In the line where you wait to be admitted, they have some side-by-side photos of Israel and San Diego County, showing how the two places are almost the same in terms of climate and terrain. The Dead Sea vs. the Salton Sea. The Israeli coastline vs. the Torrey Pines coastline. Israel's mountaintops vs. Mt. Laguna. We guessed them right, especially the mountains, because snow on the mountains is not normal in San Diego.
Inside, the exhibit shows what the area is like, with beautiful photos of the animals, the plants, the mineral deposits of the Dead Sea--even an explanation of how different the Dead Sea's salts are from the ocean's salt. They have graphics showing the different empires that ruled over the Middle East, they show excavations from Qumran, and they give context to the time period of the discovery of the scrolls--the British Mandate and the UN Partition.
A couple things bothered me about the wording of the various signs, the first of which was the use of BCE (Before Common Era) and CE (Common Era) instead of BC and AD for the dates. They explained that the way we grew up dating things was the Christian way, and we wouldn't want to exclude anyone's religion, so CE and before are much nicer to everyone. Except, I'd like to know what event is supposed to mark the beginning of the Common Era, if it's not the advent of Jesus. After all, Judaism has its own method of counting the years. And so do Islam and Hinduism and all the rest. So they're using Christian dating, but they're just pretending that they're not, and that really annoyed me.
Then, in the part about the history of 1947 - 1948, when the scrolls were discovered and offered for sale, the sign said that Israel found itself in the midst of turmoil and war, as if somehow Israel just spontaneously combusted into a war that was nobody's fault. They didn't mention that Israel was attacked by multiple nations, just something to the effect that Israelis woke up in the morning and looked outside to check the weather, only to find that it was raining bullets. Very odd, but what can you do?
But those were very minor points in a wonderful exhibit. At the end were the pieces of the scrolls in a room with low lighting to help preserve them. Israel's antiquities department only allows the scroll fragments to be on display for three months, so midway through the six-month exhibition in San Diego, the scroll fragments will be replaced by another set. I imagine the beginning of the exhibit will remain the same.
The fragments on display included sections of Isaiah, Job, Deuteronomy, and Leviticus, as well as writings about the rules of living in the Essene community at Qumran. Some of them are badly faded as a result of the poor preservation methods (cellophane tape) used by the original purchasers of the scrolls. But others are still legible (provided you read Hebrew or Aramaic or Greek). One of them, a piece from Isaiah, shows different darknesses of ink so you can see each time the scribe dipped his pen into the inkwell.
The thing that has struck me about the Dead Sea Scrolls over the years is the timing of their discovery. For over two thousand years, they lay secreted away from the world. But now, in our increasingly secular age, during a time when even Christian seminaries question the reliability of the Bible and its faithful translation, these ancient manuscripts have so much to say. They tell us that very little error has crept into our Scripture in the past two millenia, and what changes have been discovered are not significant.
The example given in the exhibit is that of Goliath, the giant that David brought down with a sling and a stone. Our translations say Goliath was 9-1/2 feet tall, but the Dead Sea Scrolls have him at 6-1/2 feet tall--it's tall even now, but still would have have seemed taller to the people in David's time. This isn't a difference in theology, though, just a detail.
I have to believe that God guided the hand of the teenage Arab shepherd as he threw stones into a cave at Qumran. For a faith community about to be plagued with doubts and battered from outside and from within about the truth of God's Word, the discovery couldn't have come at a better time. His Word hasn't changed, and we have proof to assure us of that.
Who knows but that the Dead Sea Scrolls were preserved for such a time as this.