Housing the ancient biblical parchments known as the Dead Sea Scrolls, Israel’s Shrine of the Book surrounds the crumbling artifacts in a surreal modern womb built specifically to rotate the delicate pages for viewing.
The bulbous museum was constructed in 1965 specifically to house the scrolls which had been discovered a few years earlier in a cave in the Judean Desert.
In 1946, a Bedouin teenager accidentally found seven ancient scrolls housed in jars in a cave in the wadi near Qumran. He had no idea that this was the beginning of such a significant discovery. A total of 20 complete scrolls and 16,000 fragments of scrolls were found in 12 caves between 1947 and 1956. Out of these fragments, Researchers have assembled a total of 981 manuscripts. Most of them are books of the Torah (Old Testament) written in Hebrew.
The exterior of the shrine is a rounded peak with sculpted striations rippling up its walls. The strangely organic edifice belies the true grandeur of the site as well since the shrine actually extends well into the ground. Across from the white exterior is a black, basalt wall. The two features are meant to represent a specific scroll that talks about the “Sons of Light,” represented by the shrine itself, and “Sons of Darkness,” represented by the squat back wall.
Inside the surprisingly spacious shrine, selected Dead Sea Scrolls are on display year round. There are glass cases on the outer ring of the shrine that contain pages, but it is the central display which is made to look like a giant Torah scroll, complete with handle, that dominates the space. More pages of the scrolls are displayed in a spinning lit ring that circles the giant scroll. Due to the fragility of the scrolls, the displayed pages are cycled out on a regular basis so that no one section deteriorates from being displayed.
The Shrine of the Book is a part of the Israel Museum but it stands alone as both a unique architectural experience and a one of a kind religious pilgrimage.
Know Before You Go
The museum is open Sundays, Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. It is open Tuesdays from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m., Fridays and and holiday eves from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and Saturdays from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.