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Dead Sea Scrolls debate still very much alive

April 13, 2009 |  2:24 pm

The Dead Sea Scrolls are back in the news again. This time, the debate surrounds an exhibition of the religious artifacts that is scheduled to open in June at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto.

Scrolls It seems that high-ranking Palestinian officials are upset about the show, claiming that it violates international law because the scrolls were illegally obtained by Israel when the state annexed East Jerusalem in 1967.

Letters sent by Palestinian officials to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and museum officials are demanding that the exhibition be canceled, according to a report in the Toronto Star. A museum official has stated that the show probably falls within the parameters of the law.

The exhibition is organized with the cooperation of the Israeli Antiquities Authority.

In 2007, the San Diego Natural History Museum hosted a selection of the famous scrolls in a heavily attended six-month show. Interestingly, Palestinian officials did not protest that exhibition, according to a spokeswoman for the San Diego museum. Nor have they voiced protest about the many museum shows around the world where the scrolls have already been on display.

Why Palestinian officials have waited until the Toronto exhibition to speak up remains a mystery, although the report in the Star surmised that this may "be a test case for the Palestinians."

The ROM has hired the same curator who organized the San Diego exhibition, Risa Levitt Kohn, who is a biblical scholar at San Diego State University.

Israeli officials are famously strict over the movement of the scrolls, allowing them leave the country for only three months at a time. For the San Diego exhibition, two series of 12 scrolls were rotated for the show's six-month run.

-- David Ng

Photo: A fragment from one of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Credit: Tsila Sagiv & Clara Ami / San Diego Natural History Museum

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