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Wikipedia: Dead Sea scrolls
Dead Sea scrolls
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

The Dead Sea scrolls are a collection of about 850 written works, including texts from the Hebrew Bible, which have been discovered between 1947 and 1956 at eleven caves near Qumran, a fortress northwest of the Dead Sea in Israel (in historical times part of Judea). The texts represent diverse viewpoints, ranging from the beliefs of the Essenes to those of other sects, and are also important as being practically the only documents in Hebrew dating to Late Antiquity. (The Nash Papyrus from Egypt, containing a copy of the Ten Commandments, is the sole exception.) Similar written materials have been recovered from nearby sites, including the fortress of Masada.


The scrolls were discovered by a young shepherd, Muhammed edh-Dhib, who had thrown a stone into a cave in an attempt to coerce a goat out of a cave. His stone struck one of the many pieces of pottery that had contained the scrolls for approximately two millennia. Later archeological excavation, as well as searches by the local Bedouin residents, identified and recovered material from the 11 caves. Israel obtained 4 of the 7 major Dead Sea scrolls on February 13, 1955.

The contributions of at least 800 original documents are found among the scrolls and scroll fragments, which include predominantly texts written in Hebrew, but also some written in Aramaic, and Greek. Important discoveries included the Isaiah Scroll in 1947, the Habakkuk Commentary in 1947, the Copper Scroll in 1952, as well as the earliest version of the "Damascus Document", among many other works. A Spanish Jesuit, Jose O'Callaghan, has argued that some fragments from Cave 7 were New Testament texts, but the pieces he identified are too small for a conclusive judgement.


Most of the documents were published in a surprisingly prompt manner: all of the writing found in Cave 1 appeared in print between 1950 and 1956; the finds from 8 different caves were released in a single volume in 1963; and 1965 saw the publication of the Psalms Scroll from Cave 11. Translation of these materials quickly followed.

The exception to this speed were the documents from Cave 4, which represented 40% of the total material. The publication of these materials had entrusted to an international team led by Father Roland de Vaux, a member of the Dominican Order in Jerusalem. This group published it first volume of the materials entrusted to them in 1968, and spent much of their energies defending their theories of the material instead of publishing it. Geza Vermes, who had been involved from the start in the editing and publication of these materials, blamed the delay -- and eventual failure -- to de Vaux for selecting a team unsuited to the quality of work he had planned, as well as relying "on his personal, quasi-patriarchal authority" to ensure the work was promptly done.

As a result, the finds from Cave 4 were not made public for many years. Access to the was governed by a "secrecy rule" that allowed only the original International Team -- or their designates -- to view the original materials. After de Vaux's death in 1971, his successors repeated refused to even allow the publication of photographs of these materials, so that other scholars could at least make their judgements. This rule eventually was broken: first by the publication in the fall of 1991, of 17 documents reconstructed from a concordance that had been made in 1988 and had come into the hands of scholars outside of the International Team; next, that same month, of the discovery -- and publication -- of a complete set of photographs of the Cave 4 materials at the Huntington Library in San Marino, California that was not covered by the "secrecy rule". After some delays, these photographs were published by Robert Eisenman and James Robinson (A Facsimile Edition of the Dead Sea Scrolls, two volumes, Washington, D.C., 1991). as a result, the "secrecy rule" was lifted, and publication of the Cave 4 documents soon commenced, with five volumes in print by 1995.


In 1963 Karl Heinrich Rengstorf of the University of Münster put forth the theory that the Dead Sea scrolls originated at the library of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. This theory was rejected by most scholars during the 1960s, who maintained that the scrolls were written at Qumran rather than transported from another location, but the theory was revived by Norman Golb and other scholars during the 1990s, who added that the scrolls probably also originated from several other libraries in addition to the Temple library.

Allegations that the Vatican suppressed the publication of the scrolls were published in the 1990s, notably by Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, whose book The Dead Sea Scrolls Deception contains a popularized version of speculations by Robert Eisenman that some scrolls actually describe the early Christian community, characterized as more fundamentalist and rigid than the one portrayed by the New Testament, and that the life of Jesus was deliberately mythicized by Paul, possibly a Roman agent who faked his "conversion" from Saul in order to undermine the influence of anti-Roman messianic cults in the region. (Eisenman's own theories, themselves not always convincing, merely attempt to relate the career of James the Just and Paul to some these documents.) Baigent and Leigh allege that several key scrolls were deliberately kept under wraps for decades to prevent alternative theories to the prevailing "consensus" that the scrolls had nothing to do with Christianity from arising.

Because they are frequently described as important to the history of the Bible, the scrolls are surrounded by a wide range of far less plausible conspiracy theories, charging, for example, that they were entirely fabricated or planted by extra-terrestrials.

See also: Masoretic Text, Septuagint


  • Edward M. Cook, Solving the Mysteries of the Dead Sea Scrolls: New Light on the Bible, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994
  • Frank Moore Cross, The Ancient Library of Qumran, 3rd ed., Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995
  • Norman Golb, Who Wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls? The Search for the Secret of Qumran, New York: Scribner, 1995

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