Dead Sea Scrolls
Qumran, location of the caves
Intact jars from Qumran.
Advertisement from Wall Street Journal, 1954.
Jewish and Christian manuscripts found on the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea between 1947 and 1956. The scrolls date largely belong to a period of 220 years, from ca. 150 BCE until 70 CE, and count 15,000 fragments, representing between 800 and 900 original manuscripts.
Most of the manuscripts were written in Hebrew, others in Aramaic and a few in Greek. Most scrolls are written on parchment, a few on papyrus.
There were principally 11 caves, at a location near the ruined Qumran, which is believed to have been the settlement of the group from where the scrolls originate. It assumed that the scrolls were hidden away around the outbreak of the First Jewish Revolt, ca. 66 CE, to protect them from the advancing Roman army.
The finds of the scrolls count among the most important in modern archaeology. Research of the manuscripts have helped reconstruct the development of a uniform Hebrew Bible. Also, they have cast much information on the history of Palestine between 4th century BCE until the 2nd century CE. Finally, they either give direct information about the earliest stages of the development of Christianity, or at least about the time and climate in which Christianity was born.
Manuscripts can be divided into these categories.
- Biblical texts. This category represent 40% of the identified scrolls, and consists largely of copies from the Hebrew Bible. Fragments of every book of the Bible, except for the book of Esther have been discovered. Many books are found in several copies, 19 of the Book of Isaiah, 25 of Deuteronomy and 30 of the Psalms.
- Apocryphal and Pseudepigraphical manuscripts, texts like Enoch, Jubilees, Tobit, Sirach, non-canonical psalms, etc., that were not ultimately canonized in the Hebrew Bible. This category counts for about 30% of identified scrolls. In this material there are previously unknown stories about biblical figures such as Enoch, Abraham, and Noah. The story of Abraham includes an explanation why God asked Abraham to sacrifice his only son Isaac.
- Sectarian manuscripts, texts like the Community Rule, War Scroll, Commentary on Habakkuk, Isaiah Scroll and the Rule of the Blessing. This counts for about 30% of the identified scrolls. This is the group that has generated most interest among scholars. This category has the following sub-categories:
- Rules, with descriptions on the dualistic doctrine, constitution, and regulations of the community at Qumran. In the War Scroll, there are descriptions of how the Children of Light would win against the Children of Darkness.
- Interpretations of biblical texts, especially Isaiah, Habakkuk, Nahum, or Psalms; but also lesser texts. Much information of the Qumran community can be read indirectly from these texts.
- Liturgical texts, like the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice, focusing on angelic worship in the heavenly Temple, and the Thanksgiving Hymns, expressing redemption through divine grace.
- Collections of laws, dealing with cultic purity. These texts include the Halakhic Letter, the Damascus Document, and the Temple Scroll.
- Ethical tracts.
Locations and caves
Dead Sea Scrolls are normally considered synonymous with Qumran, but there are 4 more sites that have provided scholars with material that now are included into the body of "Dead Sea Scrolls".
There are 11 caves at Qumran, within a very short distance, furthest are only 125 metres apart. The period of discovering manuscripts range from 1947 until the mid-1960's. The major source has been Cave 1, but the best discoveries are from Cave 4, yielding alone 90% of the manuscript fragments. In Cave 4, most of what is considered Essene texts have been found, covering 400 manuscripts, but unfortunately in poor condition. The longest single scroll was found in Cave 11, Temple Scroll. It was 8.15 metres long, only 60 centimetres short of its original length.
The first cave was discovered in late 1946, or more probably early 1947 by local shepherd Muhammad adh-Dhib and his cousin, when they fell into one of them. When the first researchers tried to locate this cave, they were for long unable to. Also, prevented by the First Palestinian War, this didn't happen until 1949.
The shepherds had brought scrolls from to cave, and these were photographed in 1948, and since the ink would deteriorate in air, the photos are often preferred by scholars. The earliest scrolls shifted hands several times, until sold through an advertisement in Wall Street Journal in 1954, receiving US$250,000.
At Wadi al-Murabba'at, located about 18 km south of Qumran, texts by the armies of Bar Kokhba, in the period 132-135 CE were found.
Nahal Ze'elim/Nahal Hever
Nahal Ze'elim/Nahal Hever site was discovered in 1952 and has yielded mainly material from the 2nd century CE, together with Nabatean, Aramaic and Greek documents.
Wadi Daliyeh, about 14 km north of Jericho, is actually among the most important. Although documents found were in poor condition they date back to the 4th century BCE, making them the oldest extensive collection of Palestinian pypyri. All manuscripts were in Aramaic, and deposited by the Samarians.
Collections at Masada were far more limited, containing 1st century BCE Hebrew manuscripts of Ecclesiasticus, and fragments of Psalms, Leviticus and Genesis. There was also a potential Essene text.
Publication and Controversies
All manuscripts from the first find, that of Cave 1, had been published by 1956. Thos from cave 4 would, however, have the content long delayed before publication.
The scrolls have caused many controversies. First came the question of ownership. Most scrolls were for years in the hands of the Jordanian Department of Antiquities, and only few scholars had access to them.
The scrolls that were easiest to reconstruct, were published early. The texts that were delayed were the smaller, more fragmented ones, which also represented the majority.
Open access to the scrolls came about first in 1991.
Almost all texts from the finds have now been published, 39 out of what will total to 41 volumes.
By whom? About whom?
While much information from the Dead Sea Scrolls are specific to the group that produced and saved the manuscripts, they also shed much light upon the Jewish religion and the society.
It has been suggested that many manuscripts in these finds are texts from libraries in Jerusalem, hidden quickly from the Roman siege during the First Jewish Revolt around 70 CE. With this, the central texts can be considered are generic to Judaism.
The manuscripts show a flexible religion, not limited to the cults of the temple, which was the nominal regulation. They are also a reflection of its time of theological creativity as well as tensions between groups.
Questions concerning who they were, that group living at Qumran, has caused quite a bit of speculation. Among the most common suggestions to which group were at Qumran are either the Essenes or a branch of either the Sadducees or Zealots.
Their presence at Qumran is believed to have been largely involuntary, them being effectively driven out of Jerusalem by the priestly leaders.
Deviating from mainstream Judaism already from the start, the isolated community at Qumran would develop ideas that distanced them even further. Possibly motivated by their forced exile, they developed a dualistic world view. This was one in which the world was clearly divided into good and evil, lightness and darkness. They anticipated an immediate divine intervention on early matter, and a brutal judgment of their enemies.
This group developed regulations for extreme ritual purity.
The leadership of the Qumran group was in the hands of a messianic figure titled "Teacher of Righteousness". There similarities to the Jesus story can either be understood as an illustration of the messianic movement of Judaism at the time, of which we know of several. Or it may even be thought of as part of the Jesus story, that the historical background of Jesus and that of the Teacher of Righteousness are the very same. One more similarity is that they both claimed that the Scripture foretold their own times All this comes down to speculation, in which the same care should be used in rejection of a theory as in the promotion of one.