The Dead Sea Scrolls comprise roughly 800 documents, including texts from the Hebrew Bible, discovered between 1947 and 1956 in eleven caves in and around the Wadi Qumran (near the ruins of the ancient settlement of Khirbet Qumran, on the northwest shore of the Dead Sea). The texts are of great religious and historical significance, as they are practically the only remaining Biblical documents dating from before AD 100.

Date and contentsEdit

According to carbon dating and textual analysis, the documents were written at various times between the middle of the 2nd century BC and the 1st century AD. At least one document has a carbon date range of 21 BCAD 61. The Nash Papyrus from Egypt, containing a copy of the Ten Commandments, is the only other Hebrew document of comparable antiquity. Similar written materials have been recovered from nearby sites, including the fortress of Masada. While some of the scrolls were written on papyrus, a good portion were written on a brownish animal skin (hide) that appears to be gevil.

The fragments span at least 800 texts that represent many diverse viewpoints, ranging from the beliefs of the Essenes to those of other sects. About 30% are fragments from the Hebrew Bible, from all the books except the Book of Esther. About 25% are traditional Israelite religious texts that are not in the canonical Hebrew Bible, such as the Book of Enoch, the Book of Jubilees, and the Testament of Levi. Another 30% contain Biblical commentaries or other texts such as the "Manual of Discipline" (1QS, also known as "Discipline Scroll" or "Community Rule") and the Rule of War (1QM, also known as "War Scroll") related to the beliefs, regulations, and membership requirements of a small Jewish sect, which many researchers believe lived in the Qumran area. The rest (about 15%) of the fragments are yet unidentified. Most of them are written in Hebrew (over 90%), but some are also written in Aramaic and a few in Greek. (See Hoffman 2005 for information about DSS Hebrew.)

Important texts include the Isaiah Scroll (discovered in 1947), a Commentary on the Habakkuk (1947); the Community Rule (1QS), which gives much information on the structure and theology of the sect; and the earliest version of the Damascus Document. The so-called Copper Scroll (1952), which lists hidden caches of gold, scrolls, and weapons, is probably the most notorious.


Essenes Edit

According to a view almost universally held until the 1990s, the documents were written and hidden by a community of Essenes who lived in the Qumran area. This is known as the Essene Hypothesis. Jews revolted against the Romans in AD 66. Before they were massacred by Roman troops, the Essenes hid their scriptures in caves, not to be discovered until 1947.


Another theory, which has been gaining popularity, is that the community was led by Zadokite priests (Sadducees). The most important document in support of this view is the "Miqsat Ma'ase haTorah" (MMT, 4Q394-), which states purity laws identical to those attributed in rabbinic writings to the Sadducees (such as concerning the transfer of impurities). This document also reproduces a festival calendar which follows Sadducee principles for the dating of certain festival days. Additional evidence is found in 4QMMT which agrees with the Sadduceean position that held streams of liquid were ritually unclean contrary to Pharisee belief. Most scholars feel that despite the similarities in purity laws, some pretty large unbridged theological issues make this unlikely. For example, Josephus says that the Sadducees and the Essenes held opposing views of predestination, with the Essenes attributing everything to fate, while the Sadducees denied fate altogether. Similarly, many scrolls show evidence that the scroll authors believed the soul survived beyond death (and this belief included resurrection) which was contrary to the Sadducess who argued that there is no resurrection, no angel or spirit.

Temple libraryEdit

In 1963 Karl Heinrich Rengstorf of the University of Münster put forth the theory that the Dead Sea scrolls originated at the library of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. This theory was rejected by most scholars during the 1960s, who maintained that the scrolls were written at Qumran rather than transported from another location (a position supported by de Vaux's identification of a probable scriptorium within the ruins of Qumran). However, the theory was revived by Norman Golb and other scholars during the 1990s, who added that the scrolls probably also originated from several other libraries in addition to the Temple library.

Christian connectionsEdit

Spanish Jesuit José O'Callaghan has argued that one fragment (7Q5) is a New Testament text from the Gospel of Mark, chapter 6, verses 52–53. In recent years this controversial assertion has been taken up again by German scholar Carsten Peter Thiede. A successful identification of this fragment as a passage from Mark would make it the earliest extant New Testament document, dating somewhere between AD 30 and 60. Opponents consider that the fragment is tiny and requires so much reconstruction (the only complete word is Greek "και" = "and") that it could have come from a text other than Mark.

Robert Eisenman advanced the theory that some scrolls actually describe the early Christian community, characterized as more fundamentalist and rigid than the one portrayed by the New Testament. Eisenman also attempted to relate the career of James the Just and Paul of Tarsus to some of these documents.

Other theoriesEdit

Some of the scrolls may actually be the lost books mentioned in the Bible. Because they are frequently described as important to the history of the Bible, the scrolls are surrounded by a wide range of conspiracy theories: one example is the claim that they were entirely fabricated or planted by extra-terrestrials. There is also writing about the Nephilim related to the Book of Enoch.

Frequency of books found Edit

Books Ranked According to Number of MSS's found (top 11)

BooksNo. found
1 Enoch25
Minor Prophets10
1&2 Samuel4

Significance Edit

The significance of the scrolls is still somewhat impaired by the uncertainty about its date and origin.

In spite of these limitations, the scrolls have already been quite valuable to text critics. Before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the oldest Hebrew manuscripts of the Bible were Masoretic texts dating to 9th century. The biblical manuscripts found among the Dead Sea Scrolls push that date back to the 2nd century BCE. Although some of the biblical manuscripts found at Qumran differ significantly from the Masoretic text, most do not. The scrolls thus provide new variants and the ability to be more confident of those readings where the Dead Sea manuscripts agree with the Masoretic text.

Further, the sectarian texts of the Dead Sea Scrolls, most of which were previously unknown, offer new light on one form of Judaism practiced in the Second Temple period.

Discovery Edit

In the spring of 1947 Bedouin goat-herders, searching the cliffs along the Dead Sea for a lost goat (or for treasure, depending on who is telling the story), came upon a cave containing jars filled with manuscripts.That find caused a sensation when it was released to the world, and continues to fascinate the scholarly community and the public to this day.

The modern journey of the Dead Sea Scrolls from the Bedouin who discovered them to the International Team later assembled to begin reconstruction and translation is perhaps as mysterious and remarkable as the scrolls themselves. It begins, perhaps unexpectedly, with a sheep.

The date is unclear, and suggestions have varied throughout the 1930s and '40s as alternatives to the more accepted date of 1947. Probably in early 1947, Mohammed Ahmed el-Hamed (nicknamed edh-Dhib, "the wolf"), a Bedouin shepherd, set out to find a lost sheep. While searching caves in the rugged hillsides, he tossed a stone into one hoping to scare his sheep out. His sheep was not to be found, but what he heard instead warranted further investigation—the shattering of pottery. Entering the cave, he found several ancient jars containing scrolls wrapped in linen.

Or so the commonly accepted version goes (based largely on interviews carried out by John C. Trever). Details are unclear at best; perhaps it was a goat rather than a sheep. Perhaps there were two Bedouin rather than one. Perhaps they took the scrolls straightaway, or came back the next day, or several days later. Efforts to clarify have been unfruitful, and scholars have interviewed more different Mohammed edh-Dhibs than there were texts taken from that initial cache, each with his own version of events.

The tale remains murky. The scrolls were first brought to a Bethlehem antiquities dealer named Ibrahim 'Ijha, who soon returned them after being notified that they may have been stolen from a synagogue. The scrolls then soon found their way to a cobbler turned antiquities dealer, Khalil Eskander Shahin, better known as Kando. Again we are veiled with the shroud of mystery. By most accounts the Bedouin took only three scrolls with them after the initial find and, either encouraged by Kando to return, revisited the site to gather more, or perhaps Kando engaged in his own illegal excavation. What is certain is that Kando found himself in possession of at least four scrolls.

Arrangements with Bedouin left the scrolls in the hands of a third party until a sale of them could be negotiated. That third party, George Isha'ya, was a member of the Syrian Orthodox Church, who soon contacted St. Mark's Monastery in the hope of getting an appraisal of the nature of the texts. News of the find then reached Metropolitan Athanasius Yeshue Samuel, more often referred to as Mar Samuel.

After examining the scrolls and suspecting they were very old indeed, Mar Samuel expressed an interest in purchasing them. All four scrolls found their way into his hands, the now famous Isaiah Scroll, the Community Rule, the Habakkuk Peshar, and the Genesis Apocryphon. Through the antiquities market, more scrolls soon surfaced, and Eleazer Sukenik found himself in possession of three: The War Scroll, Thanksgiving Hymns, and another more fragmented Isaiah scroll.

By the end of 1947, Sukenik, by strange coincidence, received word of the scrolls in Mar Samuel's possession and attempted to purchase them. No deal was reached, and instead the scrolls found the attention of John C. Trever, of the American School of Oriental Research (ASOR). Trever found similarity between the script in the scrolls and that of the Nash Papyrus, which was, at the time, the oldest biblical manuscript.

By another strange coincidence, Trever, apart from being a gifted Biblical scholar, was also an excellent amateur photographer. He arranged to meet with Mar Samuel on February 21, 1948, when he photographed the scrolls. The quality of his photographs often exceeded that of the scrolls themselves over the years, as the texts quickly eroded once removed from the relative sanctuary of their linen wraps.

In March of that same year, violence erupted between Arabs and Jews in Palestine, prompting the removal of the scrolls from the country for safekeeping. Despite the fact that removal of such antiquities was against the law, the scrolls nonetheless soon found themselves in Beirut.

Cave 1Edit

It would not be until 1949, nearly two years after the discovery, that scholars would locate the cave from which the scrolls were lifted. An excavation of the cave began in February of that year, led by G L Harding, Roland de Vaux, and Ibrahim El-Assouli, caretaker of the Rockefeller Museum. The Bedouin had already scooped the archaeologists of the larger manuscripts and fragments, yet nonetheless some 600 fragments were collected, as well as scraps of wood, cloth, and pottery shards. Infrared photographs were taken of the fragments, again providing a valuable means of later reading the texts.

After it was apparent that more than the scrolls obtained by Sukenik and Mar Samuel had been pilfered, a deal was struck with Kando, who acted on behalf of the Bedouin. A sum of 1000 Jordanian pounds would be paid to Kando in exchange for the remaining fragments. Dealing with antiquities dealers and looters, while generally considered distasteful, was the necessary action to acquire the scrolls for further study.

Cave 2Edit

Three years later in 1952, the Bedouin struck again in another nearby cave (Cave 2). While not as monumental as the manuscript cache from Cave 1, numerous fragments were uncovered by the Bedouin who, working again through Kando, sold them to the Palestine Archaeological Museum and the École Biblique.

Cave 3Edit

On March 14 of the same year, fate would finally favour the scholars and their expedition, as they found a third cave containing manuscript fragments. In addition to these, perhaps the most mysterious of all the scrolls, the Copper Scroll, ostensibly comprising a list and directions to treasure sites containing fabulous wealth.

Cave 4Edit

  • In August 1952 the Bedouin once again made a monumental find, this time in Cave 4. Huge volumes of scroll fragments (though no complete scrolls) soon surfaced on the antiquities market. Harding soon found the site, catching the Bedouin in the midst of looting. More than half of the massive cache had been gathered up by fortune-seeking Bedouin. The archaeological excavation began in late September of that year, yielding many more fragments from many more texts, as well as a second chamber to the cave.

The financially struggling Jordanian government soon found itself unable to fund further purchases, and so instead offered the opportunity to foreign institutions to invest in the acquisition of the scrolls, for which they would be compensated with fragments. Several institutions responded, but were to be denied their purchase and refunded their money when the Jordanian government changed its position, instead keeping the texts in Jordan.

Caves 5 and 6Edit

Excavations at Cave 4 soon led to the discovery of Cave 5, offering a modest yield of fragments. The Bedouin, shortly thereafter, found Cave 6, netting the remains of nearly three dozen more scrolls. Oddly, most of these were papyrus rather than the leather that predominated in the other caves.

Mar Samuel, meanwhile, had made his way to America. Here he tried vainly to sell the texts in his possession, even displaying them once at the Library of Congress. Finally, out of desperation, a now famous advertisement was taken out in the Wall Street Journal. On June 1, 1954, a Wall Street Journal ad proclaimed, "The Four Dead Sea Scrolls: Biblical Manuscripts [sic] dating back to at least 200 BC [sic], are for sale. This would be an ideal gift to an educational or religious institution by an individual or group." This ad was brought to the attention of Yigael Yadin, who, working through an intermediary, managed to purchase the scrolls for the sum of $250,000.

Caves 7–10Edit

In 1955 archaeologists would discover four more caves, 7 through 10. Yielding few fragments, they were nonetheless significant. Cave 7 would yield nineteen Greek fragments (including 7Q5) and spark much debate in the ensuing decades. Cave 8 held but five fragments, though many materials used in the tieing of scrolls would be found. Cave 9 held but one fragment and Cave 10 nothing but an ostracon.

Cave 11Edit

The Bedouin would get the last laugh with the discovery of Cave 11, yielding over two dozen texts, including the Temple Scroll, which would later be seized by the Israeli army at the behest of Yigael Yadin. Two other complete scrolls would turn up from Cave 11, a copy of Leviticus and a book of Psalms, including several previously unknown hymns. Many have speculated that more Cave 11 scrolls may rest in the hands of a private collector.

Publication Edit

Some of the documents were published in a prompt manner: all of the writing found in Cave 1 appeared in print between 1950 and 1956; the finds from 8 different caves were released in a single volume in 1963; and 1965 saw the publication of the Psalms Scroll from Cave 11. Translation of these materials quickly followed.

The exception to this speed was the documents from Cave 4, which represented 40% of the total material. The publication of these materials had been entrusted to an international team led by Father Roland de Vaux, a member of the Dominican Order in Jerusalem. This group published the first volume of the materials entrusted to them in 1968, but spent much of their energies defending their theories of the material instead of publishing it. Geza Vermes, who had been involved from the start in the editing and publication of these materials, blamed the delay—and eventual failure—on de Vaux's selection of a team unsuited to the quality of work he had planned, as well as relying "on his personal, quasi-patriarchal authority" to control the completion of the work.

As a result, the finds from Cave 4 were not made public for many years. Access to the scrolls was governed by a "secrecy rule" that allowed only the original International Team or their designates to view the original materials. After de Vaux's death in 1971, his successors repeatedly refused to even allow the publication of photographs of these materials so that other scholars could at least make their judgments. This rule was eventually broken: first by the publication in the fall of 1991 of 17 documents reconstructed from a concordance that had been made in 1988 and had come into the hands of scholars outside of the International Team; next, that same month, by the discovery and publication of a complete set of photographs of the Cave 4 materials at the Huntington Library in San Marino, California, that were not covered by the "secrecy rule". After some delays these photographs were published by Robert Eisenman and James Robinson (A Facsimile Edition of the Dead Sea Scrolls, two volumes, Washington, D.C., 1991). As a result, the "secrecy rule" was lifted, and publication of the Cave 4 documents soon commenced, with five volumes in print by 1995.

Vatican conspiracy theoryEdit

Allegations that the Vatican suppressed the publication of the scrolls were published in the 1990s. Notably, Michael Baigent's and Richard Leigh's book The Dead Sea Scrolls Deception claim that several key scrolls were deliberately kept under wraps for decades to suppress unwelcome theories about the early history of Christianity; in particular, Eisenman's speculation that the life of Jesus was deliberately mythicized by Paul, possibly a Roman agent who faked his "conversion" from Saul in order to undermine the influence of anti-Roman messianic cults in the region. The complete publication and dissemination of translations and photographic records of the works in the late 1990s and early 2000's has greatly lessened the credibility of their argument among mainstream scholarship. Today most scholars, both secular and religious, feel the documents are distinctly Jewish, rather than Christian.

See alsoEdit

References Edit

Other sourcesEdit

  • Michael Wise, Martin Abegg, Jr, and Edward Cook, The Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Translation, (1996), HarperSanFrancisco paperback 1999, ISBN 0060692014, (contains the non-biblical portion of the scrolls)
  • Martin Abegg, Jr, Peter Flint, and Eugene Ulrich, The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible: The Oldest Known Bible Translated for the First Time into English, (1999) HarperSanFrancisco paperback 2002, ISBN 0060600640, (contains the biblical portion of the scrolls)
  • Dead Sea Scrolls Study Vol 1: 1Q1-4Q273, Vol. 2: 4Q274-11Q31, (compact disc), Logos Research Systems, Inc., ASIN: B0002DQY7S (contains the non-biblical portion of the scrolls with Hebrew and Aramaic transcriptions in parallel with English translations)
  • Hershel Shanks, editor, Understanding the Dead Sea Scrolls: A Reader From the Biblical Archaeology Review, Vintage Press reprint 1993, ISBN 0679744452
  • Lawrence H. Schiffman, Reclaiming the Dead Sea Scrolls: their True Meaning for Judaism and Christianity, Anchor Bible Reference Library (Doubleday) 1995, ISBN 0385481217, (examines the scrolls as Jewish, suggesting Sadducee rather than Essene origin)
  • Hershel Shanks, The Mystery and Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Vintage Press 1999, ISBN 0679780890 (recommended introduction to their discovery and history of their scholarship)
  • Theodore Heline, Dead Sea Scrolls, New Age Bible & Philosophy Center, 1957, Reprint edition March 1987, ISBN 0933963165
  • Joseph A. Fitzmyer, Responses to 101 Questions on the Dead Sea Scrolls, Paulist Press 1992, ISBN 0809133482
  • Carsten Peter Thiede, The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Jewish Origins of Christianity, PALGRAVE 2000, ISBN 0312293615

External links Edit

This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors).