The Gabriel Revelation Stone was discovered in 2000 on the shores of the Dead Sea.Photo: Sam Tsang

Scrolls exhibit shines light on ancient links

Hong Kong was picked as the venue of the Dead Sea artefacts exhibition, which opens today, because of its cultural diversity

An exhibition about the Dead Sea Scrolls that starts in Admiralty today is an attempt to enhance cross-cultural understanding between China and Israel, organisers say.

And Hong Kong is the venue of choice because of the city's diverse cultures, according to James Snyder, director of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

"Being in Hong Kong, it's like being in the culture's bracket in Asia," Snyder, a modern art historian, said yesterday. "Here we are [in] the eastern rim, and there we are [in] the western rim."

His museum collaborated with the Asia Society to bring a replica of the Great Scroll of Isaiah, along with the Gabriel Revelation Stone, to the city. Neither had been exhibited in China before. The items are among about 50 key artefacts the museum is showcasing at the Asia Society Hong Kong Centre on Justice Drive.

Snyder said China and Israel shared similar features.

"There are very strong ties between Israel and China," he said.

"The two cultures are both 6,000 plus years old, and have a continuously evolving language and a written history of the development of their culture throughout the time. That is very rare."

Traces of Jewish history had been found in China, he added, citing the significant size of Jewish communities in Shanghai during the second world war.

All these features prompted the museum to say yes when the society initiated the idea of collaboration seven months ago, Snyder said.

More ideas on projects with China were under consideration, he said, with another possible exhibition in three to five years.

Alice Mong, executive director of the society, said a cross-cultural exchange in the Hong Kong context could be interpreted as promoting tolerance.

"In times of chaos, the importance of tolerance and understanding of each other is more than ever," she said.

It was particularly meaningful that the exhibition would be on at Christmas, Mong said. "It is a time for peace, and I believe the messages are universal for everyone."

Visitors could get insights into the beliefs and daily lives of people who, according to Mong, may have been living at the time of Jesus.

The Great Scroll of Isaiah, written in Hebrew, dates from between 120BC and 100BC. It is the largest and most complete of the seven Dead Sea Scrolls that were discovered in the hot and dry caves of the Judaean Desert near Israel's West Bank, on the Dead Sea, by a young Bedouin shepherd in 1947.

At 7.34 metres long, the scroll contains the entire 66 chapters of the Book of Isaiah. Most scholars agree it was written by the Essenes, a strict Jewish sect who left Jerusalem for the desert.

The original scroll is kept in a temperature-controlled room in the Jerusalem museum.

Internet users have free access to a digital library of high-definition scroll images the museum has set up online as part of a preservation project that was started in 2007.

The Gabriel Revelation Stone, a limestone tablet, was discovered in 2000 on the eastern shores of the Dead Sea.

It dates from about 1BC to 1AD, and proclaims a vision of how God protected Jerusalem from an attack.

These exhibits offer a message of exchange of ideas across different cultures, Snyder said.

The Gabriel Revelation Stone was deeply connected to ancient Israel and Jewish theology, and was also linked to the evolution of Christian and Islamic theologies, the museum director said.

The Book of Isaiah was also significant in both Christianity and the Orthodox Church, he said. "Isaiah for Christians is the fifth gospel; for the Orthodox Christians it is the fifth gospel."

Snyder also noted that some of the exhibits hailed from a time when Jerusalem was under the rule of Herod, a Roman emperor thought to have reigned between 37BC and 4BC.

"Herod came in and put an aesthetic mark on Jerusalem by enabling it to flourish according to its own ideology," he said. "This is a real message for our own time.

"The modern message is globalisation that also respects and enables the flourishing of local culture."

The exhibition runs until January 25.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Scrolls exhibit shines light on ancient links