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Vatican Displays Dead Sea Scrolls in First Israeli Exhibit at Holy See

An exhibit of the Dead Sea Scrolls went on display last week at the Vatican, marking the first time the scrolls have been exhibited in Europe, and the first time that an official Israeli exhibition has been shown at the Vatican.

The exhibit in the ornate Vatican Library opened last Thursday, just two weeks after Israel and the Vatican formalized full diplomatic relations and ushered in a new era of relations between the Jewish state and the Holy See.

Pope John Paul II last week formally name Archbishop Andrea Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo as the Vatican’s first ambassador to Israel.

“No one can deny that this exhibition is connected with the new climate,” Amir Drori, director of the Israel Antiquities Authority, said at the exhibit’s opening.

The exhibit, which has been traveling, will remain on display here until Oct. 2.

Included in the exhibit are fragments of a dozen 2,000-year-old manuscripts discovered at Qumran on the Dead Sea in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Hundreds of scrolls have been found in the caves of Qumran since the first was discovered by chance by a Bedouin shepherd in 1947.

Written on leather in Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic, the scrolls are the earliest known biblical manuscripts. They include portions of all the Five Books of Moses as well as writings by the Essenes sect.

Nearly 100 archeological artifacts associated with the scrolls, including cups, pitchers, sandals, combs and lamps, are also displayed in the exhibit, along with photographs of the excavation sites and interactive video presentations on the history of the scrolls.

In addition, the Vatican is displaying several pieces from its own priceless collection of more than 800 Hebrew manuscripts dating from the ninth to the 17th centuries.

Drori said that, given the new relations between the Vatican and Israel, he planned to explore the possibility of the Vatican exhibiting some of those manuscripts in Israel.

The head of the Vatican library, Father Leonard Boyle, said he would be willing to send some of the Vatican treasures to Israel, but only as part of a temporary exhibition.

He stressed, however, that the manuscripts in the Vatican collection, which include handwritten texts by Maimonides and other famous scholars, would never permanently leave the Vatican or be turned over to Israel.

“Whenever did they belong to Israel?” he asked. “Most of these were written in Spain, Germany, Italy. They never were in Israel. The fact that the State of Israel is there now does not mean that the State of Israel ever owned these.”

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