The Dead Sea Scrolls: An essential component of Judaism and Christianity


3/17/04


Period 5


World Hist. H.


The year was 1947, with World War II just over and the hectic nations recovering from a magnanimous drain in supply, a wondrous event occurred. Something extraordinary, happening once in a world’s history, befell in the form of a child. Fifteen year old Muhammad adh-Dhib, a Bedouin shepherd, was chasing one of his goats that ran off. Running in the Jordan Desert and of the coastlines of the Dead Sea, stumbled upon a series of caves. These caves were stacked with jars, in which scrolls were written in a foreign language. A small discovery eventually led to a mass excavation and archaeological investigation that produced thousands of scroll fragments in eleven caves. These detailed scriptures describing Judaism in its entirety are a priceless addition to our understanding of our own origin. These Sacred Writs have thus dubbed the Dead Sea Scrolls.


The Dead Sea Scrolls were found in the Dead Sea, thus its name. The Dead Sea is located in Israel and Jordan, east of Jerusalem. It is a salt sea which encompasses 390 sq mi. It passes through the Jordan trough of the Great Rift Valley between the Ghor on the north and Wadi Arabah on the south, on the border between Israel and the West Bank and Jordan. The coastal surface of the Dead Sea, 1,292 ft below sea level, is the lowest dry point on earth. Situated between steep, rocky cliffs, 2,500 to 4,000 ft high, the sea is divided by the Al Lisan peninsula into two basins—a larger northern basin c.1,300 ft deep, and a smaller southern basin, 35 ft deep. The lake is fed by the Jordan River and a number of small streams and has no outlet. Since it is located in a very hot and dry region, the Dead Sea loses much water through evaporation; its level fluctuates during the year. Biblical names for the Dead Sea include Salt Sea, East Sea, and Sea of the Plain. Due to its low elevation, the climate has a high evaporation rate and very low humidity, thus a dry preservation of the scrolls was possible.


When the scrolls were first discovered, the initial belief was that the seven that were found were it. But, nearly a decade later, the aftermath included thousands of scroll fragments from eleven caves. Archaeologists searched for the dwelling of the people that may have left the scrolls in the caves. They excavated a ruin located between the cliffs where the scrolls were found and the Dead Sea. This ruin is called Qumran, and consequently a series of scrolls were named that also. Since the first discoveries archaelologists have found over 800 scrolls and scroll fragments in 11 different caves in the surrounding area. In actuality, there are about 100,000 fragments found in all. The ruins and scrolls were dated using a carbon-14 method. They were found to have been written or copied between the 1st century BC and the first half of the 1st century of 1 AD. This makes the scrolls the oldest surviving biblical manuscript by at least 1000 years. The scrolls were primarily written on goat and sheep skin. A few were inscribed upon papyrus, a plant used to make paper, but was not the most prominent. One scroll was engraved on copper sheeting, telling of sixty buried treasure sites. Those scrolls were unable to totally unfold, thus, the treasures still remain buried. One institute performing research on the scrolls were able to find striking similarities to that of 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.


The mass of scrolls contained a plethora of information: portions included unknown psalm excerpts, Bible commentary, calendar text, apocalyptic texts, purity laws, bible stories, and fragments of every book in the Old Testament except for that of Esther. There is also an imaginative paraphrase of the Book of Genesis. A set of 3 types of documents can be used to summarize the massive amounts of fragments. Found in these are the Hebrew Bible, Old Testament, Apocrypha, and Pseudepigrapha. At Masada, manuscripts