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'Life and Faith in Ancient Times' at The Franklin Institute

Ancient Israel was always at the epicenter of political, religious and moral change from the biblical period of Kings David and Solomon to Second Temple times when the Greeks and Romans ruled the land and the birth of Jesus was at hand.  These turbulent and transformative times shaped western culture and gave rise to Judaism, Christianity and eventually, Islam. 

Book of War Scroll [Credit: Matthew Peyton]
On May 12, The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia opens Dead Sea Scrolls: Life and Faith in Ancient Times, a new exhibition that explores that rich history with the largest collection of artifacts from biblical to Islamic periods ever to tour outside of Israel. Running through Oct. 14, the exhibition features more than 600 objects, including a 3-ton stone from Jerusalem's Western Wall and 20 extremely rare fragments from the Dead Sea Scrolls collection. They will be displayed in two sets of 10 for approximately three months each. 

"We're honored to be working with our colleagues in Israel to bring such a comprehensive exhibition to the United States," said Dennis M. Wint, Ph.D., President and CEO of The Franklin Institute (TFI), which helped arrange the national tour with New York-based Running Subway Productions and the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA). "The Dead Sea Scrolls are considered to be among the world's greatest archaeological discoveries, and combined with the hundreds of other rare artifacts, provide visitors with an unparalleled look at what everyday life was like thousands of years ago in Israel. It was a crucial time for three of the world's religions, formative years for Judaism, Christianity and Islam – whose followers today make up a third of the world's population." 

Dead Sea Scrolls opens in Philadelphia with 10 scrolls from the Hebrew Bible (also known as the Old Testament, or Torah) as its focal point – most notably the oldest-known handwritten section of Genesis ever to come to the United States. The parchment scroll, dating to around 50 CE (Common Era), includes one of the most memorable lines from the Old Testament: "In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth." 

A second set of 10 scrolls will then replace the first set, due to limits on the amount of light the ancient paper can be exposed to over time, Wint said. All told, the 20 scrolls to be displayed in Philadelphia contain passages from Genesis, Exodus, Isaiah and other books of the Old Testament as well as non-biblical writings.  They range in subject from the creation of the earth to God's instruction to Moses that led to his peoples' flight to freedom Pharaoh to Isaiah's prophecy that "The wolf shall live with the lamb the leopard shall lie down with the kid."  Most of the texts are written in Hebrew.  

Altar [Credit: Matthew Peyton]
Other highlights include artifacts that were buried and hidden from view for thousands of years, such as weapons, jewelry, luxury objects and inscriptions from daily life in ancient Israel. There is also a massive, 3-ton stone from the Western Wall believed to have fallen from the fortification during the decisive battle of the First Jewish-Roman War in 70 CE.  Curators at The Franklin Institute will send prayer slips left on the stone, which visitors will be allowed to touch, to Jerusalem. 

In addition to the scrolls and other artifacts, there are also several multimedia presentations throughout the exhibition to provide context. Topics include a look at the arid environment where the scrolls survived undisturbed for nearly 2,000 years, narrations of the political implications of the discoveries and the painstaking process through which the scroll fragments – some no larger than a postage stamp – were pieced together over a span of decades.  

Dead Sea Scrolls: Life and Faith in Ancient Times is created by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) from the collections of the Israel National Treasures and features the most comprehensive collection of ancient artifacts from Israel ever organized. The exhibition is curated by Dr. Risa Levitt Kohn, professor of Hebrew Bible and Judaism at San Diego State University, and Debora Ben Ami, Iron Age collection curator at the IAA. 

The exhibition is presented by PECO in the Mandell Center at The Franklin Institute, 222 N. 20th Street, Philadelphia. It is open daily (9:30am-5pm Monday through Wednesday and 9:30am-8:30pm Thursday-Sunday) and requires special timed tickets in addition to regular museum admission. Advance reservations are encouraged. Special ticket packages and more information are available on the TFI website,, or by calling 215-448-1200. 

Source: The Franklin Institute via PRNewswire [May 08, 2012]

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