Dead Sea Scrolls shatter ROM records

  • December 30, 2009
{mosimage}TORONTO - The Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit comes to a close at the Royal Ontario Museum Jan. 3 after six months of unmatched popularity in the museum’s history.

“It’s definitely come down to between this and the Egyptian Art and the Age of the Pyramids which was in 2000,” ROM media spokesperson Marilynne Friedman said before Christmas. “There’s the expectation that 300,000 people will have visited the scrolls by close on Jan. 3.”

Groups flocked not only to see the exhibit but also to attend the Anne Tanenbaum Lecture Series that ran June 23-Dec. 15. The series featured 14 speakers from Canada, the United States and Israel exploring different aspects of the ancient manuscripts. Six of the lectures were sold out.

“It is the largest and most successful lecture series in the history of the ROM,” Friedman said.

Many church groups booked a tour at the ROM, including St. Ann’s parish in Ancaster, Ont. The parish booked a day trip for 56 people which included a guided tour of the exhibit.

“What I liked about the exhibit was that it was incredibly user-friendly and it walked you through the history,” said David Dayler, a lay parish minister at St. Ann’s who gave a lecture on the scrolls to his Hamilton diocese group before they left.

“Having done the prep work before going, our parishioners knew where they were going and what they were doing and by the time we got to the scrolls themselves, which were very powerful in the way they were set up, they could simply enjoy the text and look at the exhibits themselves.”

The parish had included the study of the scrolls as part of its ongoing adult faith formation initiative.

“The Dead Sea Scrolls speak to us today because of the inspired Word of God, but the sense that they were written for people just like us 2,000 years ago, there was a power to that,” he said. “It’s not something everybody is going to delve deeply into and go into a great deal of academic research but being in the presence of the scrolls and just being able to experience the Word and the communication was very powerful.”

The adult group was joined by several university students from Redeemer University College and a few children who showed surprising interest, said Dayler.

Dan Rahimi, VP of Gallery Development, said he will miss having the scrolls nearby. Rahimi had travelled to Jerusalem to liaise with the Israel Antiquities Authority to select the scrolls for the exhibition. But even he couldn’t predict how successful the exhibition would be.

“It was hard to anticipate how people would react to it because I didn’t know for example if we were appealing to mostly a religious audience or a non-religious audience or an audience interested in archeology or not,” he said.

“Two things astonished me — that the audience was incredibly broad and that people were really reading everything in the exhibition. If you give them good information and provide good context for a good story, people spend a lot of time so the average visit was over an hour.”

Also surprising, he added, was that the Ten Commandments exhibit, which lasted only eight days, created lineups of more than an hour and a half, something unheard of at the ROM.

“We gave them a lot to read on the way, but they waited in good spirits and just loved seeing this one document and no one complained. So it was a great highlight for me.”

The lecture series is available online as podcasts at

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