KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Taken out of context, the main attraction of an exhibit appears to contain nothing more than a few scraps of paper with words written on them.
The writings, however, are expected to draw tens of thousands of ticket-buying spectators over the next 90 days.
Six fragments of ancient parchment discovered in 1947 in caves in the Judean Desert of Israel form the centerpiece of The Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit, which will continue through May 13.
Protective glass display cases house each fragment in a darkened gallery. Periodically, a soft light illuminates the scrap of parchment, the largest of which is a strip no bigger than a ruler.
Some of these scraps bear the earliest known manuscripts of the Old Testament.
None of the fragments has been seen before in the United States. Three artifacts are on public display for the first time.
Though these bits of ancient paper lack the aesthetic wow value of a solid-gold mask of a mummified Egyptian pharaoh, they have a more significant quality, said Hava Katz, the chief curator of the national treasures of the Israel Antiquities Authority.
"The written word is stronger than any beautiful artifact that you could find," Dr. Katz said. "There is no end to beauty, but the written word is more important."
The words, which are more than 1,000 years older than any other copies of biblical text found so far, are nearly identical to modern-day translations of the Old Testament, scholars say.
Morris B. Margolis, who has a doctorate in history from Columbia University and is the rabbi emeritus of Congregation Beth Shalom in Kansas City, calls the Dead Sea Scrolls "amazing reaffirmation that we have the correct Bible."
For Christians, the scrolls also represent a link to the cornerstone of their faith, said the Rev. Michael Stubbs, the pastor of St. Francis de Sales Parish in Lansing, Mo.
"These scrolls come from the time that Jesus lived," the Rev. Stubbs said. "They let us know more about the time frame in which Jesus lived. It gives us more background."
There also is the historical attraction of the scrolls, which many regard as the greatest archeological find of the 20th century.
This is the 18th exhibit of elements of the scrolls mounted by the Israel Antiquities Authority. Shows last year in Seattle and Charlotte, N.C., drew more than 200,000 visitors each.
In addition to the six scroll fragments, the exhibit includes replicas of four others, an introductory film, information about how the scrolls were found and scientifically verified, and displays of coins, pottery and other artifacts from the Qumran community near where the scrolls were discovered.