Traveling Scrolls Exhibit a Success

Since February of this year, FARMS has been showing an exhibit on the Dead Sea Scrolls in LDS stake centers throughout the Midwest.

Originally envisioned as a way to galvanize interest in a much larger LDS-sponsored scrolls exhibit on display at Chicago’s Field Museum earlier this year, the traveling exhibit quickly proved to be a popular attraction in its own right. So far more than 40,000 people have visited the exhibit during its stops in Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, and Missouri.

Many of the local stakes that helped with the exhibit have reported that the event was one of the best they have ever had in terms of community outreach. Some stakes estimated that as many as 75 percent of the visitors were not Latter-day Saints, and in other locations that figure was commonly 50 percent. One visitor, a Catholic priest, commented, “An excellent exhibit. I’m overwhelmed.”

Among the many people who have contributed to the exhibit’s success are two couples, Arthur and Carrole Hatch of Mesa, Arizona, and Ned and Jean Williams of Salt Lake City, Utah. Called by BYU president Merrill J. Bateman as BYU service representatives and set apart by their local priesthood leaders, the Hatches and Williamses accompanied the exhibit and acted as hosts. According to Brent Hall, the director of operations at FARMS, they have had “a profound positive effect on this exhibit. Without their help, it would not have been possible to take the exhibit to the many places it has gone.” President Samuel Otto, who presides over the Milwaukee Wisconsin Stake and coordinated the exhibit there, was similarly appreciative of the couples’ efforts to help make the exhibit a success. “The Hatches and Williamses were always so gracious and wonderful hosts and leaders,” he remarked. “They started early and worked late. They brought a great spirit to our stake.”

Stake and ward public affairs councils did an outstanding job of promoting the exhibit and orchestrating related activities. In Independence, Missouri, Donald Parry, a BYU professor of Hebrew and FARMS board member who is a member of the international team of Dead Sea Scroll editors, appeared on television and multiple radio programs, spoke to a capacity crowd at a fireside, and met with ministers of religion, city and county dignitaries, journalists, and other community members to answer questions about the scrolls and the LDS Church’s participation in scroll-related matters.

Another FARMS board member, BYU law professor John Welch, gave an evening lecture at Chicago’s Field Museum on the spiritual strivings of the people who produced the scrolls. Some 200 people attended that event, including many VIPs who had been invited from the local clergy and scholarly communities. BYU professors of ancient scripture David Seely (also a member of the FARMS board) and Dana Pike, both members of the international team of scroll editors, spoke to capacity crowds at LDS Church firesides in Chicago and St. Louis. Kevin Barney, an attorney and scrolls scholar from Chicago, traveled to Nauvoo to be the exhibit representative to the press and to answer questions for persons attending special opening sessions.

Sponsored by Brigham Young University and FARMS, the traveling exhibit features scroll replicas, artifacts, audio commentary, photographs and illustrations, and a model of Qumran (a building complex that, according to some scholars, was a religious center where the scrolls were copied before they were secreted in nearby caves).

After its present stay in Nauvoo, Illinois (until 4 September), the exhibit will travel to Topeka, Kansas, and Denver, Colorado. For a current schedule of exhibit showings, visit the FARMS Web site at http://farms.byu.edu and click on the “Events Calendar” button.