Image: The Ten Commandments scroll. It features four complete and two partially damaged columns and was likely intended as a prayer leaflet. Credit: DCI In Toronto, where it was displayed at the Royal Ontario Museum for just 80 hours due to its fragile condition and sensitivity to light and humidity, the Ten Commandments scroll attracted a large number of visitors.
Lines for what was hailed as "a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see one of the greatest archaeological finds of the 20th century" were indeed a couple of miles deep.
According to Risa Levitt Kohn, professor of Hebrew Bible and Judaism at San Diego State University and one of the exhibition's curators, ancient religious relics like the Ten Commandments scroll exert a unique fascination.
"You can actually see, up close, the oldest parchment copy of laws that have influenced so much of western religious and secular culture," Levitt Kohn told Discovery News.
A significant moral code for different faiths, the Ten Commandments are indissolubly linked to the prophet Moses. The "most solitary and most powerful hero in biblical history," in the words of 1986 Nobel Peace Prize Winner Elie Wiesel, Moses enjoys the unanimous acclaim of the world's three main monotheistic religions - Judaism, Islam and Christianity.
Immortalized by Hollywood movies, painted by Rembrandt, sculpted by Michelangelo - whose depiction of a man holding back from violent action and fondling a ropy, snaking beard has become his most persistent image in the Western world - Moses is a universal symbol of liberation, leadership and law.
Evoking the moment in which Moses brought down, to a world filled with idols, the Ten Commandments and declared that God is one, the scroll on display also extert a strong fascination from a secular point of view.
"Indeed, this text has had such a large and lasting influence on American civil and criminal law," Levitt Kohn said.