November 7, 2012
The Dead Sea Scrolls
The Dead Sea Scrolls have been touted as one of the most important Biblical finds of all time. They were discovered in 1947 on the northwest shore of the Dead Sea, from which the scrolls get their name. The Dead Sea itself has been a very important site for thousands of years. Biblically, it was a place of refuge for King David. It was one of the world’s first health resorts for Herod the Great. It has been the supplier of a variety of products, from balms for Egyptian mummification to potash for fertilizers.
The story of the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls is itself pretty spectacular. A cave was found in 1947 by a Bedouin shepherd by chance. That cave is referred to today as Cave 1. In the cave he found several jars containing parchment scrolls. He showed them to his friends, and they removed seven scrolls. They sold four to the Syrian monastery in Bethlehem and three to an antiquities dealer. In 1948 the monk in charge of the monastery’s library examined the scrolls and was the first to realize their importance. He contacted the American School of Archaeology in Jerusalem, then the Albright Institute, and was put in contact with Dr. J. Trever, who realized the scrolls were written in Hebrew and asked to take pictures of them. The photos were then sent to Professor Albright in the US who confirmed the originality of the scrolls and determined they dated from the beginning of the Christian era. After the War of Independence, the four scrolls were sent to the US to be auctioned off. Professor Yigael Yadin was able to raise a significant amount of money and purchased the scrolls for the Shrine of the Book in Jerusalem in 1954. This left the other three scrolls. On the eve of the UN’s declaration of the creation of the State of Israel, Professor E.L. Sukenik (Professor Yardin’s father), was told that the three scrolls were in the shop of an antiquities dealer in Bethlehem. Through some interesting means, Sukenik was able to verify their originality and purchased the scrolls for the State of Israel. And so, in 1954, all seven of the scrolls came to be in Israel. These include the two scrolls of the Book of Isaiah, the Book of Habakkuk, the Thanksgiving Scroll, the Community Rules Scroll (or the Manual of Discipline as it is also known), the War of the Sons of Light against the Sons of Darkness scroll, and a Genesis Apocryphon scroll.
Scholars believe that the Dead Sea Scrolls were written, collected, and ultimately hidden by the Essenes, a Jewish group that established the small settlement of Qumran in the late second century B.C.E. Originally just thought to be a monastery, after ten years of excavation it was concluded in 2004 that the settlement coul possibly instead be a pottery factory which was abandoned by its inhabitants during the Jewish-Roman war. The Qumran caves where the scrolls were found can be divided into two groups. The caves closest to the site were carved out by hand. These caves were residences for Qumran’s inhabitants. The residential caves (with the exception of Cave 4) held only a few scrolls. The second set of caves however, was used to hide many of the longer Scrolls, including the War Scroll and the Temple Scroll. These scrolls, which reflect a sectarian Jewish worldview, indicate that the scrolls were hidden by the Qumran community, not by Temple priests fleeing the Roman destruction of Jerusalem. The lack of and order among the texts suggests that they were all placed in the cave at the same time in a hurry. This could possibly have been an effort to hide them from the Roman legion that was advancing on Qumran in 68 C.E.
Most of what we know of the Essenes comes from Flavius Josephus. Josephus was a first century Jewish historian, politician, and soldier whose literary works provide crucial documentation of Roman Palestine in the first century C.E. At 29 he was appointed general of the Jewish forces in Galilee. He was…