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Dead Sea Scrolls put in context at Boston Museum of Science exhibit

 Visitors to the Boston Museum of Science look at parts of the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit.

Visitors to the Boston Museum of Science look at parts of the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit.

Removed a bit from the kid-centric hub of the Museum of Science, the entrance to the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit immediately inspires a certain sense of reverence. First, rather than bursting in at will, you must wait until the appointed time for a docent to usher you in. Inside, the light is kept dim to preserve the ancient manuscripts, but the effect also heightens the hushed sensation of being in the presence of something special. Surround-sound theater puts you at the shores of the Dead Sea, where you’ll hear the breathless story of how the scrolls were discovered by a Bedouin goatherd before proceeding to the area where the artifacts are on display.

Billed as a “once in a lifetime opportunity,” the exhibit includes a large collection of antiquities from the Iron Age put in context by a wall-to-wall timeline and, arranged along the edges of the main attraction, a circular display housing numerous fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

In 1947, a young boy was searching for a stray goat in the Qumran region of the Judean desert when he discovered several scrolls tucked in a cave. So unruffled was he by the discovery that he didn’t bring them to a local antiquities dealer for several days. Upon examination, the texts turned out to be perhaps the greatest archeological find of the century: Dating from the third century B.C.E. to 68 C.E., they are the oldest copies of the texts that make up the Bible. Additionally, numerous other writings were found in the caves, shedding light on how Israeli communities of that age lived and worshipped.

Included in the Museum of Science collection, which

is on display through Oct. 20, are a variety of manuscript fragments from Biblical books including Numbers, Leviticus, Job and Psalms. Some passages will be familiar to those in the Jewish and Christian faith. “How good and how pleasant it is that brothers dwell together. It is like fine oil on the head,” one passage reads.

Commentary about the nature of the script, the language and where it fits in history and sacred writings accompany the manuscripts. It points out that one passage from Numbers, for instance, departs from the traditional manuscripts used in the Biblical canon and that parts of Zechariah are written in Greek.

Accompanying the manuscripts are dozens of artifacts dating back as far as 1,000 B.C.E. and offering clues to the era that begot the world’s key religions (Like Judaism and Christianity, Islam traces its roots to Abraham). Arrowheads, inkwells, pottery and leather sandals are a few of the items visitors can examine as they make their way through the expansive exhibit. There is also huge slab from Jerusalem’s Western Wall and live camera feed from the wall. A film tells the full story of how the manuscripts were found and how they made their way to their current residence at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

Glimpsing ancient Israel doesn’t come cheap. Admission is $32 for adults and $27 for children (who, frankly, may show the roughly the same enthusiasm as the Bedouin goatherd). The fee includes entrance to all other exhibits. Visit mos.org for information.

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