Religion, archaeology meet in blockbuster exhibit (San Diego)

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They're fragments from a time long since past and a faith that endures still. And when they go on tour, they draw rock-concert crowds who want to see pieces of the oldest known copies of the Hebrew Bible – or Old Testament in Christianity – and other writings that date back more than 2,000 years.

If the San Diego Natural History Museum is right, nearly a half-million visitors will come to Balboa Park over the next six months to see samples of the Dead Sea Scrolls – including, during the second half of the run, a copy of the Ten Commandments.

Some will come for sacred reasons.

“Many people will simply want to sit in the gallery in the presence of these scrolls,” said Risa Levitt Kohn, a San Diego State University professor and curator of the exhibit. “For them, it will be a spiritual experience.”

Others will be drawn by history, the images of how members of a Jewish community, with Roman soldiers advancing upon them in A.D. 68, climbed into caves above the Dead Sea and stashed hundreds of scrolls in clay jars. No one returned for them and the texts remained hidden until 1947, when a Bedouin shepherd tossed a rock into a cave and heard something break. He found several jars with reddish residue in them, but in one jar he found a piece of rolled leather with strange writing.

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