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Utahns to get glimpse of ancient history with Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit in fall

SALT LAKE CITY — The Dead Sea Scrolls are coming to Utah.

Officials at The Leonardo museum made the announcement Wednesday, adding Salt Lake City to the short list of places where the ancient artifacts will have been presented. It is one of just 10 cities to host the largest collection of scrolls and Holy Land artifacts ever displayed outside of Israel.

"This will be great for Utah," said Rabbi Benny Zippel, of Chabad Lubavitch of Utah. "This will be a milestone for the history and culture of Utah and for the Jewish people here."

The exhibit is being touted as a reflection of Utah's long-standing relationship with Israel, as the two locations are believed to be similar in nature, said Israeli Consul General David Siegel, who was in Utah vacationing with his family this week.

He said the scrolls coming to Utah represent a "hugely significant moment for Israel, for Utah, for our shared past, for our shared faith and our shared future."

"We say in Hebrew, 'If you don't know where you came from, you don't know where you're going,'" Siegel said. "The Dead Sea Scrolls are the oldest known Hebrew manuscripts known to mankind, and for Israel it is so precious because it is the historical foundational documents of our civilization of Judaism, of Christianity, of the ancient kingdom of Israel."

The exhibit will include an 8-ton section of the Western Wall, which is one of the last remnants of Israel's holy temple described in the Bible. Visitors will be able to offer up prayers that will be conveyed to the original wall in Jerusalem, Siegel said.

Twenty scrolls containing the oldest known copies of the Hebrew Bible are expected to be displayed 10 at a time throughout the exhibit. The documents were unearthed in caves on the northwest shore of the Dead Sea from 1947 to 1956 and have been the topic of intensive research ever since.

"Anything to do with the Dead Sea Scrolls I'm enthused about," said Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, of the Quorum of the Twelve of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

He has seen the scrolls on display in Israel, where BYU has an academic presence, and said he cannot wait for Utahns to get the chance to learn more about and experience them.

"It will be a wonderful family experience, a wonderful academic experience and a wonderful cultural experience, in addition to the religious meaning because these are remarkable, remarkable artifacts," Elder Holland said.

For decades, BYU has been instrumental in the translation, digitization, indexing and advancement of the understanding of the meaning of the scrolls, said Leonardo executive director Alexandra Hesse. She said the university will play a part in the exhibit, providing additional artifacts to pair with the scrolls on display.

"We are so honored to host the exhibit and particularly proud to showcase how local innovation has contributed to this body of knowledge," Hesse said, adding a belief that the content of the exhibit likely holds deep meaning for many Utahns.

Rabbi Zippel said the scrolls and the immense amount of history behind them have the potential to enhance awareness of the Jewish culture in Utah.

"The Dead Sea Scrolls: Life and Faith in Ancient Times" will provide a look at one of the most influential periods of history, including the emergence of ancient Israel and the births of Judaism and Christianity in the Holy Land.

"We hope to encourage conversation and introspection around what these precious artifacts have meant to the world historically as well as what they continue to mean to us today," Hesse said.

The scrolls began their world tour in October 2011 and have exhibited in New York, Philadelphia, Cincinnati and most recently, Boston. Salt Lake City is among just 10 cities where it will be showcased.

The Leonardo aims to showcase the scrolls and approximately 600 other artifacts from ancient Israel and the births of Judaism and Christianity in its fall exhibition. Exact dates for the exhibit have yet to be announced, but the scrolls will be in town for six months.


Twitter: wendyleonards