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Fragments of Dead Sea Scrolls on view at ExpoMart

Tribune-Review
| Friday, May 28, 2004 12:00 a.m

Documents written 5,000 years ago sit a mere arms-length away. Peruse a copy of temple-era biblical scrolls or skim through a page of the Guttenburg Bible.

“The Dead Sea Scrolls to the Bible in America,” opening today and running through June 20 at the Pittsburgh ExpoMart, provides Pittsburgh residents the opportunity to experience rare Bibles and other religious documents in an intimate way.

“The Dead Sea Scroll portion is just one chapter in a very long history,” says Lee Biondi, a dealer in rare books and manuscripts, and co-curator of the exhibit.

Pittsburgh marks the fifth stop on the Dead Sea Scrolls nationwide tour, with Cornerstone Television sponsoring the Pittsburgh visit. Indianapolis is the next major city on the circuit, but the length and schedule of the entire tour is yet to be determined. All of the traveling artifacts are from private collectors — the majority are from the personal collection of co-curator Dr. Craig Lampe, Ph.D.

Portions of every book of the Hebrew Bible, except Esther, are represented in the Dead Sea Scrolls. These books predate any other existing Hebrew Bible by 1,100 to 1,200 years. Among the most notable of the scrolls is a complete version of the book of Isaiah that matches much younger versions, word for word.

“This is the greatest archaeological discovery of history,” says Lampe, co-curator of the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit. “This silenced a lot of criticism about the prophetic books because even the most cynical paleographers date these scrolls back to the second century B.C.”

A section of the exhibit chronicles the evolution of writing — from pictography to hieroglyphics to the Hebrew alphabet. Clay tablets from Mesopotamia dating back to 3000 B.C. contain pictography, the earliest form of human writing. These ancient documents are records of livestock transactions.

The Mesopotamian tablets do, however, have a religious tie-in. The tablet recording a sale of pigs contains the name Erech, a presumed connection to the character of the same name found in Genesis 10:10.

Another rare fragment showcased at the exhibit is a letter from Paul to the Colossians. This third-century document is the earliest surviving account of Paul’s writing — his work from the first century has since been destroyed. The Coptic tongue this version of Colossians is written in makes it unique. Coptic, the Egyptian language his book was penned in, indicates the vast expansion of the early Christian Church.

“This document had a huge faith impact on me,” Biondi says. “It is amazing that this fragile piece of papyrus, that could have been a death warrant for the person keeping it, survived the Roman persecutions.”

Despite the religious nature of the material, the curators say this is a historical rather than theological exhibition. Biondi and Lampe aim to provide an account of scripture, from ancient to modern traditions.

“It’s not secular,” Biondi says. “But it’s also not denominational. I live with this stuff every day, but I still am in awe of it.” Additional Information:

Details

The Dead Sea Scrolls to the Bible in America

When : Through June 20. Hours: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays; noon to 6 p.m. Sundays

Admission : $12 weekdays; $15 weekends; $8 for students and senior citizens; free for age 6 and younger. Group rate: $10 per person for 10 or more

Where : Pittsburgh ExpoMart, Monroeville

Details : (412) 856-8100

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