Those who were looking forward to seeing the Dead Sea Scrolls are probably going to be disappointed. The Frankfurt Bible Museum in Germany was going to exhibit the scrolls starting in September 2019, but exhibit organizer the Israeli Antiquities Authority has decided against it over concerns of true scroll ownership.
Namely, the Israeli Antiquities Authority is worried that the Jordanians and Palestinians will once against fight over the right to the scrolls once the exhibit ends.
So why is there any debate as to who should own the scrolls in the first place?
Originally located near the Dead Sea (or West Bank, as it’s known as today) in Qumran, since their discovery, there’s been a long, drawn-out fight over scroll ownership. Israel believes it has rightful scroll ownership, as does the Palestinian Authority and Jordan.
In other words, it’s a mess, which led to the scrapping of the future exhibit.
The Dead Sea Scrolls are comprised of some of the Hebrew Bible’s first copy, and is sometimes called the Qumran Caves Scrolls. They were dug up in 1946, with certain scrolls scattered in as many as a dozen caves. In it are passages from Psalms, Deuteronomy, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Ezekiel, and Ecclesiastes.
Speaking to the Jerusalem Post, Frankfurt’s deputy mayor, Uwe Becker, made an official statement on the matter.
“Because of the unwillingness of both ministries to give the necessary declaration, as Qumran lies in today’s West Bank, the Israel Antiques Authority is not letting the material out of the country and the Bible Museum had to cancel its plans,” Becker said.
This is not the first time this drama has unfolded over the scrolls. This is also not the first instance in which they’ve been featured in a museum exhibit. Those in the United States have gotten to see the Dead Sea Scrolls before.
The same situation played out then, too. The Palestinian Authority and Jordan squabbled over ownership, insisting on getting the scrolls once the exhibit ended. Of course, that didn’t happen either.
So, what went differently this time compared to other instances in which the Dead Sea Scrolls were exhibited? It all has to do with the reaction of the German government. While the governments of the respective countries in which the scrolls were previously exhibited overlooked the scroll ownership debate, Germany refused to do that.
Israel and Germany have a positive relationship, but Becker is concerned that may change by pulling the exhibit. In fact, his concerns quickly turned to anger, enough that he has made attempts to reinstate the exhibit ahead of its opening about two years from now.
He’s petitioned to Sigmar Gabriel, Germany’s Foreign Minister, as well as Moniker Grutters, Culture and Media Minister. This was done as recently as this week, so it’s too soon to tell whether Gabriel and Grutters will respond positively to Becker’s petition.
“If Germany is unwilling to clearly express the legal status of the fragments of the Qumran as Israeli world-cultural-heritage goods, it would drastically change the coordinates in our German-Israeli relations,” Becker added. “And it would mean the construction of a wall toward the places of the birth of Christianity in the holy country, because it would be the same for Bethlehem, Jericho, east Jerusalem, and many other places of Jesus’s work.”
In the past, other parties have laid claim to the Dead Sea Scrolls, such as the Pasadena Positive Collection, the Lanier Theological Library, the Ashland Theological Seminary, the Syrian Orthodox Church, the Jordan Museum in Jordan, the Rockefeller Museum in Israel, the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago, and Azusa Pacific University.
Most of these parties have either studied, transcribed, or otherwise worked on portions of the scrolls.
The majority owner of the scrolls is indeed the Israeli government, with minority ownership going to Jordan. Canada has at once served as the neutral exhibition host in 2009. This is when Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum exhibited the scrolls and an ownership debate again broke out. Israel did receive the scrolls after the exhibit’s end. The Palestinian Authority has been engaged in the fray as well, attempting to get ownership of the scrolls.
~ 1776 Christian