dead sea scrolls

Amazing Information About the Dead Sea Scrolls!

WHAT DO YOU KNOW ABOUT THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS? Before we dive into some of the interesting facts you might not know about the Dead Sea Scrolls, let’s first consider exactly what they are. If you

WHAT DO YOU KNOW ABOUT THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS?

Before we dive into some of the interesting facts you might not know about the Dead Sea Scrolls, let’s first consider exactly what they are. If you read a book called Our Bible and Ancient Manuscripts, published in 1948 by Sir Frederic Kenyon, you will find that he said:

“There is indeed no probability that we shall find manuscripts of the Hebrew text going back to a period before the formation of the text we know as Massoretic. We can only arrive at an idea of it by a study of the earliest translations made from it…”

Statements such as these became impossible, because at the same time this book was being put into print, in 1947, there were discoveries being made that would become of the utmost important. Until these discoveries were made, scholars around the world only had some Egyptian papyri and Babylonian clay tablets from which to seek understanding on the background of the Bible.

The scrolls, which were discovered near the Dead Sea, changed much of what was known. They contained manuscripts of some of the books of the Old Testament that predated any other manuscript in existence by as much as one thousand years. Dr. William F. Albright, a leading archaeologist of world renown, wrote a letter to one John Trever, and has this to say:

“My heartiest congratulations on the greatest manuscript discovery of modern times! There is no doubt in my mind that the script is more archaic than that of the Nash papyrus (a very small portion of the Old Testament dated between the second century BC and first century AD)… What an absolutely incredible find! And there can be happily not the slightest doubt in the world about the genuineness of the manuscript.”

Before the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, the Codex Babylonicus Petropalitanus was the oldest Hebrew copy of the complete Old Testament that had been found. It dated from about 1008 AD, about fourteen hundred years after the Old Testament was written and completed. The fragments found in the Dead Sea Scrolls, closed a thousand year gap, as the translations of the text were found to be completely accurate.

These scrolls also verified the faithful transcription by the Jews in their Biblical manuscripts. The Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus, of the first century, said:

“We have given practical proof of our reverence for our own Scriptures. For, although such long ages have now passed, no one has ventured either to add, or to remove, or to alter a syllable; and it is an instinct with every Jew from the day of his birth to regard them as the decrees of God, to abide by them, and, if need be, cheerfully die for them. Time and again ere now, the sight has been witnessed of prisoners enduring tortures and death in every form in the theaters, rather than utter a single word against the Laws and the allied documents.”

Within the fragments discovered in the Dead Sea Scrolls, there were parts of copies or complete copies of every book of the Old Testament, with the exception of the book of Esther. Even in those, the variations are minimal at best, so as to leave no doubt that the Bible is completely valid and relevant.

Charles Pfeiffer, who wrote The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Bible in 1967, explained the following:

“It should be noted that, while negative higher critical views of the Bible cannot be refuted by a study of the Qumran scrolls, there is no evidence from Qumran to justify a major reassessment of the traditional views of the origin of biblical writings. The Old Testament books from Qumran are those which we find in our Bibles. Minor textual variants occur as they do in any document which depends on hand copies for multiplication, but the biblical text may be regarded as essentially reliable.”

 

Discovery of the Scrolls

The first actual discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls was actually made by teenagers from Bedouin. They had been tending their sheep near a Qumran settlement from ancient times, now known in modern times as the West Bank. After losing one of the sheep, one of the shepherd boys threw a rock into a cliff opening, hoping to rouse his sheep from hiding, but was surprised instead by a shattering sound.

He took some of his companions into the cave with him, where they found large clay jars. Seven of them contained scrolls made of papyrus and leather, which they sold to a dealer of antiquities. From there, they wound up in the possession of scholars who came to find they were actually more than a thousand years old.

After this discovery, and the importance of it, was made known to the public, archaeologists and treasure hunters alike began the massive search that resulted in more than ten thousand fragments of the Scrolls being found.

The scrolls were discovered between 1947 and 1956, in the Northwestern shore, through eleven different caves, near the Dead Sea. This particular area is 13 miles to the East, from Jerusalem, situated 1300 lower than sea level. This discovery is known as the greatest discovery of manuscripts thus far in history. The texts, which are fragmented, are numbered by which cave they came from, and the date they were found.

Cave number 4, discovered in the year 1952, offered the biggest find. More than five hundred manuscripts were represented in roughly fifteen thousand fragments. Scholars have identified a total of more than eight hundred scrolls.

Scroll Divisions

There are two particular categories of scrolls, divided into biblical and nonbiblical. Fragments from every book of the Old Testament have been discovered, including nineteen copes of Isaiah (which predates any other copy of Isaiah ever found by at least one thousand years), thirty copies of Psalms, and twenty-five copies of the book of Deuteronomy.

The Biblical compositions include:

  • Scripture – Material from the entire Hebrew Bible, or the Old Testament, is found.
  • Scripture Translations – Portions of the Scripture that was translated from Hebrew into both Aramaic and Greek.
  • Tefillin – These were slips of parchment that were folded, encapsulated and considered to frontlets that went between the eyes. More than two dozen of these were found in the caves, as well as in other locations as well.
  • Mezuzot – These were the Scriptures that were placed on the doorposts of people’s homes. Eight of these were found in the Scrolls and most of them were the same texts still used and placed on Jewish doorposts still today.

The Nonbiblical compositions include:

  • Apocrypha – This term is used to denote collections of Eastern Orthodox and Catholic nature, but not included in the Hebrew Bible. Some of these books included the Ben Sira, the Epistle of Jeremiah, and the book of Tobit.
  • Calendrical Texts – Texts that rely on solar calculations and provide information about the festivals. One of the calendars has 364 days, which are divided into thirteen weeks and four seasons.
  • Exegetical Texts – These are interpreted Biblical works that have been based solely on reference.
  • Pesher – A type of exegetical literature that applies not only to Bible prophecy, but also to the history and the experience of a community known as Yahad. There is special focus here on the End of Days.
  • Historical Texts – Relating solely to historic events. Some are interpreted on a theological or moral basis of events. Many of the events that are described in the text are seen to be in settings of rebellion and war.
  • Legal Text – Dealing with religious legal matters. Some of the subjects covered are the ritual requirements for specific festivals, temple service, civil matters, physical purity, and much more.
  • Parabical Texts – These are texts in which works of Scripture are retold and expanded or embellished.
  • Poetical and Liturgy Texts – A collection of poems and hymns. These are most often used for study of a personal or reflective nature.
  • Sapiential Texts – Based on traditions of wisdom, these texts offer advice concerning daily life, humanity and more.
  • Sectarian Texts – Theology based on the views of the community outlining rules and regulations.

There are also prophecies included within the Scrolls, by Daniel, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, that are no included in our Bible. There are also Scrolls that contain psalms, supposedly authored by Joshua and King David, that have never been seen anywhere else.

The portions of the Scrolls that are considered to be nonbiblical in nature include:

  • Commentaries
  • Paraphrases
  • Expansions of the Law
  • Community Rule Books
  • War Conduct Rule Books
  • Thanksgiving psalms
  • Hymns
  • Benedictions
  • Texts or liturgy
  • Writings of wisdom

The Letters of the Scrolls

In the Scrolls, there were several letters and documents found as well. One group of letters, known as the Bar Kokhba Letters, consisted of fifteen letters of a military nature that had been kept in a leather skin. They were found in Caves five and six. All of these letters had been written by men who had been involved in Shim’on b. Kosiba’s administration, most bearing the name of Shim’on.

Another personal archive of letters found belonged to an apparent refugee of the Bar Kokhba revolt, whose name was Babatha. Also found in Caves five and six, this bundle of letters contained marriage contracts, bills of sale, land deeds and financial documents. The letters were stored in a package found in a purse made of leather. This purse was found in a crevice in the cave, thought to be placed there for safekeeping until such a time as was safe for retrieving it. The dates on these documents, written in Greek, Aramaic and Nabatean, range from about 94-130 BC.

The same caves, in addition to the aforementioned documents, also held the Archive of Eleazar ben Shmuel, which was a rather small collection. It consisted of five particular contracts that belonged to Shmuel who was an Ein Gedi farmer.

Language of the Scrolls

For the most part, the Scrolls have been found to be in the Hebrew language, with the exception of some that were written in the Aramaic language and a few in Greek. Aramaic was a common language for the Jews from Palestine in the last two hundred BC years, as well as the first two hundred years AD. In fact, the knowledge we have concerning these languages have been greatly enhanced by the Dead Sea Scroll discoveries.

According to appearances, it is believed that a sect of Jews possessed these Scrolls in their personal library, but hid them in the caves as the First Jewish Revolt broke out in AD 66, and the Jews were being pushed back by the Roman armies.

Writers of the Scrolls

It is believed, and most likelyis true, that the Scrolls were written during a period of time dating from about 200 BC until roughly 68 AD, by a group known as the Essenes. Flavius made mention of the Essenes, as did a few others, but there is no mention of the group in our New Testament. This group was very strictly observant of the Torah and were a Jewish wilderness sect known to be Messianic (believing in Jesus as the Messiah), apocalyptic and believers in water baptism.

The leader of the Essenes, according to documentation, was a priest better known as the Teacher of Righteousness. He was opposed greatly by established priests of that time in Jerusalem, and most likely killed by them.

Furthermore, the enemies of the Essenes of Qumran were known as Sons of Darkness, probably the Roman army, while they had named themselves Sons of Light, “the poor” and were also known as “members of the Way”. They considered themselves to be “the holy ones”, living in “the house of holiness” because of the fact that in them dwelt the Holy Spirit.

The Copper Scroll and The Temple Scroll

The Copper Scroll is by far the most curious of all the Scrolls. It was found in Cave number 3 and lists a total of sixty-four different hiding places, underground, in different places around Israel. In those hiding places were not only the manuscripts themselves, but also different amounts of aromatics, gold and silver. These items are probably treasures taken from the Temple in Jerusalem to be hidden for safekeeping in those caves and underground hiding places.

Cave number 11 contained The Temple Scroll, which is the longest of all the Scrolls. The overall length of the original scroll is estimated at more than twenty-eight feet, with the total length in possession currently being 26.7 feet.

Other scrolls were found to be made of papyrus or animal skins, written with an ink of carbon-based form. The text moves from right to left, with no punctuation given, however some paragraphs, from time to time, are indented. Interestingly enough, some words do not even have spaces between them.

Scrolls for Sale

The original Scrolls were purchased from an antiquities dealer by Athanasius Yeshue Samuel, a Syrian Orthodox archbishop of Jerusalem. He paid less than one hundred dollars for them at that time. He traveled to the United States in 1948, at the onset of the Arab-Israeli war, offering the Scrolls to several educational institutions, including Yale University, but they all turned them down.

Eventually, he decided to place an ad in The Wall Street Journal, listing the Scrolls for sale. In an advertisement dated June 1, 1954, he stated:

“The Four Dead Sea Scrolls: Biblical manuscripts dating back to at least 200 BC are for sale. This would be an ideal gift to an educational or religious institution by an individual or group. Box F206.”

 An archaeologist from Israel, named Yigael Yadin negotiated this purchase on behalf of the new State of Israel. His own father had taken possession of the remaining three scrolls in 1947, from the original collection.

No Mention of Jesus

Another interesting fact was that, even though the community at Qumran was in place at the same time as Jesus’ ministry, there is no mention of Him in the Scrolls. Neither do they make mention of a single follower of Jesus as can be found in the New Testament.

This is most likely because the texts themselves are of the Old Testament, in Hebrew. Omission of Jesus does not necessarily mean they did not know, or know of, Jesus. In fact, there was much to be said about the “Messiah”, whom we all know to be Jesus.

Since the ‘50’s

The major manuscripts, which were found intact in Caves number one and eleven, were published in the latter part of the 1950’s and are currently being held in a museum in Jerusalem known as the Shrine of the Book.

Since then, almost half of the Scrolls, were not accessible and had been completely unpublished. That changed in 1991 as more and more pressure was placed on the publication of the texts, and general access was desired, at least to photos of the Scrolls. The Biblical Archaeological Society published those pictures in November of that year in an edition that was not official. A promised reconstruction was announced, and the Huntington Library promised to open their own files on microfilm, which contained photos of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Some Translated Text of the Dead Sea Scrolls

Plate 1 offers a text about The Messiah of Heaven and Earth (4Q521). Fragment 1 reads:

“…The Heavens and the earth will obey His Messiah, … and all that is in them. He will not turn aside from the Commandments of the Holy Ones. Take strength in His service, you who seek the Lord. Shall you not find the lord in this, all you who wait patiently in your hearts? For the Lord will visit the Pious Ones (Hassidim) and the Righteous (Zaddikim) will He call by name. Over the Meek will His Spirit hover, and the Faithful will He restore by His power. He shall release the captives, make the blind see, raise up the downtrodden. Forever will I cling to Him, and I will trust in His Piety (Hesed, also Grace), and His Goodness of Holiness will not delay. And as for the wonders that are not the work of the Lord, when He… then He will heal the sick, resurrect the dead, and to the Meek announce glad tidings. He will lead the Holy Ones, He will shepherd them; He will do …and all of it… and the Law will be pursued. I will free them… Among men the fathers are honored above the sons… I will sing the blessing of the Lord with His favor. The… went into exile everywhere… And all Israel in exile…”

 

Fragment 2 is as follows:

“… their inheritance…from him… he will not serve these people… strength… they will be great. And which … they gathered nobles … And the eastern parts of the heavens… And to all your fathers … they will shine… a man… Jacob… and all of His Holy implements … and all her anointed ones… the Lord will speak… the Lord in his might… the eyes of … they will see all… and everything in it… and all the fountains of water, and the canals… and those who make… for the sons of Adam… among these cursed ones. And what the soothsayers of my people… for you… the Lord… and He opened… ”

Of The Servants of Darkness (4Q471), we find this translation from the fragments:

“…the time You have commanded them not to… and you shall lie about His Covenant… they say, ‘Let us fight His wars, for we have polluted… your enemies shall be brought low, and they shall not know that by fire… gather courage for war, and you shall be reckoned… you shall ask of the experts of Righteous judgement and the service of… you shall be lifted up, for He chose you… for shouting… and you shall burn and sweet…”

 

The Story Isn’t Over

Recently, another Qumran cave has been discovered, which is being called Cave number 12. The cave contained more broken scroll jars, which could give even more details than we have, even currently. They further report that in that particular region of the Dead Sea, there are hundreds of caves yet to be explored and the possibility of finding more scrolls is hopeful.

Not to us, O Lord, not to us,
But to Your name be the glory
Because of Your love and your faithfulness!

stacey.wells73@gmail.com

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