The greatest discovery of the century

(The Dead Sea Scrolls)

  1.    Qumran: Qumran is best known as the place where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered not so long ago. The discoveries were made in caves located in the cliffs a mile or so west of the NW corner of the Dead Sea, at a place known by the modern Arabic name of Qumran. It is located between Jerusalem and the major Dead Sea beaches and other places like Ein Gedi and Masada. There are about 230 natural Qumran caves in the area and ten artificial caves and they are all spread over a large area. There are caves discovered, which were partly collapsed. Some natural caves went deeper then anyone had thought. It’s the be believed, that there are caves, not discovered yet, which connects several places together in the wilderness outside the caves. Remains dating back to the Iron Age have been uncovered at Qumran as well as walls, pottery and a cistern from later settlements.  

2.    The Essenes Jewish: Qumran was established during the Hellenistic Period c. 134-104 BC and remained inhabited up until c. 68 BC multilevel structures, reservoirs, pottery kilns and houses have been excavated in this era. It was during the Hellenistic Period that the Essenes Jewish sect settled here, isolating themselves from big city life and living as a communal monastery-like community. The community devoted itself to the study of the Bible. The life of the community was largely ascetic, and their practices included ritual bathing, sometimes referred to as baptism. The sect is thought to have eaten communal meals, studied sacred scriptures for most of the night, practice celibacy and they had their own calendar. From information found in the Dead Sea Scrolls scholars have managed to get a clear picture of the community’s way of life and beliefs. It is thought that about 200 people once lived here. In later periods of history there were Arab settlements here and during the Bar Kokhba Revolution the rebels may have taken refuge here.  

The Essenes Jewish sect were the ones, who hid the Dead Sea scrolls in the caves, right before the arriving Roman armies who killed everyone.  

3.    The story behind the discovery: The Death Sea Scrolls were discovered in A.D. 1947, by a shepherd gazing his flock in a wadi at Qumran. As the story goes, a shepherd of the Ta’amireh tribe left his flock of sheep and goats to search for a stray. Amid the crumbling limestone cliffs that line the north-western rim of the Dead Sea, around the site of Qumran, he found a cave in the crevice of a steep rocky hillside. Intrigued, he cast a stone into the dark interior, only to be startled by the sound of breaking pots. Upon entering the cave, the young Bedouin found a mysterious collection of large clay jars. The majority were empty and upon examining the remaining few, he found that the jars were intact, with lids still in place. However, a closer look revealed nothing but old scrolls, some wrapped in linen and blackened with age. The boy had stumbled upon the greatest discovery of the century, the Dead Sea Scrolls.  

4.    Ancient manuscripts: This discovery brought to the attention of the scholarly world late that year and early in 1948. The most distinguished scholars called the find “phenomenal and sensational.”  

The scrolls (biblical, deuterocanonical, and non-canonical) come from the last century B.C. and the first century A.D. At least 382 manuscripts are represented by the fragments of Cave Four alone, about 100 of which are biblical manuscripts. These include fragments of every book of the Hebrew Bible except Esther. Some of the books are represented in many copies. The documents, dated between 130 BC to AD 70, were fragments of a library which belonged to a Jewish monastic community.  

Near the cliffs of the Dead Sea is the site of an ancient building known as the “Monastery,” which has yielded important data about the nature, size, and date of the Qumran community. From the sect’s literature we know that the people of Qumran were Jews who had split off from the Jerusalem (or main) stream of Judaism. A complete copy of Isaiah written in Hebrew was found and it was much older than any other known manuscripts. In all, 40,000 fragments were discovered and these have been reconstructed into over 500 books. About 100 of these are copies, with duplicates, of the Old Testament. In a general sense these underline and emphasize the accuracy of the documents we already have.  

5.    Importance of the discovery: The Dead Sea Scrolls proved that the Old Testament and the Hebrew Torah were true and independently confirmed! But there are mysteries too. We can only speculate about the scrolls which were destroyed when the caves collapsed and the scrolls which may never be discovered. There are caves ending somewhere in the surroundings of the Dead Sea, Masada and the Qumran caves. Those caves are long and go on for many kilometres. Some of them led to Jerusalem, others are unknown.  

The discoveries of Qumran are important for biblical studies in general. In the matter of the text of the Old Testament, however, the Dead Sea Scrolls are of great importance. The text of the Greek Old Testament (or the Septuagint) as well as the quotations of the Old Testament in the New Testament, indicate that there were other texts besides the one that has come down to us (the Masoretic Text). In relation to the NT, the Dead Sea Scrolls furnish the background to the preaching of John the Baptist and Jesus Christ, as well as the writings of Paul and John.  

Speaking on the reliability of the New Testament, F. F. Bruce said, “There is no body of ancient literature in the world which enjoys such a wealth of good textual attestation as the New Testament.