A Dome Like No Other - Jerusalem's 'Shrine of the Book'

Jerusalem’s ‘Israel Museum’ is, without a doubt, up there amongst the world’s leading art and archaeology collections, and every visit I make leaves me in awe.  There is so much to see there that one would need days, if not weeks, to explore fully.  But if you're short on time, and you have to prioritise, make sure not to miss the enigmatic, and almost surreal, ‘Shrine of the Book,’ which houses the extraordinary Dead Sea Scrolls.  Housed two-thirds underground, and brought to life with dramatic black and white colouring, this is a building that rarely fails to capture the imagination of its endless visitors.  

The Shrine of the Book was designed by architects Armand Bartos and Frederick Kiesler, and built in 1965 with funds donated by the family of David Gottseman.  He was a Hungarian philanthropist and his relatives regarded it as a gift to the newly-founded State of Israel. 

Structured to represent the earthenware jar in which the Scrolls were found, the dome is shaped as the lid of the jar and the underground area represents the vessel itself.  Across from the white dome is a black basalt war - the shapes and colours are images from the Scroll of War (the Sons of Light against the Sons of Darkness).

You enter into the building through a long, dark passageway, imitating the caves in which the manuscripts were found.  Along the corridor are genuine exhibits from the Essenes’ daily life - tools, sandals, jars etc.  All date back to the time of the Second Temple. 

Then, as you enter into the round hall at the end of the corridor, the Scrolls themselves are displayed under a dazzling column of light.  The different manuscripts themselves are so fragile that they are displayed for short periods of time and then taken away to a cool, dry place to “rest.” 

Few would argue that the Shrine of the Book is a truly novel building in Israel and in the last fifty years, many metaphors and meanings have been applied to it. Some regard it as a masterpiece of modern art; others as highly symbolic of the newly-created State of Israel.   No photography is allowed inside but, in my humble opinion, it would be almost impossible, even with a camera, to capture the atmosphere and beauty of this building.   As an international landmark, it is as unique as the city of Jerusalem itself...don't miss it.   

The Israel Museum: Ruppin Street 11 (opposite the Knesset), Jerusalem.

Tel: 02-670-8811; Email: info@imj.org.il