Dead Sea Scrolls: Words that Changed the World opens at the ROM on June 27, 2009

The ROM offers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see these
historical treasures from June 27, 2009 to January 3, 2010
in Canada’s largest Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition

One of the most important exhibitions in the history of the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) opens in Toronto on Saturday, June 27, 2009. Until January 3, 2010, Dead Sea Scrolls: Words that Changed the World will be displayed in the Garfield Weston Exhibition Hall, located on Level B2 in the ROM’s Michael Lee-Chin Crystal.

The Dead Sea Scrolls have been the objects of great scholarly and public interest, as well as heated debate and controversy, since their discovery over 60 years ago. The ROM will display 16 authentic Dead Sea Scrolls during its six month engagement—eight different Scrolls for each three-month period—including fragments from the books of Genesis, Deuteronomy and Psalms. A fragment of the Ten Commandments, a text containing the most prominent biblical laws and obligations that, according to Jewish and Christian traditions, form the foundations of the relationship between man and God, will be featured for a limited time. Four fragments, never before publicly displayed, are being conserved especially for the exhibition. More than 200 artifacts on loan by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), augmented by objects from the ROM’s own renowned collections, illuminate the environment in which these ancient texts were written.

“The ROM is privileged to present this extraordinary exhibition showcasing these deeply significant writings,” states William Thorsell, ROM Director and CEO. “In doing so, the Museum will bring together archaeology and culture, along with exceptional programming. Our ambitious lecture series, for instance, will explore compelling ideas related to the Dead Sea Scrolls, launch provocative and enlightening inter-faith discussions, and create a deeper understanding of the Scrolls. What a magnificent opportunity for us all to explore the Scrolls’ place in human history and their contemporary relevance.”

Dr. Risa Levitt Kohn, an alumna of both York University and University of Toronto and Director of the Jewish Studies program at the San Diego State University, is guest exhibition curator at the ROM. Dr. Levitt Kohn was the curator of the enormously successful Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition at the San Diego Museum of Natural History in 2007. She comments, “This is a highly unique opportunity for a Canadian audience to view the Dead Sea Scrolls. Among the Scrolls are some of the oldest discovered texts of the Hebrew Bible—writings that have had lasting influence on western culture as they continue to resonate today. This exhibition tells an important story of discovery as these Scrolls and their words shed light on the life, faith and culture of ancient Judea at the dawn of modern Judaism and Christianity.”


For 2,000 years, desert caves concealed the Dead Sea Scrolls, a collection of mainly parchment scrolls containing sacred literature of ancient Israel. There, above the salt-laden waters of the Dead Sea, they remained untouched by light and other elements for centuries until their discovery in 1947.

In partnership with the Israel Antiquities Authority, the ROM will display fragments from 16 authentic Dead Sea Scrolls during the exhibition’s six month engagement—eight different scrolls for each three-month period. Four Scrolls (two each during the two rotations) are being specially conserved by the IAA’s Dead Sea Scrolls Conservation Lab for this first ever public display. Scrolls displayed during the first three months include:

• Genesis: approximately 20 manuscripts of the Book of Genesis, the first book of the Hebrew Bible, were found in the caves. This scroll contains some of the oldest fragments of Genesis. The displayed fragments contain portions of the story of the death of Jacob’s wife Rachel and of Joseph’s encounter with the wife of Potiphar.

• Psalms: the book of Psalms, represented by 35 manuscripts from 250 BCE to 68 CE, is the biblical book most frequently found in the caves near Qumran.

• Daniel: the eight copies of the book of Daniel found in the caves are the closest in date to the actual composition of the book itself. As a result, these copies are our earliest evidence for the original form and content of Daniel (thought to be composed ca. 165 BCE).

• The non-biblical Book of War, a ceremonial blessing to be recited over the surviving community of Israel after the final battle at the end of time. The blessing describes how God will enable the universe to produce fertility and prevent disease and destruction by wild animals and plagues.

All Scrolls are presented with full interpretations, translations, and background information, within the context of the tumultuous period in which they were written and hidden. As well, numerous audio visual elements, including aerial footage of Israel and a soundscape of reading/chanting of specific texts, plus additional graphics, maps, and simulations effectively enhance the story of the Scrolls. Immersive and ambient, large-format images depict Israel’s landscape, evoking the hot and dry Judean Desert, further transporting visitors back to the time of the Scrolls’ origins.

The IAA is lending over 200 artifacts, including lamps, ossuaries, amphorae, jugs, stone table ware, and most notably, architectural fragments from Herod’s Temple. From the ancient upper city of Jerusalem come a number of significant coins from the Jewish Wars with the Romans, as well as Roman roof tiles imprinted with the stamp of the 10th Roman Legion. Objects, including storage jars, cooking pots, and jewellery originate from Sephorris, an important town in central Galilee. An inspiring assortment of objects discovered in Khirbet Qumran, the site near the cave discoveries, include jars, sandals, an inkwell, and numerous ceramics such as cooking pots and plates.

Objects from the ROM’s own renowned collection of Hellenistic objects are also displayed, including oil lamps and colourful Roman glass, from Jerusalem and surrounding areas. These will further augment visitors’ understanding of daily life in the ancient land of Israel.

The science of preserving and interpreting the scrolls will be incorporated into the ROM’s presentation. These highlighted methods include the use of infrared photography to enhance the appearance of the soiled and weathered texts; DNA analysis to match individual scroll fragments; multi-spectral imaging; chemical analysis of clay scroll jars to determine the location of the source of the clay; Carbon 14 dating to precisely date the scrolls; paleography to establish a chronology based on the evolution of styles of ancient handwritings; archaeology of nearby settlements of the same period; and the conservation and preservation of the Scrolls.


Initially discovered by Bedouin goat-herders, the Dead Sea Scrolls are ancient manuscripts uncovered between 1947 and 1956 in 11 caves near Khirbet Qumran, on the northwestern shores of the Dead Sea. Dating from the 3rd century before the common era (BCE) to the 1st century of the common era (CE), approximately 250 BCE – 68 CE, the Scrolls contain some of the oldest-known copies of biblical books, as well as hymns, prayers, and other important writing. From more than 100,000 fragments of text discovered, scholars have painstakingly assembled over 900 separate documents. Written mainly in Hebrew, some texts were also written in Aramaic and Greek and while most were inked onto leather, papyrus (reed paper) was also used. One scroll, known simply as the Copper Scroll, was inscribed onto copper.

The manuscripts fall into three main categories: biblical, apocryphal, and non-biblical. The biblical manuscripts consist of approximately 200 copies of books from the Hebrew Bible (Christian Old Testament). Among the apocryphal manuscripts (works not included in the Hebrew biblical canon) are works that had previously been known only in translation, or that had not been known at all. The non-biblical manuscripts reflect a wide variety of literary genres: biblical commentary, religious legal writings, liturgical (prayer) texts, and compositions that predict a coming apocalypse.

The Dead Sea Scrolls are widely acknowledged to be among the greatest archaeological treasures linking us to ancient Middle East, and to the formative years of Judaism and Christianity. Over 200 biblical manuscript scrolls are more than a thousand years older than any previously known copies of the Hebrew Bible. Additionally, there are scrolls that seem to represent a distinct form of Judaism that did not survive the Roman destruction of the second Temple in 70 CE. These sectarian scrolls reveal a fascinating stage of transition between the ancient religion of the Bible and Rabbinic Judaism, as well as the faith that would become the world's largest: Christianity. In turn, the Jewish and Christian scriptural traditions are recognized in Islam, which followed soon after.

Sixty years after their discovery, following ongoing and dedicated scholarly research continuing to this day, numerous theories abound regarding the Dead Sea Scrolls’ origins. One view of the Scrolls’ origin is that they were created by the Essenes, a group of Jews whose beliefs and practices differed from those of mainstream Judaism as practiced in Jerusalem. Part of the Essenes’ practice included the establishment of a communal centre in the desert. When the Romans invaded, destroying their community around 68 CE, the Essenes hid the manuscripts in nearby caves. The ruins of Khirbet Qumran, situated near the caves, are believed by proponents of this theory to be the communal quarters of the Essenes. Others, however, believe the manuscripts have little or no connection to Qumran and may be more centred in mainstream Jewish life. These theories and other interpretations of life in Khirbet Qumran will be examined in the exhibition.

Today, while some Scrolls are located in Jordan and in Europe, the majority of the scrolls are located in Jerusalem under the custody of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA). Eight manuscripts are publicly displayed, on a rotating basis, at the Shrine of the Book while all others are housed at the IAA State Collections. To make these historical treasures accessible to the international public, the IAA allows the scrolls to be exhibited in museums around the world for a maximum of three months. This also facilitates the raising of funds to continue the important and never-ending task of the conservation and preservation of the scrolls. In Montreal, the Redpath Museum at McGill University houses a small number of Dead Sea Scroll fragments, which will be displayed during the ROM’s exhibition. In the 1950s, McGill was poised to purchase a significant group of materials from Cave 4, in the belief that Montreal would become a major centre for the study of the Dead Sea Scrolls. However, the larger plan fell through and these fragments are all that remain in the university’s collection.


The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) serves as the leading professional body for the study of the archaeology of the land of Israel. It is in charge of the country's antiquities, ancient sites and their excavation, preservation, conservation, study and publication. The IAA strives to maintain a balance between development needs and antiquities preservation with the aim to increase public awareness of and interest in the country's rich archaeological heritage. The IAA considers the protection of the country’s heritage a mission of the highest calling.


Co-chaired by Mohammad Al Zaibak, Co-founder, President and CEO of Canadian Development and Marketing Corporation CDMC and CDM Information Inc., Jonas Prince, Chairman of Realstar Group and Tony Gagliano, CEO of St. Joseph’s Media, the Dead Sea Scrolls Community Advisory Panel has brought together and oversees a diverse group of influential community leaders to assist in forming partnerships, counsel the ROM on exhibition programming, and identify sources of sponsorship.


The ROM's Dead Sea Scrolls project brings archaeology and culture together with an unprecedented emphasis on associated programs for scholars, adults and families, alike. Donors making an early investment in the project’s programming include members of the family of Anne Tanenbaum in her memory. Throughout its engagement, the exhibition is highlighted by an exceptional lecture series featuring leading Dead Sea Scrolls authorities from around the world. These lectures, exploring various aspects of the Bible and archaeology, will underscore the importance and continued significance of the Scrolls, for the Jewish, Christian and Islamic faiths of today. Jerusalem in the Dead Sea Scrolls, The Scribes of Qumran, Women in the Dead Sea Scrolls, and Jewish and Christian Origins as Revealed by the Dead Sea Scrolls (delivered by guest curator Dr. Risa Levitt Kohn) are among the topics undertaken in this ambitious lecture series. A series of renowned Salon Speakers will advance the examination of the Scrolls’ lasting influence. Weekends at the Museum will be a time of varied family programs exploring the source of the Scrolls and their content. While groups are invited to the ROM to conduct and facilitate programs of their own, ROM staff will travel throughout Ontario presenting a summary of the Dead Sea Scrolls project to schools, cultural centres and religious organizations. Full details on these and numerous other programs are to be announced in the coming months. Information on all aspects of Dead Sea Scrolls programming may be found at or by calling 416.586.5797.


ROM members already know that the best way to experience the ROM is through Membership. A ROM Individual or Family membership delivers numerous benefits, including free general admission, newsletters, events, previews, discounts and much more. It also entitles members to purchase Dead Sea Scrolls tickets in advance of the general public. For additional information or to purchase a membership, call 416.586.5700 or visit

During its engagement, docents from the ROM’s Department of Museum Volunteers (DMV) will be present in the exhibition to answer visitors’ questions. Dead Sea Scrolls is to be featured prominently on the ROM’s website A dedicated Dead Sea Scrolls Shop is located in the exhibition where its wide array of merchandise including jewellery, stationery, books and other media, and food items will create inspired memories for the exhibition visitor. A selection of these wares will also be available in the ROM Museum Store on Level 1. Exciting in-store events, including readings and book signings, Meet the Chef and Meet the Artisan are being planned with details to be announced at a later date.

Admission to The Dead Sea Scrolls: Words that Changed the World is included with paid general admission and timed tickets, with a limited capacity, are available at 30-minute intervals. Adults: $28; Students and Seniors with ID: $25; Children (4 to 14 years) $15; Children 3 & under are free. Reduced admission prices to the exhibition apply during the ROM’s Half Price Friday Nights, presented by Sun Life Financial, from 4:30 pm to 9:30 pm: Adults: $17; Seniors and Students: $15.50; Children $7.50; Children 3 & under are free. Groups of 10 or more may call ROM Group Sales at 416.586.5889 or email for information on special rates, private guided tours and group menus. Ontario school groups should visit or call the ROM's Education Department at 416.586.5801 for information on Dead Sea Scrolls School Visits. Offered at both the elementary and secondary level, the exhibition offers many links to the provinces curriculum.