The monumental “Dead Sea Scrolls: Life and Faith in Ancient Times” exhibition at the Cincinnati Museum features the scrolls and 600-plus artifacts from ancient Israel. It also enables Midwesterners to learn about Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion’s role in protecting, processing, and disseminating knowledge about one of the 20th century’s greatest archaeological finds.
The exhibition, created by the Israel Antiquities Authority from the collections of the Israel National Treasures, came to Cincinnati from Discovery Times Square in New York and The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. The presenting sponsor is the Jewish Foundation of Cincinnati.
A rare engraving of a menorah, recently uncovered in Jerusalem, is among the more than 600 objects on display with the scrolls.
“Especially coming to the Midwest, it’s a tremendous accomplishment,” said Dr. Nili Fox, a professor of Bible at HUC’s Cincinnati campus. Fox is also director of the archaeology center at the Skirball Museum at HUC and co-director of Tel Dan excavations in Israel.
She said more than half of the exhibition features ceramic and stone objects dating from the Israelite period, the period of the monarchy. “Actually much of it is pre-Dead Sea Scrolls time period,” Fox added.
“What they’re trying to do… is to contextualize the Dead Sea Scrolls so that the visitor travels through time and gets a good background of what came before. Those (artifacts) preceded the Dead Sea Scrolls by anywhere from 1,000 or more years.”
Also on display are artifacts from late antiquity, the period of the scrolls.
Unique to Cincinnati, the exhibition features a section devoted to the story of HUC and its connections to the scrolls.
Dr. Jason Kalman, associate professor of classical Hebrew literature and interpretation at HUC, worked with the exhibition’s curator to write the narrative for the section about HUC. Kalman is the author of the new book, “Hebrew Union College and the Dead Sea Scrolls.”
“The Dead Sea Scrolls were the biggest archaeological discovery in certain ways that Jewish studies was going to see, and biblical studies for that matter,” Kalman said. “It was certainly among the greatest manuscript discoveries of all time.”
In 1947, a shepherd discovered the first of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Ultimately 972 scrolls were found.
Before the scrolls were found, the oldest copies of the complete Hebrew Bible dated to the 10th and 11th centuries.
“With the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the assumption of their antiquity, this moves the dates for the oldest copies of the Hebrew Bible back by another thousand years,” Kalman said. “So it gave us another thousand years of evidence of transmission of the Hebrew Bible.”
Before 1952, the first scrolls were published relatively quickly, Kalman says. By and large, Jewish academics had access to the material and could offer comment.
Bedouins who sold them to a Bethlehem antiquities dealer found the first scrolls; from there they passed though hands of dealers who did not want them sold to the emerging Jewish state.
In 1954, an ad showed up in the Wall Street Journal offering four scrolls for sale to an educational institution.
“Through a middle man, Israel sets up an opportunity to buy the scrolls,” Kalman said.
“Orlinsky takes on the identity of a man named ‘Mr. Green’ and sneaks off to the bank vault with his appropriate handlers to check that the scrolls are the originals.”
Orlinsky was able to authenticate the scrolls for Israel to complete the transaction.
Kalman added that Orlinsky was among the first scholars to write and publish about the scrolls.
The remaining scrolls that would come under Israel’s possession — the Cave 4 Cache — had been acquired by the Palestinian Archaeological Museum with money from the Jordanian government.
“At that point, the area where the scrolls are found (in the 1950s) and eastern Jerusalem all belong to Jordan,” Kalman says.
In 1967, when Israel captured East Jerusalem, it included the Palestine Archaeological Museum, now known as the Rockefeller Museum, and took control of the Cave 4 Cache at that site.
Israel agreed to preserve the publishing and editing agreements in place when it captured the museum; access of Jews or any other academics to the Cave 4 scrolls would remain restricted.
However, Israel was concerned about the long-term care of the scrolls. After the Six-Day War, Glueck visited Israel to check on HUC’s students and campus in Jerusalem. Avraham Harman, then president of Hebrew University and director of the Shrine of the Book, offered Glueck a deal: in exchange for $10,000 from HUC, Hebrew University would provide HUC with a security copy of the scrolls to be stored at HUC’s library in Cincinnati under complete confidence. At the point when the scrolls would be made available, HUC faculty would receive access to the materials six months ahead of others.
Glueck accepted the deal and HUC became the first of four institutions around the world to hold security copies of the scrolls. Based on the archival evidence Kalman has seen, HUC kept this promise.
But through a separate process, HUC Professor of Talmud and Rabbinics Dr. Ben Zion Wacholder and his student, Dr. Martin Abegg, published four unauthorized volumes of the Dead Sea Scrolls Cave 4 Cache in the 1990s, using a concordance of the scrolls – printed volumes assembled from a card catalog produced for private use by members of the original Cave 4 editorial team. The editor-in-chief of the editorial committee, Harvard Prof. Dr. John Strugnell, gave Wacholder permission to make a copy in 1989.
According to Kalman, the original team had produced a card catalog of key words in the scrolls so they could relate one fragment to another. Abegg quickly figured out that he could reconstruct the text from data in the concordance rapidly by computer.
“They publish the first volume in ‘92 with the help of the Biblical Archaeology Society and its editor-in-chief and publisher, Hershel Shanks,” Kalman said. “On one hand it brought acclaim, on the other it brought criticism from those who were given the task of publishing the original materials because they were, in essence, scooped.”
By the early ‘90s, Kalman says, it was known in scholarly circles that HUC had a security copy of the scrolls.
“One of the accusations that had come out was that the reconstructions hadn’t been reproduced from the concordance but that Wacholder and Abegg had been allowed to look at these (photographic) negatives, which the college was holding supposedly in secret with the promise that no one would have access to them.”
Kalman believes the pair were never granted permission to see the materials and never saw them until after their initial release.
Once Wacholder and Abegg’s reconstruction was out and available for scholarly use, the Israel Antiquities Authority had little reason to maintain the tight control it had over the original materials; it began to release them in 1993.
“Dead Sea Scrolls: Life and Faith In Ancient Times” is on exhibit at Cincinnati Museum Center through mid-April. For individual tickets, call 513-287-7001 or go to www.cincymuseum.org. Also at the website is an extensive list of programs related to the scrolls for children and adults. For group tickets, call 800-733-2077.