Biblical Archaeology Review 18:1, January/February 1992
Dead Sea Scrolls Update

Preserve the Dead Sea Scrolls

By Hershel Shanks

The Dead Sea Scrolls have been liberated. The time has now come to preserve the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Whether the scrolls received worse treatment during the 2,000 years they spent in the caves than they have since being taken out of the caves about 40 years ago is debatable.

Taking proper care of the scrolls has not been easy, but it seems hard to accept their present condition as inevitable, especially in the case of the fragmentary scrolls.

Some of the fragmentary scrolls have been stolen, lost or misplaced. Even when they are where they are supposed to be—in the room dubbed the Scrollery in the basement of the Rockefeller Museum in Jerusalem—it can take two or three days to find a particular fragment, according to one prominent researcher who has access to the scrolls.

Texts that have disappeared include a manuscript of the Biblical Book of Daniel and a manuscript of the Damascus Document, which may be the most important text for ferreting out the origin of the Dead Sea Scroll sectarians.

Shortly after they were acquired in the mid-1950s, the fragmentary scrolls from Cave 4 (more than 500 texts) were taken to the Palestine Archaeological Museum (now the Rockefeller Museum). There they were placed on tables in a long room with no climate or humidity controls. Early pictures show researchers handling the scrolls with cigarettes in their hands, freely moving pieces around from place to place—with no record of the fragments as they arrived at the museum. The sun is seen streaming in the window.

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