By JOHN SULLIVAN
One of the most successful exhibitions ever held at the Library of Congress has concluded its three-month stay in the Madison Gallery. "Scrolls from the Dead Sea: The Ancient Library of Qumran and Modern Scholarship" opened April 29 and closed its doors Aug. 1.
The exhibition included 12 scroll fragments found near the Dead Sea by shepherds and included ancient documents written around the time and locale in which Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity were born.
In addition to the 2,000-year-old fragments were artifacts found in the vicinity of Qumran and associated with the same period as the scrolls, including combs, coins, pottery, linens and leather goods were on display. The exhibition was augmented by books, maps and manuscripts from the Library of Congress collections.
More than 140,000 visitors saw the exhibition, including members of Congress and many groups from embassies, churches, synagogues, and schools. What they saw were authenticated written documents that shed light on the character of the biblical text prior to its standardization.
Those who came were not disappointed. In their comments inscribed in a guest book just outside the exhibition area, visitors made reference to having "a renewed sense of history," and that "seeing the scrolls deepens the meaning of my religious understanding."
A tourist from Las Vegas said, "The exhibition was a truly inspiring experience. The accompanying audio tape was very clear and it was very interesting and informative to hear the various points of view."
Hundreds of visitors were thankful for the opportunity to have such a splendid history lesson, with a familiar cast of Biblical characters, and moreover, seeing at close range actual fragments of scrolls 2,000 years old.
And some visitors joined in on the controversy over the authorship of the scrolls, or the identity of the nearby site of discovery near Qumran and the Dead Sea. Visitors from Hershey, Pa., and Dothan, Ala., to Vancouver, British Columbia, and Osaka, Japan, aired their beliefs and agreed to disagree.
Said Library curator and head of LC's Hebraic Section Michael Grunberger, "I was especially pleased with the professionalism of the staff specifically hired for this exhibition. They managed the large crowds that gathered to see the exhibition effortlessly and efficiently, with courtesy and tact."
Conservation and safety of the fragments were critical components in the exhibition's mounting. Doris Hamburg, head of the Paper Conservation Section in the Library's Conservation Office, was responsible for overseeing these tasks. The press and visitors alike continually asked how the ancient objects were preserved over 2,000 years. To answer such queries, Ms. Hamburg, along with the Interpretive Programs Office, mounted a display, "Preserving the Dead Sea Scrolls," near the exhibition entrance.
During Ms. Hamburg's several visits to Israel to discuss preservation, she (and her staff in Washington) helped devise new treatments and packaging techniques so the scrolls and artifacts would travel safely throughout the exhibition period. (The exhibition will travel to two other locations before returning to Israel, opening Oct. 7 at the New York Public Library and in February at the M.H. de Young Memorial Museum in San Francisco.)
"All of the objects are fragile and we needed to develop suitable housing and monitoring methods to manage the handling and environmental changes during the course of the exhibits," said Ms. Hamburg. Also providing conservation expertise were senior conservator Margaret R. Brown and conservator Annlinn Grossman, and many other members of the Conservation Office staff.
Senior conservator Linda Stiber helped organize an exchange of conservation methods between the Library of Congress and the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA). A lecture on preserving the scrolls was also presented at the Library by the IAA's consulting conservator Esther Boyd-Alkalay.
During the two-day symposium on the scrolls held at the Library, biblical scholars, including theologians and historians from many faiths, presented their varying interpretations of the scrolls and analyses of the time and the people from two millennia ago.
Some of those who were not able to come to Washington for the exhibition saw it via computer, on the Internet or America Online, a commercial data base service. This was an effort of the Library's Special Projects Office. Said Ribert Zich, special assistant, "To date, approximately 10,000 viewers and subscribers to America Online have been able to witness the content of the exhibition, reading both the text and downloading the associated images. And, at least one of the users, Sheldon Green, will be offering an online course about the scrolls."
"This exhibition captured the widespread attention of the national and international press in a very gratifying way for the Library," said Public Affairs Officer Jill D. Brett. Extensive coverage included that by ABC's "Good Morning America" on the day of the opening, many subsequent television spots highlighting curators and exhibition items alike, a lengthy segment on the "MacNeil-Lehrer NewsHour," stories from the wire services such as the Associated Press and Gannett, and local and national coverage in newspapers and magazines, from The Washington Post and The Dallas Morning News to Biblical Archaeology Review and The San Francisco Chronicle.
Exhibition curators Michael W. Grunberger and Interpretive Programs Officer Irene U. Burnham both agreed that all Library staff involved in putting the exhibition together deserved special recognition. The staff of the Interpretive Programs Office was a major contributor to the exhibition's success. For example, Tambra Johnson, registrar, handled the process of applying for federal insurance and assisted in negotiating the agreements among the Israeli and American institutions; and Debbie Durbek, IPO production officer, made sure the exhibition opened on time, oversaw its dismounting and monitored the proceless items' safety and packing for other venues.
Employees of the Library's Printing and Processing Section, Freight Services, the Office of the General Counsel, Protective Services, the Library Police, Library Sales Shop personnel and the Hebraic Section staff also helped make the exhibition a success. Temporary staff, managed by Jennifer Bride, were hired for crowd control. Said Ms. Burnham, "These young people made all the difference in the world for visitors and Library staff alike."
"I knew the exhibition was a big hit when a scalper was caught trying to sell tickets just outside the building where quite often long lines queued up awaiting entrance," said Ms. Burnham.
Ms. Burnham's other favorite remembrance is one visitor's response to a query by a National Public Radio interviewer, "How did you feel about the exhibit?" The visitor's response: "I just loved it. I am going to leave here wondering about the questions that remain unanswered."