Who Owns the Dead Sea Scrolls?

Israel and Jordan argue over ownership of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

January 14, 2010, 7:26 AM

JERUSALEM, Jan. 14, 2010 — -- Jordan has demanded that Israel hand over some of the famous Dead Sea Scrolls. The kingdom claims Israel seized the scrolls illegally from a museum in East Jerusalem during the Six-Day War in 1967.

"Israel seized the scrolls and other antiquities from the Palestinian Museum, which was managed by Jordan in east Jerusalem when it occupied this part of the city in 1967," said Rafea Harahsheh of Jordan's antiquities department.

The scrolls were discovered by a Bedouin shepherd in 1947. The famous parchments number 900 documents and biblical texts belonging to the Essenes, a breakaway Jewish sect that lived in the craggy hills above the Dead Sea where the scrolls were discovered.

They provide a rare insight into life in the Holy Land and the emergence of early Christian groups in the area.

The Jordanians recently asked the Canadian government to seize some of the scrolls while they were on display in Toronto.

They have also appealed to the United Nations in support of their case.

Israel has refused to discuss handing back the scrolls. Its foreign ministry told the Jerusalem Post, "Jordan's occupation of the West Bank was never recognized by the international community and the kingdom relinquished all claims on the territories. The scrolls have no relation to Jordan or the Jordanian people."

Jordan says Israel seized 14 scrolls kept in a museum in the eastern sector of Jerusalem when its army occupied that Jordanian-controlled part of the city in the 1967 war. Israel annexed eastern Jerusalem soon after the war and now says the entire city is its unified, eternal capital. Israel's annexation of Jerusalem has not been internationally recognized.

''We are very keen on getting them (the scrolls) by reminding different countries of the international accords on cultural wealth they signed,'' Maha Khatib, Jordan's tourism minister, told the AP, citing the 1954 Hague Convention governing the protection of cultural property during armed conflict.

Earlier this month, Canada refused a Jordanian request to stop the scrolls' return to Israel, after they were displayed at a Toronto museum. It also refused a similar request made by the Palestinian Authority, according to Canadian diplomats.

Khatib said Jordan has given up hope that Israel would directly give back the more than 2,000-year-old scrolls and now hoped Western nations would return them to the Arab kingdom when they host them in exhibitions.

The scrolls include the earliest known version of portions of the Hebrew Bible and have shed important light on Judaism and the beginnings of Christianity. Their origin is the subject of an insular, but notoriously heated, academic debate.

They will next be exhibited in Milwaukee, Wisc., starting Jan. 22.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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