Dead Sea Scrolls Come to Times Square

Massive Discovery Show Aims to Put Artifacts in Context

History in the Big City: A fragment of a scroll and a recently discovered stone with scratched decorations are on exhibit at Discovery Times Square.
forward illustration
History in the Big City: A fragment of a scroll and a recently discovered stone with scratched decorations are on exhibit at Discovery Times Square.

By Michael Kaminer

Published November 11, 2011, issue of November 18, 2011.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

“Dead Sea Scrolls: Life and Faith in Biblical Times,” which opened on October 30 at the cavernous Discovery Times Square exhibit space in New York, touts itself as showcasing “the largest and most comprehensive collection of Holy Land artifacts ever organized.” Indeed, a more accurate title for this Bible-themed behemoth of a show, produced in partnership with the Israel Antiquities Authority, might be “Dead Sea Scrolls: The Collected Works.”

While the exhibit’s ambition — to contextualize the creation of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and to frame their effects on religion, borders and history — is spectacular, the sheer volume of notable relics ends up diminishing the show’s impact. Among the more than 500 objects, many on display for the first time, are pottery, coins, seals, jewelry, carvings, textiles and 2,000-year-old olive pits dug up in the deserts surrounding Qumran, where the scrolls were first discovered.

Focusing on objects rather than on texts is what sets apart Discovery’s exhibit from other recent shows about the infamous scrolls, including 2009’s more logocentric “Words That Changed the World” at Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum. “We want to give people an understanding of the history of Israel through this exhibit,” said Debora Ben-Ami, curator of the Iron Age period at the National Treasures Department of the Israel Antiquities Authority, a presenting partner of the exhibit. “In these artifacts, we can hear the voice of the people in our past, not just the priests and kings whose voices you hear in the Bible. Archaeology is about common people’s lives, and it allows us to tell the complete story of the scrolls.”

The exhibit opens in a darkened room where white text painted on black walls relays a passage from Genesis: “The Lord said to Abram, ‘Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” A rumbling sound (God at work?) accompanies a female cantorial recitation of the passage. Doors swing open, and batches of ticket-holders are herded into a gallery where six giant video screens loop footage of archaeological digs in Israel and animated historical maps of the land. Standing in person over a display of three huge clay jars, a bearded young guide — noted in the script as a “rugged archaeologist,” but telegraphing Banana Republic — solemnly offers a welcome “to Israel — the biblical Land of Milk and Honey, at the crossroads of Africa, Asia and Europe.”

Led into a third room, exhibit-goers enter a gallery where dates projected onto the floor provide a concrete representation of a journey back in time. Each date corresponds to a group of artifacts, from an iPad representing 2011 to ancient pottery representing 1200 BCE. “The material culture here gives us context for each period,” Ben-Ami said. “The idea is that history is a process. The development of a faith is a process.” The newest artifact in the gallery was discovered in September, according to Ben-Ami. It is a stone from the first-century BCE bearing the scratchy image of a five-branched menorah.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • “I don’t want to say, ‘Oh oh, I’m not Jewish,’ because when you say that, you sound like someone trying to get into a 1950s country club, “and I love the idea of being Jewish." Are you a fan of Seth Meyers?
  • "If you want my advice: more Palestinians, more checkpoints, just more reality." What do you think?
  • Happy birthday Barbra Streisand! Our favorite Funny Girl turns 72 today.
  • Clueless parenting advice from the star of "Clueless."
  • Why won't the city give an answer?
  • BREAKING NEWS: Israel has officially suspended peace talks with the Palestinians.
  • Can you guess what the most boring job in the army is?
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.