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Friday, May 29, 2015

Dead Sea Scrolls

   The Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in eleven caves along the northwest shore of the Dead Sea between the years 1947 and 1956. They have been called the greatest manuscript discovery of modern times.
     The Scrolls were discovered when a shepherd left his flock of sheep and goats to search for a stray. Upon discovering a cave in the crevice of a rocky hillside, he threw a stone into it and heard breaking pots. Upon entering the cave he discovered the first Dead Sea Scrolls hidden in jars. ‏
     He and several companions brought the scrolls to a Bethlehem antiquities dealer and ended up selling them to two antiquities dealers, one of who resold four scrolls to the head of the Syrian Orthodox Monastery of St. Mark in Jerusalem. 
     When a Hebrew University professor heard of the Scrolls discovery he investigated their significance by a clandestine meeting with one of the dealers at the British military zone at the Jerusalem border. Upon seeing a fragment he recognized the ancient writing. He then went with the dealer to Bethlehem to see the Scrolls in his possession and was amazed to see Hebrew manuscripts that were a thousand years older then any existing biblical text. 
     For the first 40 years after their discovery, the study of the Scrolls was monopolized by a small group of international scholars. In the early 1990s the Israel Antiquities Authority took steps to advance the publication of the Scrolls and by 2001 most had been published and were located in academic libraries. The Scrolls are important because they enhance knowledge of both Judaism and Christianity. 
     In all, scholars have identified the remains of about 825 to 870 separate scrolls divided into two categories—biblical and non-biblical. Fragments of every book of the Hebrew canon (Old Testament) have been discovered except for the book of Esther. Also, prophecies by Ezekiel, Jeremiah and Daniel not found in the Bible are written in the Scrolls. The Isaiah Scroll is especially important because it is relatively intact and ia 1000 years older than any previously known copy of Isaiah and they also contain never before seen psalms attributed to King David and Joshua. The nonbiblical writings consist of commentaries on the OT, expansions of the Law, rule books of the community, war conduct, thanksgiving psalms, hymn compositions, benedictions and writing on wisdom. The scrolls contain unknown stories about biblical figures such as Enoch, Abraham, and Noah and there is also a story of Abraham that includes an explanation why God asked Abraham to sacrifice his only son Isaac. 
     For the most part they are written in Hebrew, but some are written in Aramaic, the common language of the Jews of Palestine for the last two centuries B.C. and of the first two centuries A.D. There are also a few written in Greek. 
    The library is believed to have been hidden by the Essenes around the outbreak of the First Jewish Revolt (A.D. 66-70) when the Roman army advanced against the rebel Jews. The Essenes are mentioned by Josephus and in a few other sources, but not in the New testament. They were a strict Torah observant, Messianic Jewish sect that was led by a priest they called the "Teacher of Righteousness," who was opposed and was possibly killed by the established priesthood in Jerusalem. 
     One of the most interesting scrolls is the Copper Scroll which records a list of 64 underground hiding places throughout Israel which contain gold, silver, aromatics, and manuscripts that are believed to be treasures from the Temple at Jerusalem which were hidden for safekeeping. 
     Curiously the Qumran community existed during the time of the ministry of Jesus but none of the Scrolls refer to Him, nor do they mention any of His follower's. The Dead Sea Scrolls are thought to have been produced by a group known as the Essenes who, it is believed, fled Jerusalem in protest against the way the Temple was being run and the worldliness of Jerusalem and the priests. The Essenes believed they were the true form of Judaism. 
    The Scrolls are significant because it was known that Judaism in the time of Jesus was a very diverse religion. The Jewish historian Josephus lists the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes and the New Testament mentions the Herodians and there are also Rabbinic writings that mention other groups and when the war, in the year 66, took place a large number of other groups existed. The Scrolls shed light on the Essene community and reveal a whole range of previously unknown books or had books that were known about only in fragments or only in quotations. The Dead Sea Scrolls do not shed any light on the person or ministry of Jesus. 
    Since Christianity began as a sect of Judaism, the scrolls are important for understanding the earliest Christians and the New Testament writings. But, because the earliest followers of Jesus was Jewish in nature the more that is understood about Judaism during that time, the stronger the basis for understanding their writings. The views of early Christians and the writers of the Dead Sea Scrolls are very different. The followers of Jesus were given the task of spreading His message to all peoples to the ends of the earth and their understanding of God’s plan was very different than either that of the Jews in Jerusalem or the Essenes. 

More on Dead Sea Scrolls   
Discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls   
Digital Collection of the Scrolls  
Free e-book on the Dead Sea Scrolls  
Biblical Archeology Society

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