Dead Sea Scrolls coming to California Science Center; ABC7 gets sneak peek

JERUSALEM (KABC) -- The Dead Sea Scrolls are coming to the California Science Center, but we got a sneak preview of the scrolls in their homeland.

Israel is home to thousands of years of religious history. More than one faith claims it as their holy land, with sites ranging from the Western Wall to the Dome of the Rock to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

But just 65 years ago, another site vaulted into historical prominence: the Caves of Qumran.

Back in the times of Jesus Christ, someone, whether to store them or to hide them, put the Dead Sea Scrolls inside, where they would remain for nearly 2,000 years.

Eyal Freiman is the district archaeologist in the Jordanian Valley, home to the caves.

"It's pretty amazing that you can be in the site and feel, as you stand where somebody stood 2,000 years ago, you read the same thing that they read 2,000 years ago, and you see whatever they saw. It's a very live, ancient place," Freiman said.

Thousands from around the world flock each year to see the Caves of Qumran. They go to experience in person a piece of history. But few are permitted to go inside.

Eyewitness News was given exclusive access to the historic ground where a rebellious sect of ancient Jews placed their writings.

"It's one of the biggest finds in Israel since ... well, ever," Freiman said. "I think the scrolls were brought here during the rebellion time to be hidden or to be kept safe for a while. It took longer than they thought I guess, but they kept."

In 1947, the scrolls were discovered by a Bedouin goat herder. The scrolls, written mostly in Hebrew and occasionally in Greek or Aramaic, contain biblical passages and sectarian readings that challenged the status quo of the day. And after years of changing hands, the scrolls are now in the care of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA).

We went behind the scenes into the IAA's Jerusalem laboratory, where more than 15,000 fragments of parchment and papyrus are painstakingly tended to. Over 2,000 years of damage was done by water, worms and even bat guano. But much of the damage was also done by the scholars who worked with the scrolls after they were found.

"They were not conservation people," said the IAA's Orit Kuslanski. "They were scholars. They used scotch tape to tape every piece, and they put them in between a glass plate."

It caused tremendous damage, some of which still cannot be undone.

One scroll contains a passage most everyone has heard. It reads, "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth."

It's the first line in the book of Genesis, the opening of the Bible, and the scroll is the earliest copy of the verse known to man. The next time it shows up again in Hebrew is nearly 1,000 years later.

"Oh, it's very exciting," Kuslanski said. "Very exciting. You learn something new every day."

The scrolls will be featured in an exhibit at the California Science Center starting on March 10. The Los Angeles exhibit will be the largest display of the Dead Sea Scrolls outside of Israel ever.

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