The Dead Sea Scrolls... made in St John’s Wood

Korea wanted the Dead Sea Scrolls for an ex­hi­bi­tion, but Jerusalem would not oblige. So cu­ra­tors asked a Lon­don cou­ple to make some

The Jewish Chronicle - - Judaism - BY SI­MON ROCKER

THE THRILL of recog­ni­tion is in­stant. You need not be a He­brew scholar to make out a few familiar words among the clear black let­ters first formed by a scribe more than 2,000 years ago. Un­wound be­fore me is a 23ft­long scroll of the Book of Isa­iah. It could be the one that was found 60 years ago in a cave in Qum­ran by the Dead Sea. But this scroll is dif­fer­ent: it orig­i­nates in St John’s Wood, North-West Lon­don, is bound for Korea and was con­ceived by a man who runs a salmon-fish­ing busi­ness in Alaska.

En­ter We­ston Fields, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Dead Sea Scrolls Foun­da­tion. His or­gan­i­sa­tion funds pub­li­ca­tion of the 900 or so doc­u­ments and frag­ments that com­prise the Dead Sea Scrolls and also helps with preser­va­tion and ex­hi­bi­tions.

A cou­ple of years ago, he was ap­proached by a Korean group that wanted to put on an ex­hi­bi­tion. “There are be­tween 25 to 35 per cent Chris­tians in Korea, so they have a built-in in­ter­est in the Bi­ble,” Dr Fields ex­plained dur­ing a brief visit to Lon­don ear­lier this month. “There are lots of Korean stu­dents in Is­rael at the He­brew Univer­sity or Jerusalem Univer­sity Col­lege. There are also Chris­tian churches in Is­rael.

“Kore­ans ac­count for a fairly size­able per­cent­age of tourists in Is­rael — they don’t seem to be as afraid of ter­ror­ism as peo­ple in the USA or Europe. You can go to Qum­ran and find guide­books in Korean.”

In fact, the cu­ra­tor of the Seoul ex­hi­bi­tion has a PhD from Is­rael’s re­li­gious univer­sity, Bar-Ilan, and, while a stu­dent, worked at the Is­rael Mu­seum.

Now, an­cient manuscripts are pre­cious and frag­ile ob­jects, and since the Is­raelis had had no pre­vi­ous deal­ings with the prospec­tive ex­hibitors, it was go­ing to be hard to per­suade them to lend some of the orig­i­nal Dead Sea Scrolls, es­pe­cially to a des­ti­na­tion so far away. But We­ston Fields had a plan.

His own in­ter­est in the scrolls dates back to his child­hood in the 50s, from a book on the sub­ject in his par­ents’ li­brary. They were a re­li­gious fam­ily: “My par­ents moved from Cal­i­for­nia to Alaska to run a Bap­tist or­phan­age for In­dian and Eskimo chil­dren.”

Later, with a doc­tor­ate in Bi­ble stud­ies, he taught He­brew and Greek be­fore mov­ing in the mid-80s to Jerusalem to take a sec­ond doc­tor­ate at the He­brew Univer­sity. His pro­fes­sors would send him down to un­der­take projects at the scrollery where the Dead Sea doc­u­ments were kept locked away.

In 1991, the then ed­i­tor-in-chief of the scrolls, Pro­fes­sor Emanuel Tov, asked him to set up the foun­da­tion. And since then, he has di­vided his year — spend­ing the sum­mer in Alaska help­ing his brothers with the fam­ily salmon-fish­ing busi­ness and the rest of the year trav­el­ling ex­ten­sively to pro­mote of one of the world’s great­est man­u­script dis­cov­er­ies.

“I had the idea of mak­ing fac­sim­i­les of the three scrolls that were orig­i­nally found — they are the best pre­served,” he said. “The Kore­ans were will­ing to un­der­write the cost — it’s ter­ri­bly ex­pen­sive.”

To help, he turned to some old friends, Linda and Michael Fal­ter of St John’s Wood. As Fac­sim­ile Edi­tions, the cou­ple have a world­wide rep­u­ta­tion for pro­duc­ing high-class repli­cas of il­lus­trated re­li­gious manuscripts, so metic­u­lously ex­e­cuted that they are hard to tell from the orig­i­nal. “When We­ston rang and said could you ad­vise me how to make a copy of the Dead Sea Scrolls,” Michael Fal­ter said, “I replied, ‘I’d rather not ad­vise you, I’d rather do it’.”

The scrolls were from a pe­riod more a thou­sand years ear­lier than any­thing the cou­ple had pre­vi­ously at­tempted. “We wanted to get as close as pos­si­ble to the orig­i­nal scroll,” he said. “For­tu­nately, We­ston knew that in a vault some­where in Amer­ica there was a com­plete set of trans­paren­cies that were taken in 1948 in war-torn Jerusalem by an Amer­i­can ar­chae­ol­o­gist who was also a good pho­tog­ra­pher.”

Af­ter ne­go­ti­a­tions with the heirs to the col­lec­tion, the neg­a­tives were flown from Cal­i­for­nia to the Fal­ters’ printer in Mi­lan by courier, who stood by for three-and-a-half days un­til scan­ning was com­plete be­fore whisk­ing them straight back to the States.

The pro­duc­tion has taken about a year and the re­sults are ex­tra­or­di­nary. The fac­sim­i­les have been printed on con­di­tioned pa­per that looks, feels and sounds like parch­ment. Ev­ery stain, crack, tear in the orig­i­nal scrolls ap­pears ex­actly in its place — an ef­fect achieved by the use of ad­vanced laser-cut­ting tech­niques. “All the tiny holes in the man­u­script have been re­pro­duced — some of them are hair­line, in­clud­ing pin­pricks,” said Linda.

The sec­tions have been at­tached by linen thread, fol­low­ing the stitch­marks re­vealed by the pho­to­graphs. “We’ve been able to re­pro­duce the sew­ing, thread by thread,” she said.

Three copies each have been cre­ated of the orig­i­nal three scrolls: Isa­iah, a com­men­tary on the Book of Habakkuk, and the Man­ual of Dis­ci­pline. “We wanted to pro­duce them ex­actly as they are, we didn’t want to en­hance or pret­tify them,” Michael said. “When we showed them to We­ston, he said they were as leg­i­ble as the orig­i­nal. The only thing we haven’t got is the clay pots in which they were found.”

The Seoul ex­hi­bi­tion on the Dead Sea Scrolls and early Chris­tian­ity is sched­uled to open next month and ex­pected to at­tract two mil­lion vis­i­tors over six months. For Fields, such fac­sim­i­les will al­low more peo­ple a chance to see what th­ese priceless an­cient manuscripts look like. “The orig­i­nal Isa­iah scroll is no longer on dis­play,” he said. “You only see a copy in the Shrine of the Book [in Jerusalem] — and it is in­fe­rior to this.”

PHOTO: BEN TURNER

Masters of the scrolls: Michael Fal­ter, We­ston Fields and Linda Fal­ter — and the Book of Isa­iah

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