A portion of the Book of Isaiah from the Dead Sea Scrolls is shown on display at the Shrine of the Book in Jerusalem. Officials have brought a major exhibition of the Dead Sea Scrolls and related artifacts to Toronto. ((Tara Todras-Whitehill/Associated Press))

Toronto's Royal Ontario Museum will unveil the famed Dead Sea Scrolls, considered one of the most significant archeological finds of the 20th century, to the public Saturday.

In the late 1940s, Bedouin goat-herders discovered the first of the scrolls in caves on the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea, between Israel and Jordan.

Years of excavation eventually turned up more than 100,000 fragments of ancient religious parchment and papyrus manuscripts. Painstakingly reassembled into more than 900 separate documents, the scrolls are considered the earliest recordings of hymns, prayers and religious writing that shed light on Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

"This was the time when both Judaism and Christianity were formalizing as we know them today," Pnina Shor, head of treatment and conservation of artifacts for the Israel Antiquities Authority, told CBC News. "As such, these are the earliest copies of the Bible."

Along with the jigsaw puzzle-like manuscripts, the ROM exhibit includes more than 200 artifacts that were found with the scrolls, such as ancient jars, cooking pots, roof tiles and bone carvings.

The museum will also host a lecture series featuring international scholars and speakers discussing the scrolls and their importance today.

Protest from Palestinian Authority

The show will go on despite the objections of Palestinian officials, who earlier this spring appealed to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and ROM executives not to display the scrolls. The exhibit is a joint project by the Israel Antiquities Authority and the ROM.

The Palestinian Authority accuses Israel of having illegally obtained the scrolls from the Jordanian-owned Rockefeller Museum in Jerusalem in 1967.

"We would like that the Canadian people and the Canadian government officials …understand the Palestinian point of view: that such an exhibition, in this way, will have an adverse consequence on … Palestinian cultural rights," Ahmed Taha, Palestinian deputy minister of tourism, said from Ramallah.

The museum feels the scrolls are legally held and both the federal and provincial government have expressed their support of the exhibition.

"My hope is that people of all ages, faiths and backgrounds will come together to marvel at the scrolls and take this as an opportunity to discuss its meaning," Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty said on Wednesday.

Dead Sea Scrolls: Words that Changed the World opens to the public on Saturday and runs through Jan. 3, 2010.

With files from The Canadian Press