The Dead Sea Scrolls in the Shrine of the Book
In 1947, a Bedouin shepherd boy searching for a lost kid at Qumran, on the shores of the Dead Sea, entered a cave and chanced upon what is perhaps the most significant archaeological find ever made in the Holy Land: a pottery jar containing a group of scrolls inscribed with extraordinarily early biblical and extra-biblical manuscripts. This first group of scrolls, also comprising the most complete ones, were acquired shortly after by Professors E. L. Sukenik and Yigael Yadin for the Hebrew University and the State of Israel and transferred to the Israel Museum’s Shrine of the Book Following this astonishing find, surveys and excavations were undertaken which revealed further written material of an early date. As a whole, the ‘Qumran library’ now comprises a large collection of Jewish writings (almost 950 manuscripts) which includes all the books of the Hebrew Bible, except for the Books of Esther and Nehemiah, as well as many other texts of an apocryphal, pseudepigraphical and sectarian nature. The documents appear to have been written over a period of approximately 300 years – from the third century BCE to 68 CE (the date of the destruction of Qumran).
The scrolls and other finds are exhibited in a separate building, The Shrine of the Book – D. Samuel and Jeane H. Gottesman Center for Biblical Manuscripts. Its roof in the form of a scroll-jar lid mantled with white glazed ceramic bricks symbolizes the Sons of Light, who, according to one of the scrolls, are destined to do battle with the Sons of Darkness, represented by a large black wall adjacent to the dome.
The Shrine of the Book exhibits only the first and most complete scrolls found: the Books of Isaiah and Psalms, and hitherto unknown Hebrew manuscripts, such as the Community Rule, the Thanksgiving, the Pesher Habakkuk, and the Temple Scroll (acquired after 1967). According to the sectarian texts, such as the Community Rule and the Temple Scroll, the biblical commentaries and apocalyptic visions, it is clear that while most of the writings are imbued with concepts akin to the rabbinical law (Halakha) that crystallized in the later Mishnah, this library belonged to a sect with a somewhat different approach. Most scholars maintain that these were a group coming from the Essene movement, a sect disgusted with the leadership of the Hasmonean priests in Jerusalem, who removed themselves both physically and spiritually from mainstream Judaism and the Jerusalem Temple, leaving Jerusalem to live a communal life of ascetism and hard discipline in the desert under the leadership of a “Teacher of Righteousness.”
Other objects – such as pottery and stone vessels, coins, textiles, and work tools - are housed in the Shrine of the Book. These, together with the written manuscripts, illuminate the daily life of the Qumran society and the “Yahad” community, who saw themselves as the spearhead of the coming salvation.
The Shrine of the Book also serves as a holding place for rare biblical manuscripts, such as the Aleppo Codex (Keter Aram Zova, 10th century CE, the Land of Israel), which is considered to be one of the most accurate texts of the Mesora. A recently installed permanent exhibit shows the story of the Hebrew Bible from the end of the Second Temple period until present time through the amazing story of the Keter.