Take it On Faith: Dead Sea Scrolls Exhibit
by christina pellegrini
Translating history: Part of the War Scroll, of the Dead Sea Scrolls, on display at The Franklin Institute.
It's not often that an era of history is quite literally laid out before you. Which is what makes the arrival of Dead Sea Scrolls: Life and Faith in Ancient Times at The Franklin Institute so significant. The opening of the exhibition on May 12 marks the debut of the most comprehensive collection of ancient artifacts from Israel ever organized in one place.
The centerpiece is one of the largest assemblages of the Dead Sea Scrolls—a library of texts that includes the oldest known surviving copies of Hebrew biblical documents—ever housed in North America, a focal point intentionally chosen by curators Dr. Risa Levitt Kohn and Deborah Ben Ami. "Instead of using the scrolls as a starting point, we decided to explore the scrolls as the culmination of the previous thousand years of history," Kohn explains. The result is a 3,000-year journey through ancient Israel that winds its way back to the present.
Integrating more than 500 artifacts into the collection, Kohn and Ben Ami still found the selection process an incredible challenge. The exhibit contains everyday items like jewelry and weapons, as well as sacred ritual objects and even 1,000-pound decorative pillar tops, known as capitals. "The most challenging part about this huge collection was seeing what we could include and then trying to build a story around it," Kohn says.
Driving the collection are the thousands of national treasures possessed by the Israel Antiquities Authority, a government body that oversees all activity regarding relics from the storied land. When a site is excavated and archaeologists have examined their findings, any artifacts become property of the nation. Today the country is in possession of never-before-seen bits of history, and this large-scale exhibit is the ideal showcase.
The result is a transformative experience that explores the origins of the modern world. "It will give the people of Philadelphia the opportunity to see objects that you won't even see if you travel to Israel today," Kohn says. "One of the ideas behind the exhibition is to transport people to a different place, as well as a different time, so you really feel like you've gone on a journey when you go through the show." Even if you never venture to Israel, this is one pilgrimage you should plan on making. Dead Sea Scrolls: Life and Faith in Ancient Times runs from May 12 to October 14 at The Franklin Institute, 222 N. 20th St., 215-448-1200
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