To best appreciate the Pacific Science Center's Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit, it helps to know or read about their background and religious...

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To best appreciate the Pacific Science Center’s Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit, it helps to know or read about their background and religious significance beforehand.

The exhibit, which opened for a media preview Wednesday morning, is not a display of visual grandeur on the King Tut scale. Instead, the 10 scrolls on display are small and in dimly lit cases — the limited lighting necessary to preserve these ancient manuscripts.

It’s the stories behind the scrolls — and the stories they tell — that are the most interesting.

The Dead Sea Scrolls are considered one of the most significant archaeological discoveries of the 20th century and include the earliest known Hebrew biblical manuscripts.

Lectures on the scrolls

• The Pacific Science Center is presenting a lecture series in conjunction with the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit. All lectures begin at 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays starting Sept. 27 at Town Hall, 1119 Eighth Ave., Seattle. A noon lecture on Oct. 18 covers the same topic as that evening’s lecture. Cost is $15 per lecture.

• Seattle Pacific University is presenting a panel discussion on “The Dead Sea Scrolls: Uncovering Their Secrets,” at 7 p.m. on Oct. 12 at the Upper Gwinn Commons of the campus, 3307 Third Ave. W., Seattle. Free.

• The University of Washington presents a lecture series by Professor Lawrence Schiffman of New York University on “Creation, Revelation and Redemption: The Religion of the Dead Sea Scrolls,” at 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 17 and Oct. 19 and 3 p.m. on Oct. 22 at the Husky Union Building on campus, Seattle. Free.

The scrolls give today’s scholars insight into the era that produced rabbinic Judaism and Christianity, as well as into the Hebrew Bible — known to Christians as the Old Testament — and the New Testament.

The exhibit uses a DVD presentation to set up the context around the scrolls. Then there are areas detailing how the scrolls were discovered and passed into different hands; the science used to date and piece together the scrolls; and the historical and societal context of the time that the scrolls were written or collected.

There are interesting tidbits: placards that describe how, in the first years after their founding, some of the scroll fragments were listed for sale in The Wall Street Journal or how cellophane tape was once used to piece together the fragments.

Artifacts from the Qumran settlement, close to the caves where the scrolls were found, are on display: ceramic jars, coins, tableware. Interactive displays, such as assembling pieces of pottery and manuscripts or touching parchment and papyrus (the materials on which the scrolls were written) would likely interest kids.

“Discovering the Dead Sea Scrolls” exhibit

Buying tickets: The exhibit runs Saturday to Jan. 7. Tickets are for specific dates and times. Individual tickets are $19.75 for adults (ages 13 to 64); $10 for children (ages 3 to 12); $17 for seniors 65 and older; $8 for members ages 13 and older; $3 for members ages 3 to 12.

To purchase: or 877-DSS-1947. Group bookings: 206-443-2937.

What to expect: Organizers say to set aside 90 minutes to go through the exhibit. An audio tour is included in the ticket price.

More information:

There is also an area describing the settlement at Qumran, presenting the theory that the people who collected or transcribed the scrolls were part of an ascetic Jewish sect, most likely the Essenes. There is a small-scale model of a Qumran settlement as well as placards with more nuggets of information about daily life in Qumran.

In the last several days, a few people — who had not seen the exhibit — expressed misgivings that the exhibit, which is curated by the Israel Antiquities Authority, would not present evidence of alternate theories of scroll authorship. One such theory suggests that the Qumran residents were not a religious sect at all and that the scrolls came from a library in Jerusalem and were placed in the caves by refugees fleeing a war.

The exhibit does take the view that the scrolls were collected or transcribed by a sect in Qumran — the view of most Dead Sea Scrolls scholars. But the exhibit and DVD presentation also point out that there are some scholars who do not ascribe to that theory.

The scrolls themselves come almost last in the exhibit. Each of the 10 scrolls is displayed in a plexiglass case, lit only when a person comes close.

It’s difficult to discern the text on some of the fragments, given the dim lighting, but large banners next to each scroll offer translations and give information on the scroll’s discovery, content and context.

Janet I. Tu: 206-464-2272 or