Living History of the Dead Sea Scrolls

The Dead Sea Scrolls:  Life and Faith in Ancient Times at the Cincinnati Museum Center, opening today, presents hugely important and intertwining histories everyone should see and know. Since visiting the exhibition, I’m reminded again of the relevance of our shared human histories to our lives today.

As with many of the visiting exhibitions to the museum, the Dead Sea Scrolls opens with lots of drama and theatrics. This can be a bit annoying for a museum goer like me, who’s eager to see the artifacts, but I understand the importance of presentation and audience engagement to exhibition designers. I do have to admit however, introducing the Dead Sea metaphorically as a piece of antique pottery holding objects of our past, is very intriguing and truly a perfect visual for the place.

I was pleased to find unlike the Cleopatra show last year, many of the galleries are better lit making the artifacts leading to the scrolls much easier to see. Being able to see the markings on the pottery and the detail of some of the other sculptural pieces is so important to recognizing the cultural and symbolic significance of the artifacts.

The gallery holding the scrolls is perfectly lit. The scrolls themselves are protected and under dim lighting, but the translations and explanations are brightly displayed along side them in a large circular cabinet in the center of the gallery. The viewer is able to walk around this windowed cabinet to see the scrolls and read the translations very easily. More artifacts are included in this gallery as well. These and the signage continue to contextualize the scrolls in a very dynamic set of histories.

This is a huge exhibit with so much information to take in. While the shows does a good job of recognizing and reminding the viewer the Dead Sea is a cradle shared by Islam, Jewish and Christian beliefs and presenting them equally, all of this is really so much information to take in during a single visit. My concern is the average museum goer may walk away without learning and really being fascinated by these histories. There are really a number of “aha moments” in this show, but may require more than a single visit to experience them. I do recommend visiting this show. When you do, be prepared for lots and lots of reading. There is an audio tour available (I’ve not used it), but I think you would get the most out of it if you can view The Dead Sea Scrolls with a tour guide.

Dead Sea Scrolls: Life and Faith in Ancient Times opens today, November 16 and will run through April 14, 2013. Plenty of time to visit more than once.

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