museum hosted a fundraising gala to celebrate the opening night of the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit. The formal event featured food by Mazza, live Middle Eastern music, special guests from the Israel Antiquities Authority and, most importantly, a sneak peek of the exhibit.
The scrolls are amazing, their existence in itself is awesome, but I actually enjoyed the other artifacts more. Maybe my childhood curiosities of everyday life in ancient times is to blame, but I enjoyed the part of the exhibit leading up to the scrolls more than the scrolls themselves. That’s not to say they weren’t neat too, but it’s worth noting that there is more to see than just really, really old pieces of paper.
I can’t explain what it is about the intricacies of another culture, especially those that existed long ago in the past, that I find so fascinating. There’s the obvious element of contrast between then and now, but also similarities that I find striking. Some of my favorite artifacts from the exhibit were pearl earrings, a ceramic soup bowl and a bath tub — all objects easily recognized by anyone in today’s world. Observing how common our lives have remained over thousands of years is a reminder that in the end, we’re all simply human.
Notes :: The Dead Sea Scrolls is on exhibit until April 27, 2014 at The Leonardo. Tickets are $24 for adults, $10-15 for kids and $20 for students/seniors/military. Tickets are available online or at the door. The museum is open Sunday – Wednesday from 10 am – 5 pm and Thursday – Saturday from 10 am – 10 pm. There’s also a dinner and exhibit package for their restaurant, Salt Bistro, for $35/person.