History revealed

A few years back, when the Titanic road show was making the rounds of big city museums, my husband and I took our four kids to St. Paul (we lived in Minnesota at the time) to view what had been brought up from Titanic’s tomb on the ocean floor. It was awesome and appalling, being that close to such a tragic shard of history.

There was one piece of hulking metal we ticket-holders were allowed to touch. I think it might have been a davit; one of the metal contraptions that lowered those infamously few lifeboats to the icy water as Titanic sank. The metal was cool to the touch of course, but there was an umistakable surge of sensation on my fingertips as I stroked the mottled metal. I knew I was touching something that had been part of Titanic’s anatomy. It had been above water once, but it had submerged with the rest of the luxury liner in April 1912.

It’s a strange feeling looking at and touching something of historical significance, that had been hidden, but was now revealed and which begged to be noticed.

I felt the same way this weekend when we took our kids to see the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit at San Diego’s Natural History Museum, though of course, there was no touching the scrolls. A quick FYI: Discovered in the 1940s and ’50s in caves near Qumran, the scrolls contain – among other writings – more than 200 biblical manuscripts representing nearly every book in the Hebrew Bible; and the amazing thing is, most are a thousand years older than any previously known copies. They had been hidden: first from marauding Roman troops, and then from everyone, for two millenia.

They are hidden no longer.

As we walked the darkened and cool hallways of the museum’s basement, this is what I kept whispering to the fragments under glass:

I see you.

That which is written should be seen, should be read. Words on paper (or ancient goatskin) are meant to be seen.

I wonder if those who hid them knew how long their precious writings would be hidden from view. And I wonder what they would say if they knew that after all these centuries, their words are once again laid out before the human eye.

It’s ironic, really. As long as the scrolls were entombed in the caves in Qumran, they were safe. But nobody was reading them. Now they face the same dangers as all other antiquities on display. But they are being read.

Reminds me of that maxim that goes something like this: A ship is safe in its harbor, but that’s not what ships are for. . .

Interesting, that.

Author: Susan

This post has 2 Comments

  1. Jeanne Damoff on November 13, 2007 at 8:46 pm

    I saw the scrolls when the exhibit was in Seattle. I was especially amazed to note that, though the parchments were obviously old and frail, the writing was still bold and clear–as if it had been written a week ago. As I pondered that fact, a scripture came to mind: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will endure forever.” Gave me chill bumps.

    I agree with you. Being in the presence of history stirs the imagination in unique ways. Thanks for sharing your glimpse.

  2. Anna on November 18, 2007 at 10:21 pm

    Yes! Touching history, seeing it with your very own eyes… the sense of immediacy is amazing and surreal.

Leave a Comment