The scrolls were divided up, four of them eventually being offered for sale in the Wall Street Journal. Through no small amount of political subterfuge, the ancient texts eventually were purchased and brought to Israel for study.
Not all of the scrolls made it to Utah for the exhibit. What was on display were yellowed bits of manuscripts, some no larger than postage stamps.
Most of the things on display were more common artifacts from the time and area: coins, pottery, palm-frond baskets, wheat, glass, mosaics, olives, dates, arrowheads, text and lots of rocks.
Oh, and phylacteries. Prior to Tuesday, I had no idea what those were. Thanks to the exhibit, now I do.
What looked like small dried scabs were actually tiny folded leather pouches containing biblical texts, which were worn on a forehead or wrist. They served as reminders "of one's unity with God," sort of an ancient Hebrew version of a CTR ring.
I don't know much about the Old Testament, mostly on purpose. I've always found it a disturbing account of a homicidal God more interested in fear than love. But that's just me.
I learned the Old Testament stories in LDS Primary. Not the ones that would have had a positive effect on me, mind you. I mean what 10-year-old kid really cares how long the Israelites had to wander in the desert? Hell, I still don't care.
Personally, it would have been far more instructive for me to learn in Primary that a prophet (Elijah) once actually commanded bears to tear to pieces children making fun of him because he was bald. (2Kings 2:23-24).
The Dead Sea parchments didn't mention that particular Old Testament story. Instead, they emphasized the usual things such the Ten Commandments, psalms, prayers, etc
There was none of the interesting OT stuff about dogs eating Jezebel, the daughters of Lot becoming incestuous or that God killed Onan for committing a highly personal sin that would have kept him from going on a mission.
Even so, I managed to make a connection across 25 centuries. Nearly 600 years before Christ, Babylon attacked Jerusalem and completely trashed the place. It remains one of the most distressing moments in Old Testament history.
In a glass case were several small Babylonian arrowheads fired during a siege that would end in the destruction of Israel. The metal points were recovered near the remains of the city wall in 1975.
Suddenly, I wasn't looking at subjective opinion anymore. Before me was fact. In 586 BC, a Babylonian archer, perhaps terrified out of his young mind, had taken an active part in a battle that would echo down through history and play out in my own life 3,000 years later.
For a fraction of a second, I could almost see him. Was he hostage to events he didn't entirely understand and couldn't control? Had he survived the battle? Did he live to be an old man and hold his grandchildren?
The exhibit will be in Salt Lake City until April 2014. The scrolls are nice, but it was the kid from Babylon who made it worthwhile for me.
Robert Kirby can be reached at email@example.com or facebook.com/stillnotpatbagley.