Walk into the Madison Building of the Library of Congress (LC), turn left just inside the entrance, and you can gaze at what less than two years ago only a small handful of scholars were allowed to see: a dozen Dead Sea Scroll fragments from the collection of the Rockefeller Museum in Jerusalem.
The 12 fragments form the core of an exhibit at the Library entitled “Scrolls from the Dead Sea: The Ancient library of Qumran and Modern Scholarship.” Also on view are 88 related artifacts—an inkwell, a jug, a vase, goblets, pots, a lamp with an original wick and linen wrappers for the scrolls—excavated atQumran. About 50 items from the LC’s collections, including rare books, maps, prints and photographs, augment the ancient objects.
The exhibit’s organizers have taken great care to ensure that the show is far more than a presentation of objects. The captions and audio tape trace the history of the scrolls’ discovery, the slow pace of publication, the controversy over scholarly access to the scrolls and the ongoing debate regarding which sect—if indeed it was a sect—produced and collected the scrolls.
The show is handsomely mounted and features up-to-date technology intended to help preserve the scroll fragments. The exhibit area is illuminated by low light aimed away from the cases that house the scrolls. The cases are illuminated only when a viewer trips an infrared motion detector; if there is no motion for 15 seconds, the illumination turns automatically off.