The Dead Sea Scrolls (Hebrew: מגילות ים המלח) comprise roughly 850 documents, including texts from the Hebrew Bible, discovered between 1947 and 1956 in 11 caves in and around the Wadi Qumran (near the ruins of the ancient settlement of Khirbet Qumran, on the northwest shore of the Dead Sea) in the West Bank. The texts are of great religious and historical significance, as they include practically the only known surviving copies of biblical documents made before 100 C.E. and preserve evidence of considerable diversity of belief and practice within late Second Temple Judaism.
The Dead Sea Scrolls are widely acknowledged to be among the greatest archaeological treasures ever discovered. Many of the scrolls today are housed in the Shrine of the Book in Jerusalem.
According to carbon dating, textual analysis, and handwriting analysis the documents were written at various times between the middle of the second century B.C.E. and the first century C.E.. While some of the scrolls were written on papyrus, a good portion was written on a brownish animal hide. The scrolls were written with feathers from a bird and the ink used was made from carbon black and white pigments. One scroll, appropriately named the Copper Scroll, consisted of thin copper sheets that were incised with text and then joined together.
About 80 to 85 percent of the Dead Sea Scrolls are written in one of three dialects of Hebrew, Biblical Hebrew (also known as Classical Hebrew), "Dead Sea Scroll Hebrew," or proto-Tannaitic Hebrew, as in the Copper Scroll and the MMT (or 4QMMT) text. Biblical Hebrew dominates in the Biblical scrolls, and DSS Hebrew in scrolls that some scholars believe were composed at Qumran. Additionally, some scrolls are written in Aramaic and a few in Koine Greek.
Important texts include the Isaiah Scroll (discovered in 1947), a Commentary (Hebrew: pesher, פשר) on the Book of Habakkuk (1947), the so-called Manual of Discipline (Community Rule) (1QS/4QSa-j), which gives much information on the structure and theology of a sect, and the earliest version of the Damascus Document. The Copper Scroll (1952), which appears to list actual hidden caches of valuables including objects of gold and other metals (thought by some to represent Temple treasures hidden away before the Roman Destruction), as well as scrolls and weapons, has probably excited the greatest attention.
The fragments span at least 800 texts that represent many diverse viewpoints, ranging from beliefs resembling those anciently attributed to the Essenes, to ideas which would appear to represent the tenets of other sects. About 30 percent are fragments from the Hebrew Bible, from all the books except the Book of Esther and the Book of Nehemiah. About 25 percent are traditional Israelite religious texts that are not in the canonical Hebrew Bible, such as the Book of 1 Enoch, the Book of Jubilees, and the Testament of Levi. Another 30 percent contain Biblical commentaries or other texts such as the Community Rule (1QS/4QSa-j, also known as "Discipline Scroll" or "Manual of Discipline"), The Rule of the Congregation, The Rule of the Blessing and the War of the Sons of Light Against the Sons of Darkness (1QM, also known as the "War Scroll") related to the beliefs, regulations, and membership requirements of a Jewish sect, which some researchers continue to believe lived in the Qumran area. The rest of the fragments (about 15 percent) remain unidentified.
Books ranked according to number of manuscripts found (top 16):
|1 & 2 Samuel||4|
There are various theories regarding the origins of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Many scholars postulate authorship of the scrolls by the Essenes, or perhaps by another sectarian group, residing at Khirbet Qumran. However, other scholars dispute this position. A summary of the different theories (and their variants) is provided below:
The prevalent view among scholars, almost universally held until the 1990s, is that the scrolls were written by a sect known as the Essenes who (according to this theory) lived at Khirbet Qumran. They hid the scrolls in the nearby caves during the Jewish Revolt in 66 C.E. before being massacred by Roman troops. This is known as the Qumran-Essene Hypothesis. A number of arguments are used to support this theory:
Since the 1990s a variation of this theory has developed, stressing that the authors of the scrolls were "Essene-Like" or a splinter Essene group rather than simply Essenes as such. This modification of the Essene theory takes into account some significant differences between the world view expressed in some of the scrolls and the Essenes as described by the classical authors.
Another variation on the Qumran-sectarian theory, which has gained some popularity, is that the community was led by Zadokite priests (Sadducees). The most important document in support of this view is the "Miqsat Ma‘ase haTorah" (MMT, 4Q394-), which states one or two purity laws (such as the transfer of impurities) are identical to those attributed in rabbinic writings to the Sadducees. This document also reproduces a festival calendar that follows Sadducee principles for the dating of certain festival days. However, the MMT contains other purity laws different from those attributed to the Sadducees, and the similarities in laws and calendar are not considered sufficient evidence to support a definite conclusion.
Moreover, Florentino Martinez dates composition of the Temple Scroll to the times of Hasmonean power consolidation, long before the existence of the Essenes, and states that this is only the date when this material was reduced to writing; the notions expressed must be older. This tends to undermine the idea of an Essene-Sadducee connection.
Contrary to the Qumran-Sadducean theory, Josephus tells us in his Jewish War and in his Antiquities of the Jews that the Sadducees and the Essenes held opposing views of predestination, with the Essenes believing in an immortal soul and attributing everything to divinely-determined fate, while the Sadducees denied both the existence of the soul and the role of fate altogether. The scroll authors' beliefs in the soul's survival beyond death and in the resurrection of the body, and their complex world of angels and demons engaged in a cosmic war, were contrary to the Sadducean belief that there is no resurrection, and that there are no such beings as angels or spirits. For the Sadducees, every person had the right to choose between good and evil, and the scope of humankind's existence was limited to this life. For the Essenes, God ruled and foreordained all events—including every person's ultimate choice to follow after good or after evil—and the significance of each human life would culminate in the soon-to-come hereafter. It is difficult to imagine how such disparate beliefs might evolve into one another or even be reconciled. This tends to undermine the idea of a strong connection between the Essenes and Sadducees.
Some scholars posit that there is strong evidence against the Qumran-sectarian theory. Khirbet Qumran is a tiny settlement that could only house about 150 persons at any one time. Since several hundred different scribal "hands" have been identified in the material, with only about a dozen repetitions of handwriting found, the available population does not seem large enough to account for the diversity of handwriting. Advocates of the Qumran-sectarian theory respond that the scrolls date over a period of centuries and therefore could easily have housed over time the number of scribes.
Even according to those scholars who believe that there was scribal activity at Qumran, only a few of the biblical scrolls were actually made there, the majority having been copied before the Qumran period and subsequently having come into the hands of the claimed Qumran community. There is, however, no concrete physical evidence of scribal activity at Qumran, nor, a fortiori, that the claimed Qumran community altered the biblical texts to reflect their own theology. It is thought that the claimed Qumran community would have viewed the Book of 1 Enoch and the Book of Jubilees as divinely inspired scripture. Additionally, Pliny's description is not specific enough to be definitely tied to Khirbet Qumran.
Lawrence Schiffman has suggested two plausible theories of origin and identity—a Sadducean splinter group, or perhaps an Essene group with Sadducean roots.
Other theories with more support among scholars include Qumran as a military fortress or a winter resort.
In 1980, Norman Golb of the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute published the first of a series of studies critical of the Qumran-sectarian theory, and offering historical and textual evidence that the scrolls are the remains of various libraries in Jerusalem, hidden in the Judaean desert when the Romans were besieging Jerusalem in 68-70 C.E. In broad terms, this evidence includes (1) the Copper Scroll found in Cave 3, which contains a list of treasures that, according to Golb and others, could only have originated in Jerusalem; (2) the great variety of conflicting ideas found among the scrolls; and (3) the fact that, apart from the Copper Scroll, they contain no original historical documents such as correspondence or contracts, but are all scribal copies of literary texts—indicating that they are remnants of libraries and were not written at the site where they were found.
Golb's theory has been endorsed by a number of scholars, including the Israeli archaeologists Yizhar Hirschfeld (deceased), Yahman Jamaca, Yitzhak Magen and Yuval Peleg, Rachel Elior (chair of the Department of Jewish Thought at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem) and others. Hirschfeld believes that Qumran was the country estate of a wealthy Jerusalemite. Magen and Peleg believe that the site was a pottery factory and had nothing to do with any sect. Golb believes that it was a military fortress, part of a concentric series of such bastions protecting Jerusalem. Thus, it can be said that current scrolls scholarship appears to include a school that challenges the traditional Qumran-sectarian theory and which supports a growing movement towards the view that the site was secular in nature and had no organic connection with the parchment fragments found in the caves (see below). The scrolls are increasingly held, by this group of scholars who have emerged since 1990, to have come from a major center of Jewish intellectual culture such as only Jerusalem is known to have been during the intertestamentary period. According to this theory, the scrolls are in fact more important than they were previously thought to be, because of the light they cast on Jewish thought in Jerusalem at that time.
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 (a position then thought to be supported by de Vaux's identification of a room within the ruins of Qumran as a probable scriptorium—an identification that has since been disputed by various archaeologists). Rengstorf's theory is also rejected by Norman Golb, who argues that it is rendered unlikely by the great multiplicity of conflicting religious ideas found among the scrolls. It has been revived, however, by Rachel Elior, who heads the department of Jewish Thought at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
Spanish Jesuit José O'Callaghan has argued that one fragment (7Q5) is a New Testament text from the Mark 6:52–53. In recent years this controversial assertion has been taken up again by German scholar Carsten Peter Thiede. A successful identification of this fragment as a passage from Mark would make it the earliest extant New Testament document, dating somewhere between 30 and 60 C.E. Opponents consider that the fragment is tiny and requires so much reconstruction (the only complete word in Greek is "και" = "and") that it could have come from a text other than Mark.
Robert Eisenman advanced the theory that some scrolls actually describe the early Christian community, characterized as more fundamentalist and rigid than the one portrayed by the New Testament. Eisenman also attempted to relate the career of James the Just and the Apostle Paul/Saul of Tarsus to some of these documents.
The scrolls were found in 11 caves near a settlement at Qumran on the Dead Sea. None of them were found at the actual settlement. It is generally accepted that a Bedouin goat- or sheep-herder by the name of Mohammed Ahmed el-Hamed (nicknamed edh-Dhib, "the wolf") made the first discovery toward the beginning of 1947.
In the most commonly told story the shepherd threw a rock into a cave in an attempt to drive out a missing animal under his care. The shattering sound of pottery drew him into the cave, where he found several ancient jars containing scrolls wrapped in linen.
Dr. John C. Trever carried out a number of interviews with several men going by the name of Muhammed edh-Dhib, each relating a variation on this tale.
The scrolls were first brought to a Bethlehem antiquities dealer named Ibrahim 'Ijha, who returned them after being warned that they may have been stolen from a synagogue. The scrolls then fell into the hands of Khalil Eskander Shahin, "Kando," a cobbler and antiques dealer. By most accounts the Bedouin removed only three scrolls following their initial find, later revisiting the site to gather more, possibly encouraged by Kando. Alternatively, it is postulated that Kando engaged in his own illegal excavation: Kando himself possessed at least four scrolls.
Arrangements with the Bedouins left the scrolls in the hands of a third party until a sale of them could be negotiated. That third party, George Isha'ya, was a member of the Syrian Orthodox Church, who soon contacted St. Mark's Monastery in the hope of getting an appraisal of the nature of the texts. News of the find then reached Metropolitan Athanasius Yeshue Samuel, more often referred to as Mar Samuel.
After examining the scrolls and suspecting their age, Mar Samuel expressed an interest in purchasing them. Four scrolls found their way into his hands: the now famous Isaiah Scroll (1QIsa), the Community Rule, the Habakkuk Peshar (Commentary), and the Genesis Apocryphon. More scrolls soon surfaced in the antiquities market, and Professor Eleazer Sukenik, an Israeli archaeologist and scholar at Hebrew University, found himself in possession of three: The War Scroll, Thanksgiving Hymns, and another more fragmented Isaiah scroll.
By the end of 1947, Sukenik received word of the scrolls in Mar Samuel's possession and attempted to purchase them. No deal was reached, and instead the scrolls found the attention of Dr. John C. Trever of the American School of Oriental Research (ASOR). Dr. Trevor compared the script in the scrolls to the Nash Papyrus, the oldest biblical manuscript at the time, finding similarities between the two.
Dr. Trever, a keen amateur photographer, met with Mar Samuel on February 21, 1948, when he photographed the scrolls. The quality of his photographs often exceeded that of the scrolls themselves over the years, as the texts quickly eroded once removed from their linen wraps.
In March of that year, violence erupted between Arabs and Jews in what is now the State of Israel, prompting the removal of the scrolls from the country for safekeeping. The scrolls were removed to Beirut.
Following the initial discovery of scrolls, other caves containing scrolls were also discovered. A summary of the contents of these caves is provided below:
Bedouins discovered 30 fragments of other scrolls in Cave 2 including Jubilees and ben Sirach in the original Hebrew.
One of the most curious scrolls is the Copper Scroll. Discovered in Cave 3, this scroll records a list of 64 underground hiding places throughout the land of Israel. According to the scroll, the deposits contain certain amounts of gold, silver, aromatics, and manuscripts. These are believed to be treasures from the Temple of Jerusalem that were hidden away for safekeeping.
This cave yielded about 40 percent of the scrolls, mostly fragments. However, until the mid-1990s, most of these fragments remained unpublished and inaccessible to the scholarly community or the general public.
Caves 5 and 6 were discovered shortly after cave 4. Caves 5 and 6 yielded a modest find.
Archaeologists discovered caves 7 through 10 in 1955, but did not find many fragments. Cave 7 contained seventeen Greek documents (including 7Q5), which would cause a controversy in the following decades. Cave 8 only had five fragments and cave 9 held but one fragment. Cave 10 contained nothing but an ostracon.
The Temple Scroll, found in Cave 11 is the longest scroll. Its present total length is 26.7 feet (8.148 meters). The overall length of the original scroll must have been over 28 feet (8.75 meters). It provided a blueprint for the construction of an idealized Jewish temple, which differed significantly from the then-standing Temple of Jerusalem.
Some of the documents were published in a prompt manner: all of the writing found in Cave 1 appeared in print between 1950 and 1956; the finds from eight 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 involved the documents from Cave 4, which represented 40 percent of the total material. The publication of these materials had been entrusted to an international team led by Father Roland de Vaux, a member of the Dominican Order in Jerusalem. This group published the first volume of the materials entrusted to them in 1968, but 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—on de Vaux's selection of a team unsuited to the quality of work he had planned, as well as relying "on his personal, quasi-patriarchal authority" to control the completion of the work.
As a result, a large part of the finds from Cave 4 were not made public for many years. Access to the scrolls 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 repeatedly refused to even allow the publication of photographs of these materials, preventing other scholars from making their own judgments. This rule was eventually 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, by the discovery and publication of a complete set of photographs of the Cave 4 materials at the Huntington Library in San Marino, California, that were 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, 2 vols., 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.
The significance of the scrolls is still somewhat unclear due to the uncertainty of their dates and possible origins.
In spite of these limitations, the scrolls have already been quite valuable to text critics. The biblical manuscripts found among the Dead Sea Scrolls are dated from the second century B.C.E. Although some of the biblical manuscripts found at Qumran differ significantly from the Masoretic text, most do not. The scrolls thus provide new variants and the ability to be more confident of those readings where the Dead Sea manuscripts agree with the Masoretic text or with the early Greek manuscripts.
Further, the sectarian texts among the Dead Sea Scrolls, most of which were previously unknown, offer new light on one form of Judaism practiced during the Second Temple period.
All links retrieved November 8, 2017.
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