Essay, Research Paper: Dead Sea Scrolls


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While pursuing one of his goats into a cave near the Dead Sea in the Jordan
Desert, in 1947, a fifteen year old boy by the name of Muhammad adh-Dhib,
stumbled on to a great discovery. Inside the cave, he found broken jars that
contained scrolls written in a strange language, wrapped in linen cloth and
leather.1 This first discovery produced seven scrolls and started an
archaeological search that produced thousands of scroll fragments in eleven
caves. The Dead Sea is located in Israel and Jordan, east of Jerusalem. The dead
sea is very deep, salty, and it’s the lowest body of water in the world.
Because the dead sea is at such a low elevation, the climate has a high
evaporation rate but a very low humidity which helped to preserve the scrolls.2
Archaeologists searched for the dwelling of the people that may have left the
scrolls in the caves. The archaeologist excavated a ruin located between the
cliffs where the scrolls were found and the dead sea. This ruin is called
Qumran. The ruins and the scrolls were dated by the carbon 14 method and found
to be from the third century which made them the oldest surviving biblical
manuscript by at least 1000 years. Since the first discoveries archaeologists
have found over 800 scrolls and scroll fragments in 11 different caves in the
surrounding area. In fact, there are about 100,000 fragments found in all. Most
of which were written on goat skin and sheep skin. A few were on papyrus, a
plant used to make paper, but one scroll was engraved on copper sheeting telling
of sixty buried treasure sites.3Because the scrolls containing the directions to
the treasures is unable to be fully unrolled, the treasures have not been found
yet. In all, the texts of the scrolls were remarkable. They contained unknown
psalms, Bible commentary, calendar text, mystical texts, apocalyptic texts,
liturgical texts, purity laws , bible stories, and fragments of every book in
the Old Testament except that of Esther, including a imaginative paraphrase of
the Book of Genesis. Also found were texts, in the original languages, of
several books of the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha. These texts—none of which
was included in the Hebrew canon of the Bible—are Tobit, Sirach, Jubilees,
portions of Enoch, and the Testament of Levi, up to this time known only in
early Greek, Syriac, Latin, and Ethiopic versions.4 John Trever of the W.F.
Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, was allowed to investigate the
scrolls and was stunned to find that the scrolls closely resemble the Nash
Papyrus, the once known oldest fragment of the Hebrew Bible dated at or around
150 BC. One of the scrolls was a complete copy of the book of the prophet
Isaiah. Trever also examined three other scrolls; the Manual of Discipline, a
commentary on the book of Habbakuk, and one called the Genesis Apocryphon.
Trever took photographs of the texts to William Foxwell Albright ; of John
Hopkins University in Baltimore, who declared the scrolls dated back to around
100 BC.5 The scroll and fragments found in the Qumran is a library of
information that contains books or works written in three different languages:
Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. Many scholars separated the scrolls into three
different categories: Biblical - Books found in the Hebrew Bible. Apocryphal or
psuedepigraphical - Works not in some Bibles but included in others. Sectarian -
ordinances, biblical commentaries, apocalyptic visions, and sacred works.6 One
of the longer text, found in Qumran is the Tehillim or Psalms Scroll. It was
found in 1956 in cave 11 and unrolled in 1961. It is a assortment of Psalms,
hymns and an indifferent passage about the psalms authored by King David. It is
written on sheep skin parchment and it has the thickest surface of any of the
scrolls.7 The Manual Of Discipline or Community Rule contains rules, warnings
and punishments to violators of the rules of the desert sect called Yahad. It
also contains the methods of joining the community, the relations among the
members, their way of life , and their beliefs. The sect believed that human
nature and all that happens in the world is predestined. The scroll ends with
songs of praise of God. The scroll was found in cave 4 and cave 5 and It was
written on parchment. The longest version was found in cave 4.8 The War Rule is
commonly referred to as the “Pierced Messiah” text. It refers to a Messiah
who came from the line of David, to be brought to a judgment and then to a
killing. It anticipates the New Testament view of the preordained death of the
messiah. It is written in a Hebrew script and is only a six line fragment.9 Most
of the scrolls were found in caves near Qumran. The Qumran site was excavated to
find the habitation of those who deposited the scrolls in the nearby caves. The
excavations uncovered plates bowls and cemeteries with over twelve hundred
graves that have the same characteristics which suggest religious uniformity,
along with a complex of structures which suggested that they were communal in
presentation.10 Many believe this is where a community of a distant Jewish sect
called the Essenes may have once lived. The Essenes were members of a Jewish
religious brotherhood, organized on a communal basis who practiced strict
disciplines. The order had around 4000 members and they existed in Palestine and
Syria from the 2nd century BC to the 2nd century AD. The sects main settlements
were on the shores of the Dead Sea.11 In some scholars views the site was the
wilderness retreat of the Essenes. According to these scholars, the Essenes or
another religious sect resided in neighboring locations, most likely caves,
tents, and solid structures, but depended on the center for community facilities
such as stores of food and water. 12 Many scholars believe the Essene community
wrote, copied, or accumulated the scrolls at Qumran and deposited them in the
caves of the neighboring hills. Others question this explanation, claiming that
the site was no monastery but rather a Roman fortress or a winter residence.
Some also believe that the Qumran site has little if anything to do with the
scrolls and the evidence available does not support a definitive answer. 13 A
lapse in the use of the site is linked to evidence of a huge earthquake. Qumran
was abandoned about the time of the Roman invasion of 68 A.D.,14 two years
before the collapse of Jewish self-government in Judea and the destruction of
the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 A.D. The scrolls are believed to have been brought
from Jerusalem the Judean wilderness for safekeeping when Jerusalem was
threatened by Roman armies. This was the time that Qumran was a judean military
fortress which was destroyed in a battle with the Romans Since their discovery,
the Dead Sea Scrolls have been the subject of great scholarly and public
interest. For scholars they represent an invaluable source for exploring the
nature of post- biblical times and probing the sources of two of the world's
great religions. For the public, they are artifacts of great significance,
mystery, and drama. 15 The Dead Sea Scrolls give us a better view of a crucial
period in the history of Judaism. Judaism was divided into numerous religious
sects and political parties. With the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD., all
that came to an end. Only the Judaism of the Pharisees; the most powerful Jewish
sect--Rabbinic Judaism--survived. Qumran literature shows a Judaism in the midst
of change from the religion of Israel as described in the Bible to the Judaism
of the rabbis as explained in the Talmud, which tells the rules that Jews live
by.16 Scholars have emphasized similarities between the beliefs and practices
shown in the Qumran material and those of early Christians.17 These similarities
include rituals of baptism, communal meals, and property.18 One of the most
fascinating similarities is how the people divided themselves into twelve tribes
led by twelve chiefs. This is very similar to how Jesus had twelve apostles who
would sit on thrones and judge the twelve tribes of Israel. 19 The Dead Sea
Scrolls were written during the birth of Christianity and an important time in
Jewish history. The scrolls have giving an insight into the lives and customs of
the people who lived in a time of Roman invasion and Jewish history. Although
the text do not hold all the answers, they do give people a tool to use when
studying biblical history. Only a very few scholars had access to the scrolls
before copies of the scrolls were published in the 1990’s; now we all have a
chance to read an come to our own conclusions about the text. Whether the
scrolls uphold Jewish or Christian beliefs is not the only interesting part of
the scrolls. The text also give a more personal look at the people who lived in
a major part of Jewish history.

BibliographyBurrows, Millar. (1955). The Dead Sea Scrolls. New York: Grammercy Publishing
Company Roth, Cecil. (1965). The Dea Sea Scrolls. A New Historical Approach. New
York: W.W. Norton & Company. Schubert, Kurt . (1959). The Dead Sea
Community. Great Britain: Bowering Press Plymouth. Shanks, Hershel. (1998). The
Mystery And Meaning Of The Dead Sea Scrolls. New York: Random House. Project
Judaica Foundation, Inc.(1996-1999) . Welcome to SCROLLS FROM THE DEAD SEA. The
Ancient Library of Qumran and Modern Scholarship, an Exhibit at the Library of
Congress, Washington,DC,
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