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What are the Dead Sea Scrolls?

The Dead Sea Scrolls are ancient manuscripts discovered in the mid-20th century near the Dead Sea. They include religious texts that predate Christianity and offer invaluable insights into Jewish history and the origins of the Hebrew Bible. Their preservation is a testament to time's passage. Wondering how these texts influence modern understanding of ancient beliefs? Join us as we explore their enduring legacy.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

The Dead Sea Scrolls are a collection of documents found in caves along a plateau above the Dead Sea in Israel, called Qumran. There are over 850 documents found in 11 different caves. Many retell parts of the Old Testament and have been dated as scribed before 100 AD.

A goat herder named Mohammed Ahmed al-Hamed in 1947 found the first of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Legend has it that he was looking for an animal that had strayed and stumbled across the Dead Sea Scrolls. However, several people claiming to be al-Hamed have called this tale into question. So like the Dead Sea Scrolls, the legend of their discovery is shrouded in mystery.

The Dead Sea Scrolls retell parts of the Old Testament.
The Dead Sea Scrolls retell parts of the Old Testament.

The Dead Sea Scrolls changed hands from antiques dealers to churches. Some were sold on the open market. Further search in the locations around Qumran found more scrolls in more caves. Some scrolls were published immediately, while others were published much later. Some alleged that the Roman Catholic Church wanted to suppress the publication of certain scrolls. However, with all scrolls now published, little evidence has been found that any of the works cast negative light on the Church.

The Dead Sea scrolls were found in caves overlooking the Dead Sea.
The Dead Sea scrolls were found in caves overlooking the Dead Sea.

The Dead Sea Scrolls contain writing, by at least three different scribes, and in at least three different dialects of Hebrew. Initially, the Dead Sea Scrolls were considered as a way of unlocking mysteries about Hebrew and possibly Early Christian beliefs. Most often today, they are used by biblical scholars to analyze differences in text, and compare interpretations and translations of certain disputed words.

The Dead Sea Scrolls do offer some illumination on the period of Jewish history when the Second Temple was built, from 570 BCE to 70 CE. Most of the Dead Sea Scrolls are scribings of several Old Testament Books, like Psalms, Isaiah and Deuteronomy. There are some texts written in Greek, which many thought proved evidence of early Christian influence.

The theory the scrolls contain evidence of early Christian belief structures is flimsy. Many estimate the scrolls date back to 90 BCE. Thus Christians could not have written them.

Exactly who kept or secreted the Dead Sea Scrolls remains mysterious. In the 1990s, many believed the Dead Sea Scrolls were once in the possession of the Essenes, who lived near Qumran from approximately the 2nd century BCE to the 1st century CE. During the Jewish Revolt in 66 AD, the Essenes hid the scrolls in the caves to prevent their destruction. Many now discredit this theory because the Essenes were a small community and would not have supported so many scribes.

Other theories have since emerged, but no one can exactly say who wrote, held, or hid the Dead Sea Scrolls. Archaeologists and theologians still continue to study the scrolls in hopes that some interpretation will be made that sheds more light on their origins. Many of the scrolls have also been printed and are available for examination by the public.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the Dead Sea Scrolls?

The Dead Sea Scrolls are a collection of ancient Jewish texts discovered between 1947 and 1956 in eleven caves near the Dead Sea. They include biblical manuscripts, apocryphal works, and sectarian documents, providing invaluable insight into Jewish life and religion during the Second Temple period, roughly between 200 BCE and 70 CE. The scrolls are considered one of the most significant archaeological finds of the 20th century.

Who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls?

While the exact authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls remain unknown, many scholars believe they were written by the Essenes, a Jewish sect living in the Judean Desert. This theory is supported by the scrolls' content, which aligns with the Essenes' beliefs and practices. However, some researchers suggest that the scrolls may have come from various Jewish groups and were collected for safekeeping in the caves.

What languages are the Dead Sea Scrolls written in?

The Dead Sea Scrolls are primarily written in Hebrew, with a smaller number of texts in Aramaic and Greek. Hebrew was the common liturgical and scriptural language of the Jews at the time, while Aramaic was widely spoken, and Greek was used throughout the Eastern Mediterranean due to Hellenistic influence.

Why are the Dead Sea Scrolls important?

The Dead Sea Scrolls are crucial for understanding the development of the Hebrew Bible and the origins of Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism. They contain the oldest known copies of the Hebrew Scriptures, offering a comparison to later versions and shedding light on textual variations. Additionally, the non-biblical texts provide a glimpse into the diverse religious beliefs and practices of the time.

Where are the Dead Sea Scrolls kept?

Most of the Dead Sea Scrolls are housed in the Shrine of the Book, a wing of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. Some fragments are held in other institutions and private collections worldwide. The scrolls are preserved under strict climate-controlled conditions to prevent further deterioration.

Can I see the Dead Sea Scrolls online?

Yes, high-resolution images of the Dead Sea Scrolls are available online. The Israel Antiquities Authority, in partnership with Google, has digitized the scrolls, making them accessible to the public through the Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library. This initiative allows people from all over the world to explore these ancient texts in detail.

Have all the Dead Sea Scrolls been translated?

Most of the Dead Sea Scrolls have been translated from Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek into modern languages, including English. These translations are available in scholarly publications and online databases. However, some fragments remain unpublished or are still under study, as deciphering them can be challenging due to their condition and the complexity of the ancient languages.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent CulturalWorld contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

Learn more...
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent CulturalWorld contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

Learn more...

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Discussion Comments

anniebunnie

Thanks for this interesting post. The Dead Sea Scrolls became one of the most significant archaeological discoveries of the twentieth century because of the relevance of these texts to biblical studies. These are among the best-known and most essential old documents discovered in years. These scrolls should be properly preserved like the biggest collection in the Israel museum.

Pippinwhite

@Grivusangel -- I wasn't able to get to that exhibit when it came to my part of the country, and I wish I had been able to go.

The Dead Sea Scrolls, to me, confirm that the Old Testament has been around for a long, long time, and certainly upholds the authenticity of the Scriptures.

The Dead Sea Scrolls were written long before some people say they were, and obviously, by different hands. They do not contradict anything in Scripture. On the contrary, they confirm or illuminate some concepts.

Grivusangel

One of the most fascinating exhibits I've ever been to was the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit at a local university. Seeing the artifacts was fantastic. Not only did they have one of the scrolls on display, but also examples of cuneiform from the Phoenecian era. The little tablet I saw was a receipt for nine cows.

The exhibit also featured early examples of the English bible, and even a page from a Gutenberg Bible! It was amazing. It was like seeing a history book come to life. I couldn’t look at everything long enough and I was sad when it was time to leave.

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    • The Dead Sea Scrolls retell parts of the Old Testament.
      By: James Steidl
      The Dead Sea Scrolls retell parts of the Old Testament.
    • The Dead Sea scrolls were found in caves overlooking the Dead Sea.
      By: Victor B
      The Dead Sea scrolls were found in caves overlooking the Dead Sea.