Dead Sea Scrolls

English: Dead Sea as seen from Qumran. Portugu...
English: Dead Sea as seen from Qumran. Português: Vista do Mar Morto a partir de Qumran. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Dead Sea Scrolls are ancient religious parchment scrolls containing some Old Testament documents, commentaries and non-Biblical material.

The Scrolls were accidentally discovered in 1947 west of the Dead Sea at (what was then) Jordan. From 1947 to 1951 additional Scrolls were discovered. The bulk of the Scrolls were in 11 caves near Qumran. They present us with Hebrew biblical texts 1000 years older than previously discovered, and in at least of three different types of script.¹

Most scholars believe they were written by the Essenes, a Jewish religious community at Qumran overrun by the Romans in 68 CE. Randall Price notes that the discovery was synchronous with the formation of Israel as an independent nation (Jungians might say synchronistic.)

The discovery of the Scrolls reveals, among other things, how some scholars act more on self-interest than a supposed concern for the dissemination and development of knowledge. After their discovery, the Scrolls were zealously hoarded by a select group of scholars. Other scholars were literally barred from seeing them. Although the papyrus on which they were written was often fragmented and required painstaking reconstruction, many of the excluded scholars say the inner circle of researchers retained the Scrolls for a far longer period than reasonable.

English: Dead Sea Scroll - part of Isaiah Scro...
English: Dead Sea Scroll – part of Isaiah Scroll (Isa 57:17 – 59:9), 1QIsa b (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Moreover, misleading press releases were issued, saying the content of the Scrolls would entirely change the way the world looks at the Bible and Christianity. Most likely these claims were born out of naive enthusiasm but also, perhaps, sheer sensationalism.

Although no one seems to know when the Scrolls were written, Randall Price says they “yield dates from 225 BCE to CE 68.”² But Robert Eisenman and Michael Wise maintain that the procedure known as AMS Carbon 14 dating (often cited as alleged proof of an artifact’s date) “is still in its infancy, subject to multiple variables, and too uncertain to be applied with precision to the kind of materials we have before us [the Scrolls].”³

Some of the Scrolls were discovered beyond the caves at Qumran. The editor-in-chief of the Scrolls Translation and Publication Team says

It is misleading to say that all of the Scrolls were written by the Qumran group, i.e. the Essenses. We now believe that many, maybe most, of the Scrolls found at Qumran were actually not written by people who dwelt at Qumran. Some scholars even believe that all of the Scrolls were written outside of Qumran without any connection to the Qumran community.4

Nevertheless, some writers like Barbara Thiering affix a specific date and location to the writing of the Scrolls, apparently for no other reason that to support their own ideas.

¹ See S. G. F. Brandon Ed., A Dictionary of Comparative Religion, 1971, p. 522.

² Randall Price, Secrets of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 1996, p. 81.

³ Robert Eisenman and Michael Wise, The Dead Sea Scrolls Uncovered, RockPort MA: Element Inc, 1992, p. 13.

4 Emmanuel Tov, cited in Price, p. 83.


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