15 August, 2009 — The Bullet
Re/Mapping Identity, Culture, & Colonial Discourse
“He who controls the present, controls the past.
He who controls the past, controls the future.”
— George Orwell
Even before the highly anticipated six-month, $3-million collaboration between the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) and the Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA) showcasing the Dead Sea Scrolls was officially launched in late June, the exhibit was already the subject of growing controversy. “Dead Sea Scrolls: Words that Changed the World,” as the exhibit is entitled, first attracted international attention in April when Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and executives at the ROM were each sent letters of protest from senior officials of the Palestinian Authority (PA) – signed by Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and Minister of Tourism and Antiquities Khouloud Diabes, respectively – declaring that the scrolls were in fact illegally seized by Israel following its occupation and subsequent annexation of the West Bank in 1967. The PA not only called for the repatriation of the scrolls but further argued that they merely represent one example of possibly millions of other artifacts that have been systematically looted by Israel from occupied Palestinian territory over several decades, a message that has since been echoed by a chorus of supportive community groups who continue to organize weekly pickets outside of the ROM in protest.
The majority of the Dead Sea Scrolls were excavated in eleven caves near the site of Qumran, one kilometer along the northwest shore of the Dead Sea, by the Palestine Archaeological Museum (also referred to as the Rockefeller Museum) in a joint expedition with the Department of Antiquities of Jordan and the Ecole Biblique Française between 1947-1956. Originally found quite by chance by an Arab Bedouin named Mohammed Ahmed el-Hamed in 1947, the scrolls are by now widely regarded as one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of the twentieth century. Consisting of approximately 900 documents in various states of completeness, the scrolls are said to represent the oldest known version of the Old Testament Bible (approximately 150BC-70CE) and are considered sacred to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam alike; they are written largely in Hebrew, but many can be found in Aramaic and Greek script as well.