From Dead Sea to dead sea

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UVU students have a unique engaged learning opportunity with the university’s sponsorship of the Dead Sea Scrolls: Life and Faith in Ancient Times exhibit, which began its six-month engagement at The Leonardo in Salt Lake on November 22.

What began as a monetary sponsorship when The Leonardo initially approached the university, quickly evolved into a service opportunity for students. Those opportunities have grown as special courses and internships are in development to take advantage of the partnership during the spring semester.

“As an engaged learning institution we’re always looking for opportunities for our students to engage in their discipline and with the community, so this kind of serves both purposes,” said David Yells, dean of the College of Humanities and Social Science.

The opportunities for students to get involved are still available, Yells said, and many of the opportunities are still being developed across different programs, like Religious Studies and Peace & Justice Studies.  Internships are also available, which is a remarkable chance for any history majors interested in museum curation.

“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity, I mean, this is a big exhibit” said Yells. “Just being around the exhibit is really cool, and then learning about the logistics that are involved in moving these materials…it’s pretty impressive for our students.”

Because of the unexpected and rapid change to the nature of the partnership, much of the curriculum is still being developed, leaving the university and The Leonardo to “roll with the punches” and adapt to the changing needs of both parties.

The exhibit itself is being billed as “the largest and most comprehensive collection of ancient artifacts from Israel ever organized.” It features over 600 objects from the Holy Land, including a two-ton stone from Jerusalem’s Western Wall. The artifacts are presented in a timeline as patrons walk through the exhibit, creating historical context and adding significance to the Dead Sea Scrolls and their discovery.


“This exhibit, in many ways, is the largest undertaking we as a museum have ever taken on—both in terms of scope and impact, hopefully, on this community,” said Alexandra Hesse, the executive director of The Leonardo. “It’s the largest collection artifacts ever to leave the land of Israel as one body,”

The scrolls—which Hesse explained have never been shown before, nor will they be shown again in other venues—stand as a centerpiece for the exhibit and capstone a historical journey that examines the beginnings of Judaism, Islam and Christianity.

“The Dead Sea Scrolls give the whole story of the beginning of monotheism in Judaism, the influence on Christian monotheism, and, later on, Islam—that’s what’s so important about this exhibition, because it’s not a beautiful exhibition,” said Dr. Uzi Dahari, deputy director of the Israel Antiquities Authority. “We could arrange an exhibition of beautiful archeological items that have been found in Israel, but they don’t tell a story, and we wanted to tell a story—not to show only beautiful items.”

The exhibit aims to put the scrolls into context and lend credibility to why they are regarded as one of the most significant archeological finds of the last century. Beyond just the story though, Dahari explained that he wants the exhibit to raise questions and create an attitude of reflection for those who attend.

The scrolls themselves were discovered in caves along the northwest shore of the Dead Sea in 1947 and were unearthed over the next decade with the excavation ending in 1956. They contain the oldest known copies of the Hebrew Bible. The scroll fragments shown at the Leonardo’s exhibit include verses from the biblical books of Genesis, Psalms, Exodus and Isaiah, among others.

The exhibit will be in Salt Lake City until April 27, 2014, when it will then move on to its next host city. Information regarding the volunteer and other opportunities is available through the College of Humanities and Social Science.