In 1947, Muhammad adh-Dhib, a young boy, made an important discovery while following one of his goats into a cave near the Dead Sea in the Jordan Desert. Inside this cave, he found broken jars that held scrolls written in an unfamiliar language. These valuable scrolls were meticulously wrapped in linen cloth and leather.
The initial discovery led to the finding of seven scrolls and initiated an archaeological exploration, resulting in the discovery of thousands of scroll fragments in eleven caves. The Dead Sea, situated in Israel and Jordan to the east of Jerusalem, is renowned for its great depth, high salinity, and being the lowest body of water globally. Due to its extremely low elevation, the region experiences a climate with a rapid evaporation rate and low humidity, both facilitating the search for the ancient dwellings of the people who possibly deposited the scrolls in the caves. The archaeologists conducted excavations of a ruin positioned between the cliffs where the scrolls were uncovered and the Dead Sea.
The ruins of Qumran are an ancient site that has been dated using carbon 14 to the third century. This makes the ruins and the scrolls found there the oldest surviving biblical manuscript, predating others by at least 1000 years. Since their initial discovery, archaeologists have uncovered over 800 scrolls and scroll fragments in 11 different caves nearby. In total, there have been around 100,000 fragments found, with the majority being written on goat skin and sheep skin. Some of the fragments were made from papyrus, a plant used in paper-making, while one scroll was engraved on copper sheeting and detailed sixty hidden treasure sites.
Due to the inability to fully unroll the scrolls containing the directions to the treasures, they remain undiscovered. The scrolls themselves were extraordinary, comprising unfamiliar psalms, biblical interpretations, calendar script, mystical writings, apocalyptic literature, liturgy details, regulations on purity, biblical narratives, and fragments from every Old Testament book except Esther, incorporating a creative rephrasing of Genesis.
Additionally, the discovery included original texts of different books from the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha. These books, including Tobit, Sirach, Jubilees, parts of Enoch, and the Testament of Levi, were not part of the Hebrew Bible. Previously, these texts were only accessible through early Greek, Syriac, Latin, and Ethiopic translations.
John Trever, a researcher from the W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, was given permission to study the scrolls. He made a remarkable discovery – they were remarkably similar to the Nash Papyrus, which had been considered the oldest piece of the Hebrew Bible dating back to around 150 BC. Within this collection, one scroll contained a complete copy of Isaiah. Additionally, Trever examined three other scrolls: the Manual of Discipline, a commentary on Habbakuk, and one known as Genesis Apocryphon. Trever captured photographs of these texts and shared them with William Foxwell Albright at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. After analyzing them, Albright concluded that the scrolls dated back to approximately 100 BC.
The Qumran scroll and fragments comprise a diverse library with writings in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. Scholars categorize the scrolls into three groups: Biblical books found in the Hebrew Bible, apocryphal or pseudonymous works, and sectarian texts consisting of ordinances, biblical commentaries, apocalyptic visions, and sacred writings.
One of the longer texts found in Qumran is the Tehillim or Psalms Scroll, discovered in 1956 in cave 11 and unrolled in 1961. This scroll contains a collection of Psalms, hymns, and a neutral passage discussing the Psalms written by King David. The text is inscribed on sheepskin parchment and has the thickest surface among all the scrolls.
The Manual Of Discipline, also known as the Community Rule, provides guidelines, cautionary measures, and penalties for those who break the rules of the Yahad desert sect. Additionally, it details the processes for joining the community, the dynamics among its members, their lifestyle, and their beliefs. The sect holds the belief that human nature and everything occurring in the world is predetermined. The scroll concludes with hymns praising God. This scroll was discovered in both cave 4 and cave 5, and it was inscribed on parchment. Notably, the longest version was unearthed in cave 4.
The text known as the “Pierced Messiah” or War Rule discusses a messiah from David’s lineage who will face judgment and be killed. This corresponds to the New Testament belief in the predetermined death of the messiah. The fragment, written in Hebrew script, comprises merely six lines.
The majority of the scrolls were discovered in caves near Qumran during excavations at the Qumran site. These excavations had a dual purpose: to find the caves where the scrolls were stored and to reveal different artifacts and burial sites, which included over twelve hundred graves. The graves showcased shared characteristics that imply religious adherence. Additionally, a cluster of buildings was found, indicating a communal role.
Many believe that this is the location where the Essenes, a distant Jewish sect, may have resided. The Essenes were a religious brotherhood that followed strict disciplines and lived in communal settings. With approximately 4000 members, this order existed in Palestine and Syria from the 2nd century BC to the 2nd century AD, primarily residing near the Dead Sea. Some scholars suggest that this site was the wilderness retreat of the Essenes.
Scholars propose that the Essenes or similar religious groups resided in nearby areas, including caves, tents, and solid structures. However, they depended on the central community for resources such as food storage. Many believe that the Essene community authored, duplicated, or amassed the scrolls at Qumran and stored them in caves located in the surrounding hills. Nonetheless, dissenting views contend that the site was not a monastery but rather a Roman fortress or winter residence. Additionally, some individuals argue that there is no connection between the Qumran site and the scrolls, and that the available evidence does not offer a conclusive answer.
Qumran was believed to have been abandoned because of a major earthquake that happened at the same time as the Roman invasion in 68 A.D. This occurred before Jewish self-government collapsed in Judea and the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 A.D. The scrolls discovered at Qumran are believed to have been moved from Jerusalem to the wilderness of Judea as a precautionary step when the city faced danger from Roman armies.
The Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered at Qumran, where they originated from a military fortress in Judea that was destroyed during a battle with the Romans. Their discovery has generated great interest among scholars and the general public alike. Scholars consider these scrolls to be an invaluable resource for studying the post-Biblical era and exploring the origins of two major global religions. At the same time, the public perceives them as highly significant, mysterious, and captivating artifacts.
The Dead Sea Scrolls offer understanding of an important period in the development of Judaism. During this time, there were different religious sects and political groups. However, they all ended when the Temple was destroyed in 70 AD. Despite other divisions disappearing, the Pharisees managed to survive and became the leading sect in Judaism. The Qumran texts demonstrate a change from the religion of biblical Israelites to the form of Judaism practiced by the rabbis as written in the Talmud, which provides guidance for Jewish life.
Scholars have observed that the Qumran material and early Christian beliefs and practices share similarities. These include rituals like baptism, communal meals, and property. Additionally, there is an intriguing resemblance in the division of people into twelve tribes with twelve chiefs. This mirrors Jesus appointing twelve apostles who would judge the twelve tribes of Israel from their thrones.
The Dead Sea Scrolls, written during a crucial period in Jewish history and the emergence of Christianity, offer valuable insights into the lives and traditions of people living under Roman invasion and significant Jewish historical events. While they may not provide exhaustive answers, these texts serve as an indispensable resource for studying biblical history.
Previously, a limited number of scholars had exclusive access to the scrolls; nowadays, everyone can personally read and interpret them. These scrolls are significant not only for Jewish and Christian beliefs but also provide valuable insights into important figures in Jewish history.
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