By GUY LAMOLINARA
"This exhibition was organized so that all may see what is so widely discussed."
With those words a shroud was lifted from what has been called the greatest archaeological find of the 20th century: the Dead Sea Scrolls. The speaker was Gen. Amir Drori, head of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), where most of the scrolls are kept and studied by scholars.
Gen. Drori had come to the Library for a news conference dedicated to the opening of "Scrolls from the Dead Sea: The Ancient Library of Qumran and Modern Scholarship," a major exhibition running through Aug. 1.
Members of the news media gathered April 26 in the Madison Gallery, at the entrance to the exhibition, to ask questions regarding a subject that has fascinated scholars as well as the general public since the scrolls' discovery in 1947 in caves of Qumran, near Jerusalem.
Also on hand to answer queries were Librarian of Congress James H. Billington; Michael W. Grunberger, head of the Hebraic Section and exhibition curator; Irene U. Burnham, head of the Interpretive Programs Office and the exhibition director; Doris A. Hamburg, head of the Paper Conservation Section in the Conservation Office; Jabob Fisch, marketing director of the IAA; and Jill D. Brett, public affairs officer.
Dr. Billington opened the press preview by thanking Mark Talisman of Project Judaica Foundation, for its support in funding the exhibition, and Hilton International, which provided additional support.
"It is especially fitting that this historic exhibition is opening at the Library of Congress, since the first time the Dead Sea Scrolls were exhibited in the United States was in October of 1949, in the Great Hall of the Library's Thomas Jefferson Building," he said.
"This exhibition includes 12 Dead Sea Scrolls, as well as a section of archaeological artifacts excavated at the Qumran -- all from the collections of the Israel Antiquities Authority. We have augmented these items with materials from our Hebraic, manuscript, motion picture, map and photographic collections," the Librarian added.
In his introduction of Gen. Drori, Dr. Billington noted how "under his leadership, the Israel Antiquities Authority has greatly increased the number of scholars working on the Dead Sea Scrolls. He has set publication schedules that will see [all] the scrolls published within the decade. ... This exhibition stems directly from his inspiration and from his commitment to make the scrolls better known."
Gen. Drori emphasized that already, "80 percent of the scrolls have been published." He assured one reporter -- who asked whether there was any reason that the IAA "should have kept a monopoly" on the scrolls -- that "if you want to be a scholar, you are welcome; we invite every scholar to join the project."
Many questions addressed the preservation of the scrolls and their housing. Ms. Hamburg explained that when designing the housings, "we wanted to make sure that we thought of every circumstance" that might harm the scrolls and how that could be prevented. She noted that LC conservators already have experience working "with some of the very earliest paper."
Dr. Grunberger explained the differing interpretations ascribed to one of the most controversial scroll fragments in the exhibition: that of the "pierced" or "piercing" Messiah. This six-line fragment, the smallest in the exhibition, refers to a Messiah from the Branch of David. The fragment also makes reference to a judgment and to a killing. Because a critical word has no diacriticals, it is not clear whether the Messiah referred to in the text is being pierced or is himself doing the piercing; that is, whether the Messiah is being killed or is doing the killing.
"The exhibition does not take any sides in this controversy or in any of the others associated with the interpretations of the scrolls. Our exhibit gives all points of view," Dr. Grunberger said.
But once again, the questioning returned to the subject of scroll access. "Can you say that the sequestering of the scrolls has delayed the [progress of] scholarship?" one reported asked. "No," Dr. Billington replied. "The general distribution of scholarship sometimes can be hurried in the electronic age, but scholarship itself cannot."