10 Commandments on Rare Display

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Image: A detail of the Ten Commandments scroll. Credit: DCI

The most complete and best-preserved ancient example of the Ten Commandments‭, a 2,00- year-old ‬leather parchment scroll discovered in a cave at the Dead Sea in 1952, will go on display on Friday in New York's Discovery Times Square Exposition. The scroll is an important, although brief, addition to the show "Dead Sea Scrolls: Life and Faith in Biblical Times."

The largest collection of biblical artifacts ever displayed outside Israel, the exhibit, which opened October 28 and will run through April 15, is already featuring 20 Dead Sea Scrolls, with sections from the biblical books of Genesis, Psalms, Exodus, Isaiah, and others.

The Ten Commandments scroll will be added to the show from Dec. 16 through Jan. 2.

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Dating from 50 BCE to 1 BCE, the scroll was found in Cave 4, one of 11 caves near the site of Khirbet Qumran on the northwestern shores of the Dead Sea, where a highly fragmented collection of documents in Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic writing was discovered between‭ ‬1947‭ ‬and‭ ‬1956.

Written in Hebrew, the scroll contains the text of the Ten Commandments from Deuteronomy (the fifth book of the Old Testament) and is the best preserved of all the Deuteronomy manuscripts.

It features four complete and two partially damaged columns and was likely intended as a prayer leaflet.

Owned by the Israel Antiquities Authority, the scroll is believed to be the second-oldest version of the Commandments after the Nash Papyrus, which dates to‭ ‬150‭–‬100‭ ‬BCE. However, this‭ manuscript, which‬ was discovered in Egypt and is now in the Cambridge University Library, is less complete‭ ‬and more fragmented.

Image: The Ten Commandments scroll. It features four complete and two partially damaged columns and was likely intended as a prayer leaflet. Credit: DCI

In Toronto, where it was displayed at the Royal Ontario Museum for just 80 hours due to its fragile condition and sensitivity to light and humidity, the Ten Commandments scroll attracted a large number of visitors.

Lines for what was hailed as "a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see one of the greatest archaeological finds of the 20th century" were indeed a couple of miles deep.

According to Risa Levitt Kohn, professor of Hebrew Bible and Judaism at San Diego State University and one of the exhibition's curators, ancient religious relics like the Ten Commandments scroll exert a unique fascination.

"You can actually see, up close, the oldest parchment copy of laws that have influenced so much of western religious and secular culture," Levitt Kohn told Discovery News.

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A significant moral code for different faiths, the Ten Commandments are indissolubly linked to the prophet Moses. The "most solitary and most powerful hero in biblical history," in the words of 1986 Nobel Peace Prize Winner Elie Wiesel, Moses enjoys the unanimous acclaim of the world's three main monotheistic religions — Judaism, Islam and Christianity.

Immortalized by Hollywood movies, painted by Rembrandt, sculpted by Michelangelo — whose depiction of a man holding back from violent action and fondling a ropy, snaking beard has become his most persistent image in the Western world — Moses is a universal symbol of liberation, leadership and law.

Evoking the moment in which Moses brought down, to a world filled with idols, the Ten Commandments and declared that God is one, the scroll on display also extert a strong fascination from a secular point of view.

"Indeed, this text has had such a large and lasting influence on American civil and criminal law," Levitt Kohn said.

 

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