Risen Magazine: The Dead Sea Scrolls could arguably be the most significant archeological discovery of the twentieth century, so it is fascinating to learn that the scrolls were found by a young shepherd boy who kept them in jars hanging from a tent for a short time.
Dr. Risa Levitt Kohn: Well, most great discoveries are accidents, right? These scrolls were found in caves on the shore of the Dead Sea, the lowest place on earth; very dry and hot. The combination of the humidity, the darkness and the temperature enabled them to survive. It’s a very unusual situation. It just so happens that where they were placed had the perfect conditions for preservation.
RM: The questions as to who put the scrolls there and for what purpose are still unanswered, correct?
RLK: The big questions surrounding the Dead Sea Scrolls are: Were they placed there intentionally? Were they hidden? Who placed them there? When, and under what context? I don’t think we’ll ever have all the pieces to the puzzle. I think there are a couple scenarios that are plausible or perhaps it’s a combination of all of them.
RM: You took all of these facts into consideration when creating Dead Sea Scrolls: The Exhibition. You, along with Co-Curator Debora Ben Ami, created this experience from the ground up. What was that like?
RLK: We worked on this exhibition for two years. One of the years, I was in Israel the entire time. Myself, and Debora Ben Ami, built it from the initial concept, to choosing all the objects that are on display, to working with the designers and building out the design and the concept of the show. It was a two-year process. And we still like one another [Laughter].
RM: Will the Scrolls continue indefinitely on tour or will they live somewhere?
RLK: The scrolls that are on display in Los Angeles have never been on public display in the United States, some have never been on display at all. Once the scrolls are shown here in Los Angeles, they won’t be shown for at least another 5 years. The best situation for the scrolls is for them to sit in the dark.
RM: How many people have seen the scrolls now?
RLK: I would say hundreds of thousands of people.
RM: How did you come to be the curator of the scrolls?
RLK: I actually worked with the Antiquities Authority on the exhibition in San Diego back in 2007. I was very involved in bringing the Dead Sea Scrolls to San Diego and I worked with the curator on that exhibition. The exhibition was very successful and since then I’ve been working with the Antiquities Authority on exhibiting the scrolls in North America.
RM: Have there been any highlights from this show in Los Angeles?
RLK: There are over 600 objects in this show and they are all impressive. I think one of the objects that gets the most press is the 5,000 pound stone from the Western Wall. It is on display, but people can also touch it and it comes from something that people are very familiar with.
RM: Do you prefer teaching in a classroom or curating?
RLK: It’s nice to be able to work with the objects. Teaching in a classroom at San Diego State University, you don’t get to come into contact with the actual discoveries and the objects and the writings. It’s nice to be able to do this kind of work and get up close and personal with the things that you usually are just able to talk about.
For more information and to get tickets:
http://californiasciencecenter.org/exhibits/dead-sea-scrolls-the-exhibition (the exhibit runs through September 7, 2015)