Fragments of ancient history are on display at the Royal Ontario Museum in what is being called “one of the most important exhibitions in the ROM’s history.”

The Dead Sea Scrolls: Words that Changed the World, displays sections of a 2,000-year-old manuscript containing prayers, hymns, religious laws and stories still found in Jewish, Christian and Muslim holy books. Found between 1947 and 1956, the scrolls are the oldest known biblical records.

After a Bedouin looking for a stray goat found the first artifact in a cave near the Dead Sea, archeologists spent years scouring the area and piecing together 100,000 pieces of parchment and papyrus.

The result is 900 separate documents, 16 of which will be at the ROM in humidity-controlled, light-sensitive casing until early next year, including four scrolls that have never been publicly shown.

Recorded spoken Hebrew greets museum goers as the enter the exhibit while chanted Hebrew fades into the background as a reminder of the direct link between the ancient scrolls and the present, since many of the scroll’s prayers are still sung in synagogues today.

Also on display are 200 relics, including ossuaries (boxes in which human bones are kept), coins and cooking utensils, found with the scrolls that help piece together life around 100 BCE.

Mirroring the physical fragility of the artifacts is the political delicateness of the exhibit.

The Palestinian Authority says the exhibit violates international law claiming Israel illegally removed the scrolls from a Jordanian controlled museum after the 1967 six-day war. They called on the Canadian government to step up and stop the exhibit from showing at the ROM.

Meanwhile, the Israel Antiquities Authority says Israel rightfully owns the scrolls and can exhibit them where they chose. Executives at the ROM reject the PA claim saying the exhibit complies with the law and has been shown around the world relatively protest free.

If the number of tickets sold is any indication, Torontonians seem pleased with the show as projected ticket sales were up by more than 50 per cent after day nine of the project.

One attendee, 83-year-old painter Ralph Booth, particularly enjoyed the visual reconstructions of the holy land and the interviews with scholars.

“It’s a good animate show of the time of the temple ... I’d be interested to go and see the caves one day.”

And if that doesn’t happen, he says he’d like to recreate the scenes with his own paint and canvas.

Now until ...
• The Dead Sea Scrolls are on display at the Royal Ontario Museum until Sunday, Jan. 3, 2010.

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