From  the  book  of  the  same  name

The Dead Sea Scrolls

Archeology's Pront-Page Story

[The Dead Sea Scrolls] have come to be recognized as among the most important archaeological finds of the twentieth century. Shrouded in mystery, surrounded by controversy, and steeped in the romantic tall tales of arcane scholarly research, this collection... illuminates one of the most significant eras in the history of Judaism, Christianity, and the Western world....'

—Yadin Roman

The American Dean of Biblical Archaeology, William Foxwell Albright, hailed the Dead Sea Scrolls as "the greatest manuscript discovery of modern times." And indeed that's the case. After the story of the discovery broke in 1948, the Scrolls became front-page news around the world. Even today, as the fiftieth anniversary of the Scrolls is being commemorated, their mention can excite any conversation. Though the ancient authors of the Scrolls are yet unknown to us, the Scrolls themselves, hidden away by a community of pious Jews on the shores of the Dead Sea, continue to hold the fascination of the modern world. One of Israel's pioneer Scroll scholars, Yigael Yadin, wrote:

[The scrolls] constitute a vital link—long lost and now regained-—-between those ancient times, so rich in civilized thought, and the present day. And just as a Christian reader must be moved by the knowledge that here he has a manuscript of a sect whom the early Christians may have known and by whom they were influenced, so an Israeli and a Jew can find nothing more deeply moving than the study of manuscripts written by the People of the Book in the Land of the Book more than two thousand years ago.2

What Are the Dead Sea Scrolls?

The Dead Sea Scrolls represent some 1,100 ancient documents which today consist of several intact Scrolls plus more than 100,000 fragments. The texts of the Scrolls were written in columns, primarily in Hebrew and Aramaic, but also with some Greek. Most were written on leather parchment (made from goat or sheep skins) and papyrus (a form of early paper), but one, the Copper Scroll, was written on pure copper. Between 223-233 of the total manuscripts are copies of books of the Bible. So far a representative of every book of the Old Testament has been found, with the exception of Esther.3 This collection of biblical texts constitutes our oldest known copies of the Scriptures (although, as already discussed, archaeology has subsequently produced earlier portions of scriptural passages). The Scrolls also contain commentaries on the books of the Bible, apocryphal and pseudepigraphical works, and sectarian documents (some written by the sect's unknown leader, called in the Scrolls "The Teacher of Righteousness". Other types of texts, such as targums, tefillin, and mezuzot, are also present. A targum is a translation of the Hebrew Bible into Aramaic. Its purpose was to give an understanding of the original text to contemporary readers who were no longer familiar with the older biblical Hebrew. Tefillin (also called phylacteries) are small, tightly rolled scrolls that contain passages from the Bible books of Exodus and Deuteronomy.4 They were placed in boxes that were tied to the head or left arm. The mezuzot were placed in ornamental cases that were attached to the doorpost of a house. The tefillin and mezuzot fulfilled (in a mystical manner) the biblical commandment in Deuteronomy: "You shall bind them [God's commandments, according to the preceding context] as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals [emblems] on your forehead. And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates" (Deuteronomy 6:8-9).

Because of this assortment of native and imported texts, many people refer to the Scrolls as a "library," with these various texts probably brought in by new members of the community and archived for collective study. As a whole, they represent the common heritage of Second Temple Judaism,5 providing us our only window (outside of the New Testament and the writings of Josephus) into the diverse sects and beliefs of this period.

The Scrolls and the Bible

These documents are immensely helpful to students of this era, including students of Jesus and the New Testament, whose history intersected the latest period of the Dead Sea Community. They provide previously unknown information about legal practices and social customs only dimly echoed in the much later rabbinic writings (Talmud, Mishnah). They give new confirmation of and insights into the languages spoken by Jesus and His disciples and vividly reveal the cultural conditions and conflicts that produced respectively Jesus' parabolic method of teaching and His debates with so-called establishment Judaism. They are also particularly helpful for our understanding of the eschatological beliefs of Jews who lived during this period.

62. The Aleppo Codex, the oldest version of the Hebrew Scripture text until the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

They show us that the developed prophetic interpretations found in the New Testament were not the unique provenance of early Jewish-Christianity, but the shared interpretation of Jews whose expectations were centered on the Old Testament Messianic program. Furthermore, for those who seek to reconstruct an accurate biblical text, the Scroll's versions of the Old Testament permit us to see different textual traditions that predate the medieval Massoretic text, which served as the basis for modern Hebrew Bibles and for most translations from Hebrew into other languages.

The Scrolls also allow us to see how well the scribes who preserved these biblical texts for us did their job. Until the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls our oldest version of the Bible's Hebrew text was the Aleppo Codex (A.D. 935), which was only 1,000 years old. As old as that may seem, it was still more than 1,000 years removed from the originals from which the Bible was copied and passed on. How could we be sure that in the transmission of this text over that thousand-year period the scribes had not made mistakes that now appear in our Bible translations? But the biblical texts in the Scrolls closed this thousand-year gap and let us compare the Hebrew text behind our translations with those, in some cases, only a generation from the originals. This comparison revealed—amazingly-— almost identical wording! So from our new knowledge of the text based on the Scrolls, we can approach our own Bible translations with greater confidence.

The Setting of the Dead Sea Scrolls

Twenty miles southwest of Jerusalem lies the Dead Sea at a record level of 1,300 feet below sea level. Coming down from bleak, rugged limestone cliffs, we meet the sun-parched desert. When we reach the Dead Sea itself we find a body of water 45 miles long and nine miles wide constituting a chemical stew of 26 percent solid matter in the form of dissolved salts. Into this harsh environment God's patriarchs and prophets came in times past, and it may have been this association that led an orthodox but breakaway community of Jews to settle at a site known today by its Arabic name Khirbet Qumran. These priestly families lived a ritually pure lifestyle atop a chalky plateau beside the Dead Sea. Surviving only because of a nearby spring of water they were able to channel to their retreat, they awaited the fulfillment of the biblical prophecies of the coming Messiah and the restoration of the Jewish nation to the divine ideal.

Not only did this area's geography draw the Dead Sea sect to Qumran, its environment also helped preserve the Scrolls. This was because of a combination of factors, including the hot and arid climate (often 125° Fahrenheit), the negative air flow within the caves in which the Scrolls were hidden, and the special sealed jars in which they were stored. Similar states of preservation have been observed in objects taken from the sealed tombs of the pharaohs in the dry sands of the Valley of the Kings in Luxor, Egypt.

Archaeologically, the settlement had a prior Jewish history, but at present we are uncertain how far back it went. The recent discovery of Persian period (sixth-fifth century B.C.) materials (pottery shards and an almost complete perfume bottle) during a clean-up at the conclusion of the spring 1996 excavation season on the Qumran plateau may suggest that a returning post-exilic company made the site their home rather than Jerusalem. Identifying it with one of the early biblical cities in the region, possibly Secacah or one of King Uzziah's "towers in the wilderness" (see 2 Chronicles 26:10), they may have decided it would be the proper place to figure out the prophetic puzzle left to them by the prophets of the pre-Exilic and Exilic periods.

The People of the Dead Sea Scrolls

The Jewish sect that retreated into the wilderness has still not been conclusively identified by scholars. Theories range from Essenes to Sadducees to Zealots to a blend of these with the Pharisees, to an altogether separate group. What we learn from their own documents is that they identified themselves with biblical Israel in its sin in the wilderness (Damascus Document 5:17-20).6 By doing so, they hoped to fulfill the prophet Isaiah's prophecy of a voice crying in the wilderness for Israel's repentance, which would bring the Messiah, end the period of Gentile domination, and finally restore Israel to a place of glory (see 4QpPsalma 3:1; IQSamuel 8:12-16; 9:19-20). They saw themselves as an eschatological fulfillment of the historical exodus, whose ultimate conquest was of Jerusalem and the Land of Israel (cf. Joshua 11:16-12:24). The period of transition in which they lived awaited the days of the eschatological wars and the climax of re-taking all the Land as part of the Final Redemption.7 Because the prophet Ezekiel had predicted that eschatological blessings would flow from the final Temple to the desert and the Dead Sea ("western sea"), making it fresh (see Ezekiel 47:1-2,12; Zechariah 14:8), they felt they lived in the area where the Redemption would first be realized. Therefore, those at Qumran saw themselves as the vanguard for a new era, chosen by God to herald the Messianic Age.


In the 1950s, excavations by the original excavator Roland de Vaux (the official report is yet unpublished) uncovered walls around the settlement, courtyards, a watchtower, a dining hall, a meeting room, a scrollery (where scrolls were prepared), an aqueduct, many cisterns and ritual immersion pools (miqvaot), pottery workshops, kilns, stables, and several cemeteries. The latest excavations took place at the end of 1993 as part of Operation Scroll. The area of Qumran was resurveyed for the third time and dozens of caves in the limestone cliffs and in the marl terrace were checked. Emil Goldie and Yitzhak Magen conducted the excavation in the community center and found new silos, a factory of date presses, and other buildings previously unrecorded. So what we have at this site is a community dating back as far as 300 years B.C. and extending up until A.D. 68, when the Romans attacked the settlement and turned it into an army garrison.

The Discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls

The Scrolls were first discovered by semi-nomadic shepherds of the Ta'amireh Bedouin tribe; these shepherds had settled between Bethlehem and the Dead Sea. For generations they had kept their flocks and herds in the Judean Desert, which was honeycombed with ancient caves. One of these shepherds, a teenager by the name of Muhammed edh-Dhib, which means "Muhammed the wolf' (because he killed wolves which attacked the sheep), claims responsibility for the original discovery.8 As his story goes, he and his friends were tending their goat herds when he found that one of his goats had wandered away. After roaming far from his companions in search of the missing goat, he came upon a cave with a small opening at its top (now designated Cave 1). Thinking that the goat had fallen inside, he threw a stone into the cave's opening to scare it out. Instead of the sound of a startled goat, he heard the sound of breaking pottery. Curiosity made him lower himself into the cave, and upon seeing ancient jars, the hope of hidden treasure made him stay. But to his disappointment all that was inside were leather scrolls, thought to be useless to the Bedouin except for making sandal straps. After collecting the best of the Scrolls (seven in all) and letting them hang in his tent for almost two years, they were sold to the Bethlehem merchant Khalil Iskan-der Sahin (Khando), who in turn sold some of them to the Syrian Orthodox Archbishop Mar Athanasius Samuel, who made their presence known to the world. Eventually the Scrolls came into the possession of the State of Israel when Hebrew University professor Eleazar Sukenik bought three of them through the Armenian Anton Kiraz. Some years later, Sukenik's son, Yigael Yadin, bought the remaining four Scrolls from the Archbishop himself. This latter purchase involved a bit of drama. The Archbishop did not want to get involved in Middle Eastern politics; he did not want to sell the Scrolls directly to Israel because such a sale would be contested by Jordan. So the Archbishop tried to sell the Scrolls in the United States, offering them through an ad in the Wall Street Journal. Learning of the ad, Yadin had Hebrew Union College (Cincinnati, Ohio) pro-

63. Bedouin who identifies himself as Muhammed edh-Dibh, who as a young shepherd boy discovered the Dead Sea Scrolls, in one of the early-discovered caves.

fessor Harry Orlinsky, one of the few men who could authenticate the Scrolls, clandestinely pose as "Mr. Green," and purchase the Scrolls for Israel for $250,000, a paltry sum, since the Isaiah Scroll alone is worth over $20 million today.

More Caves, More Scrolls

After the initial discovery, both Bedouin and archaeologists began looking for additional caves, finding ten more with manuscripts between 1952-1956. The sites of discovery span the hills along the western shore of the Dead Sea ('Ain Feshkha, Qurnran, Jericho, Ein Gedi, Masada, Murabba' at, Nahal Hever, Nahal Se'elim, Nahal Mishmar, and Khirbet Mird). The richest of these caves was Cave 4, discovered in 1952. This single cave yielded over 40,000 Scroll fragments that amounted to some 400 documents (100 of them biblical). Just a year earlier excavation work had begun at the site of the nearby Qurnran settlement. When Cave 4 was discovered just across the wadi from the plateau, the settlement was linked for the first time with the Scrolls.

64. Section of the Copper Scroll, which lists 64 locations of hidden treasure.

The Secret Scrolls of Cave 4

Incidentally, it was these extremely fragmentary texts from Cave 4 that, a few years ago, were the source of a controversy claiming deliberate suppression, scandal, and cover-up. Since 1990, when all the photographs of these fragments were finally released to scholars, these rumors have been put to rest. More recently the excitement has focused on the publication of some of these Cave 4 texts relating to the Dead Sea sect's view of the Messiah. Newly released documents such as 4Q246 (Aramaic "Son of God"), which speaks of a messianic (or anti-messianic) figure as "Son of God and Son of the Most High"; 4Q541 (4QAaron A), which depicts a priestly Messiah who atones for Israel; 4Q285 (Serekh Milhamah), which describes the Messiah as the Prince of the Community, the Branch of David, and portrays him slaying his enemies in an end-time battle; and 4Q521 (Messianic Apocalypse), which says the Messiah will heal the sick and resurrect the dead. Such texts raise new questions about the harmony of this pre-Christian Jewish concept of the Messiah with that seen in early Jewish-Christianity in the New Testament.


Additional Famous Finds

Among some of the additional famous documents found in the caves north of Qumran were IQIsaA (Great Isaiah Scroll, a complete copy of Isaiah) in Cave 1; IQM (War Scroll), a sort of apocalyptic preparation manual, also from Cave 1; 11Q19 (Temple Scroll), from Cave 11, which for the most part gives plans for building a new Temple in restored Jerusalem. It also helps resolve a legal question concerning the Sadducees' purpose for handing Jesus over for crucifixion, revealing that the Sanhedrin justified their action from a text in Deuteronomy that mandated the death penalty for one who betrayed his nation. According to John 11:49, the High Priest Caiaphas, the leader of the Sanhedrin, considered Jesus guilty of treason. In addition, there is the mysterious 3Q15 (Copper Scroll) from Cave 3, which lists 64 hiding places throughout the Judean Desert, Jerusalem, and a few other spots where immense amounts of Temple treasure in the form of gold, silver, and precious objects supposedly were buried 2,000 years ago! For a complete survey and study of many more of these famous finds, see my book Secrets of the Dead Sea Scrolls.9

New Discoveries at Qumran

A common misconception is that all the Dead Sea Scrolls have been found. Many people are not aware that hundreds more may still be hidden in caves in the Judean Desert and that the search for these continues today, although at a much slower pace than in the past. To highlight this fact, I have chosen several yet unpublished examples of new discoveries at Qumran. The first of these describes nine new caves discovered near the Qumran site. These caves have trails connecting them to the caves to the north where the first seven scrolls, the Temple Scroll, and the Copper Scroll were all found. The second reports a new inscription discovered at Qumran. And the third showcases a mysterious object discovered in 1954 but identified only recently. In order to make these contemporary finds feel as fresh as they are, I will allow those most closely associated with them to speak for themselves.

The Discovery of Nine New Caves

National newspapers and prime-time television news reports in the fall of 1995 tempted their audiences with the story of four new caves discovered at Qumran whose exact whereabouts had to remain secret. At the same time (before the dig) and then in 1996 (after the dig), I visited with Hanan Eshel and Magen Broshi, who discovered and excavated these caves, and asked them about their findings. The caves were not four as reported, but nine, and while no written scrolls were discovered within them, they were nonetheless instrumental in helping establish an accepted theory about the caves and the Qumran settlement. Hanan Eshel, professor at Bar-Ilan University in Tel Aviv, recounts for us this excavation:

During September 1995 through February 1996, six weeks of excavations were directed by Magen Broshi and myself north of Qumran. In the beginning of 1993 I found a network of paths north of Qumran— trails leading to caves that were never recorded in any of the publications about Qumran [On these trails] we found there three coins [two were Hasmonean] and 60 [Roman boot] nails. Now after finding a nail and after locating this trail, we decided that we wanted to check if this trail was really used in the Second Temple period. So with a metal detector we walked on 210 feet. On this trail we found those nails which came from sandals of the Roman period….So believe that on this area a lot of people walked. Those paths led to a series of artificial collapsed caves which have never been mentioned in scholarly publications. There is a great difference between caves in the limestone cliffs, like caves 3, 11, 1, 2, and 6, where living conditions are inconvenient, and the marl caves, which can be used for comfortable dwelling. The caves in the marl are easy to carve and shape. In our excavation nine caves north of the aqueducts were excavated in only two caves, labeled Caves C and F, did we find evidence for human habitation in the end of the Second Temple period on the floor of Cave C we found 280 shards that came from cooking pots, bowls, four jars; and I think that is enough evidence that this cave was used for dwelling.10

This evidence appears to confirm once and for all that the Qumran community was indeed responsible for storing the Scrolls in the caves a short distance from their settlement. Furthermore, it is now clear that a larger population lived adjacent to the site, and that the population of Qumran should no longer be limited to those 200 men who could fit within the meeting room at the site.

A New Qumran "Inscription"

In February 1996, two uninscribed ostraca (pottery shards written with ink) were discovered at the site of Qumran while cleaning up from a dig on the Qumran plateau, which had been directed by James Strange of the University of South Florida. These represent the first such inscriptions ever found at this site. One had evidence of scribal practice on it, while the other contained 16 lines of text. This latter ostracon was assigned to two scholars for study and translation—Hanan Eshel's wife, Esther Eshel, and Frank M. Cross of Harvard. Esther Eshel gives her analysis of the contents of this inscription:

The lines written in Hebrew start with the words: "In the year two," probably referring to the freedom of Israel. This text describes a transaction done in Jericho in which goods were given to a man named Elazar. It seems that the ostracon gives us a list of supplies brought to Qumran from Jericho."

65. The newly excavated Cave C, among nine new caves found at Qumran in 1996.

66. The newly discovered Qumran ostracon with 16 lines of Hebrew, found at Qumran— apparently a shopping list for the community.

One significance of this discovery is that, like the previous finds of footpaths and cave dwellings, this helps establish an accepted theory about the Qumran community. Some people had previously argued that no Jewish religious sect had lived at Qumran, but rather Jewish Zealots had manned a military outpost there. This was argued, in part, because of the absence of "mundane" documents that indicated a settled community. But the inscribed ostracon shows the existence of mundane documents at Qumran, confirming that a community had lived here.

A Qumran Mystery Solved

In 1954 Qumran site excavation director Roland de Vaux and his crew unearthed an odd-looking object that could only be described as a "stone disk." He consigned it to the storerooms beneath the Rockefeller Museum as a numbered enigma. A Christian scholar living in Jerusalem and currently working on de Vaux's original excavation reports for the purpose of publication is Stephen Pfann. He identifies the mysterious object as a Dead Sea sundial and describes its purpose in the Qumran community:

We have [now] come to understand that this was actually a sundial which was used not just for the purposes of telling the time of the day. There are [also] various lines on the dial that were used for different parts of the year.... [the Qumran community] had a 364-day calendar, which is a solar calendar, as opposed to the lunar calendar used at the Temple— [to use this sundial, the] sun cast its shadow across ... a pin (that was actually found here). The calendar itself seems to have been made in Babylon because the markings on it match the types of marks for the day that would be at that latitude and longitude, and so originally marked the Assyrian year.... This sundial also was used for marking off the rising of the moon and the stars in their plane as it goes over. The Assyrians considered the sun and the moon in its rising to be something that was a blessing from God, that was a creation of His every day. [The Qumran community] felt that they were very much a part of that as they stood here in the morning not speaking a word to their neighbor. They would stand before the sun in its rising and say prayers such as the Psalms, which speak of awakening the dawn. This was an important part of their life. They believed just as the sun and moon were established within their courses and had borders, God also had established borders for them to live within as far as their role within the community and also in the way they were to live out their life in the Torah.12

Sundials like this were used in the Second Temple to regulate the times of daily worship. Their use at Qumran may have been similar, since its priestly community regarded itself as a symbolic temple aligned with the heavenly Temple and believed that its times of appointed rituals (such as immersion, prayer, worshiping, eating meals) were actually ordained by God. As Pfann explains:

For them, being on time was extremely important because up in heaven was already set in course the meetings and worship of the liturgical year that God had with His angels. Unless the people of God remained

67. "Sundial" found by excavators at the Qumran community near the Dead Sea.

on time and faithful to the calendar and the times which He had set in the heavens, they would he out of sync with what was going on in heaven.13

Pfann further believes that the sundial may have also had a part in the community's messiamc expectations, since they expected to welcome the Messiah at a messianic banquet at Qumran, an event to be calculated by the sundial.

Such archaeological artifacts, when finally understood, can help open up new doors of discovery related not only to the Qumran sect, but also to other Jewish sects of their day with whom they compared or contrasted. Indeed, with recent new finds and even more on the archaeological horizon, the greatest of all archaeological discoveries—the Dead Sea Scrolls-—-may in days to come grow yet greater.

New Excavations Promise Greater Revelations

The Qumran plateau that extends out from the present-day remains of the ancient settlement is believed to yet hold more discoveries. The 1996 seasons of excavation under James Strange were unable to verify a subterranean anomaly indicated by the use of seismic and ground-penetrating radar. The belief is that a man-made paleochamber may exist beneath the plateau with a hidden entrance also buried nearby. Within this chamber may be stored treasures of the community, including a cache of previously unknown scrolls. New electromagnetic instrumentation conducted by the Geophysical Institute of Israel has now revealed that the main paleochamber was missed by only 9 feet. Therefore, new explorations will begin again in the Spring of 1998. I will be directing the excavation of the paleochamber at this promising location. Through the means of sub-surface drilling and the use of a remote camera we will seek to confirm the new readings. We do not yet know what will be uncovered, but we are certain that much more lies on the archaeological horizon of Qumran. Perhaps you and I will awake some morning soon to find reports in our newspapers of a great new discovery, announcing to the world that the Dead Sea Scrolls are once again archaeology's front-page story!

68. Author sitting on cliff above Qumran settlement and overlooking Cave. 4 (middle of picture), where Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered.