The Dead Sea Scrolls

While pursuing one of his goats into a cave near the Dead Sea in the Jordan Desert, in 1947, a fifteen year old boy by the name of Muhammad adh-Dhib, stumbled on to a great discovery. Inside the cave, he found broken jars that contained scrolls written in a strange language, wrapped in linen cloth and leather.

This first discovery produced seven scrolls and started an archaeological search that produced thousands of scroll fragments in eleven caves. The Dead Sea is located in Israel and Jordan, east of Jerusalem. The dead sea is very deep, salty, and it’s the lowest body of water in the world. Because the dead sea is at such a low elevation, the climate has a high evaporation rate but a very low humidity which helped to Archaeologists searched for the dwelling of the people that may have left the scrolls in the caves. The archaeologist excavated a ruin located between the cliffs where the scrolls were found and the dead sea.

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This ruin is called Qumran. The ruins and the scrolls were dated by the carbon 14 method and found to be from the third century which made them the oldest surviving biblical manuscript by at least 1000 years. Since the first discoveries archaeologists have found over 800 scrolls and scroll fragments in 11 different caves in the surrounding area. In fact, there are about 100,000 fragments found in all. Most of which were written on goat skin and sheep skin. A few were on papyrus, a plant used to make paper, but one scroll was engraved on copper sheeting telling of sixty buried treasure sites.

Because the scrolls containing the directions to the treasures is unable to be fully unrolled, the treasures have not been found yet. In all, the texts of the scrolls were remarkable. They contained unknown psalms, Bible commentary, calendar text, mystical texts, apocalyptic texts, liturgical texts, purity laws , bible stories, and fragments of every book in the Old Testament except that of Esther, including a imaginative paraphrase of the Book of Genesis.

Also found were texts, in the original languages, of several books of the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha. These texts—none of which was included in the Hebrew canon of the Bible—are Tobit, Sirach, Jubilees, portions of Enoch, and the Testament of Levi, up to this time known only in early Greek, Syriac, Latin, and Ethiopic versions.

John Trever of the W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, was allowed to investigate the scrolls and was stunned to find that the scrolls closely resemble the Nash Papyrus, the once known oldest fragment of the Hebrew Bible dated at or around 150 BC. One of the scrolls was a complete copy of the book of the prophet Isaiah. Trever also examined three other scrolls; the Manual of Discipline, a commentary on the book of Habbakuk, and one called the Genesis Apocryphon. Trever took photographs of the texts to William Foxwell Albright ; of John Hopkins University in Baltimore, who declared the scrolls dated back to around 100 BC.

The scroll and fragments found in the Qumran is a library of information that contains books or works written in three different languages: Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. Many scholars separated the scrolls into three different categories: Biblical – Books found in the Hebrew Bible. Apocryphal or psuedepigraphical – Works not in some Bibles but included in others. Sectarian – ordinances, biblical commentaries, apocalyptic visions, and sacred works.

One of the longer text, found in Qumran is the Tehillim or Psalms Scroll. It was found in 1956 in cave 11 and unrolled in 1961. It is a assortment of Psalms, hymns and an indifferent passage about the psalms authored by King David. It is written on sheep skin parchment and it has the thickest surface of any of the scrolls.

The Manual Of Discipline or Community Rule contains rules, warnings and punishments to violators of the rules of the desert sect called Yahad. It also contains the methods of joining the community, the relations among the members, their way of life , and their beliefs. The sect believed that human nature and all that happens in the world is predestined. The scroll ends with songs of praise of God. The scroll was found in cave 4 and cave 5 and It was written on parchment. The longest version was found in cave 4.

The War Rule is commonly referred to as the “Pierced Messiah” text. It refers to a Messiah who came from the line of David, to be brought to a judgment and then to a killing. It anticipates the New Testament view of the preordained death of the messiah. It is written in a Hebrew script and is only a six line fragment.

Most of the scrolls were found in caves near Qumran. The Qumran site was excavated to find the habitation of those who deposited the scrolls in the nearby caves. The excavations uncovered plates bowls and cemeteries with over twelve hundred graves that have the same characteristics which suggest religious uniformity, along with a complex of structures which suggested that they were communal in presentation.

Many believe this is where a community of a distant Jewish sect called the Essenes may have once lived. The Essenes were members of a Jewish religious brotherhood, organized on a communal basis who practiced strict disciplines. The order had around 4000 members and they existed in Palestine and Syria from the 2nd century BC to the 2nd century AD. The sects main settlements were on the shores of the Dead Sea.11 In some scholars views the site was the wilderness retreat of the Essenes.

According to these scholars, the Essenes or another religious sect resided in neighboring locations, most likely caves, tents, and solid structures, but depended on the center for community facilities such as stores of food and Many scholars believe the Essene community wrote, copied, or accumulated the scrolls at Qumran and deposited them in the caves of the neighboring hills. Others question this explanation, claiming that the site was no monastery but rather a Roman fortress or a winter residence. Some also believe that the Qumran site has little if anything to do with the scrolls and the evidence available does not support a definitive answer.

A lapse in the use of the site is linked to evidence of a huge earthquake. Qumran was abandoned about the time of the Roman invasion of 68 A.D.,14 two years before the collapse of Jewish self-government in Judea and the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 A.D. The scrolls are believed to have been brought from Jerusalem the Judean wilderness for safekeeping when Jerusalem was threatened by Roman armies.

This was the time that Qumran was a judean military fortress which was destroyed in a battle with the Romans Since their discovery, the Dead Sea Scrolls have been the subject of great scholarly and public interest. For scholars they represent an invaluable source for exploring the nature of post- biblical times and probing the sources of two of the world’s great religions. For the public, they are artifacts of great significance, mystery, and drama.

The Dead Sea Scrolls give us a better view of a crucial period in the history of Judaism. Judaism was divided into numerous religious sects and political parties. With the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD., all that came to an end. Only the Judaism of the Pharisees; the most powerful Jewish sect–Rabbinic Judaism–survived. Qumran literature shows a Judaism in the midst of change from the religion of Israel as described in the Bible to the Judaism of the rabbis as explained in the Talmud, which tells the rules that Jews live by.

Scholars have emphasized similarities between the beliefs and practices shown in the Qumran material and those of early Christians. These similarities include rituals of baptism, communal meals, and property.18 One of the most fascinating similarities is how the people divided themselves into twelve tribes led by twelve chiefs. This is very similar to how Jesus had twelve apostles who would sit on thrones and judge the twelve tribes of Israel.

The Dead Sea Scrolls were written during the birth of Christianity and an important time in Jewish history. The scrolls have giving an insight into the lives and customs of the people who lived in a time of Roman invasion and Jewish history. Although the text do not hold all the answers, they do give people a tool to use when studying biblical history.

Only a very few scholars had access to the scrolls before copies of the scrolls were published in the 1990’s; now we all have a chance to read an come to our own conclusions about the text. Whether the scrolls uphold Jewish or Christian beliefs is not the only interesting part of the scrolls. The text also give a more personal look at the people who lived in a major part of Jewish history.


  1. Burrows, Millar. (1955). The Dead Sea Scrolls. New York: Grammercy Publishing Company
  2. Roth, Cecil. (1965). The Dea Sea Scrolls. A New Historical Approach. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.
  3. Schubert, Kurt . (1959). The Dead Sea Community. Great Britain: Bowering Press Plymouth.
  4. Shanks, Hershel. (1998). The Mystery And Meaning Of The Dead Sea Scrolls. New York:
    Random House.
  5. Project Judaica Foundation, Inc.(1996-1999) .


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The Dead Sea Scrolls. (2018, Aug 28). Retrieved from