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Dead Sea Scrolls

  

        

 
  


Collections of manuscript material found at various sites west of the Dead Sea in Palestine in 1947 and the following years. The most important of these sites are the regions near Qumran, Murabba'at and Engedi. From caves in the last two areas documents were recovered relating to the Second Jewish Revolt against the Romans (132-135 AD). But the most interesting of the documents are those of a rather earlier date, found in 11 caves in the Qumran district, a few miles south of Jericho.

   
         

 
Boy Discovering the Dead Sea Scrolls, by John Millar Watt . . .  —  Buy this art print at AllPosters.com
 
 
 
 


In one of these 11 caves an Arab goatherd, Muhammad adh-Dhib, lighted by chance in 1947 on the first lot of 'Dead Sea Scrolls' to be publicized, amounting to seven in all. Most of these were in fairly good condition, having been wrapped in linen and placed in earthenware jars for safe keeping. The vast majority of the manuscripts found in the other Qumran caves, however, whether by Bedouin or by trained archeologists, were in a sadly fragmentary condition. Many of the pieces were no larger than postage stamps. Only by an effort of the imagination, envisaging them in their original state, could these be called 'Scrolls'. The task of piecing them together so as to reconstruct as far as possible the original text lasted for several painstaking years.

   
             

 
Discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, by Frank Marsden Lea . . . Buy this art print at AllPosters.com
 
 
 
 


Most of the documents are written in Hebrew, some in Aramaic (another Semitic language), a few in Greek. The fragments represent over 500 books which apparently belonged to the library of a Jewish religious community. About 100 of these are copies of books of the Hebrew Bible; several Old Testament books are represented several times over, and all of them have been identified except that no trace has been found of the book of Esther. Others are commentaries on Old Testament books, showing how these were understood in the community which owned them. Others again give valuable information about the organization of the community, including one in particular which was found in Cave 1 in 1947, variously called the 'Rule of the Community' or the 'Manual of Discipline'. Yet others are liturgical documents which throw light on the community's order of worship. One thing that emerges clearly from these liturgical texts is that the community regulated its religious life by a different calendar from that which was officially followed in the Jerusalem Temple and which is still the calendar used by orthodox Jews for religious purposes. The Qumran calendar, of which we had previous knowledge from a work entitled the Book of Jubilees (circa 100 BC), ignored the phases of the moon completely and aimed at being entirely solar. It consisted of 364 days, so that any given day of a particular month must have fallen on the same day of the week year by year. This calendar must have become progressively out of step with the real solar year of 365 days, but we have no idea what provision, if any, was made to correct the error. The use of a different calendar was one factor preventing the community from participating in the Temple festivals in Jerusalem, but not the only one.

   
        

Tourists in the Shrine of the Book, Which Houses the Dead Sea Scrolls, by Paul Chesley . . .  —  Buy this art print at AllPosters.com
 
 
 
 


As for the bearing of the Scrolls on the Bible, the interest which attended their first discovery arose from the fact that here were manuscripts of the Old Testament books in Hebrew reliably dated 1000 years earlier than the oldest datable manuscripts of Hebrew Scripture previously known to be extant. The earlier textual history of the Hebrew Bible has thus been enriched by a wealth of new evidence, although the ordinary reader of the English Old Testament can be assured that no significant changes in the essential message of the books are involved.

   
        

Ecce Homo, by Antonio Ciser. . .  —  Buy this art print at AllPosters.com
 
 
 
 


It has become clear, however, that the bearing of the Scrolls on the New Testament and the origins of Christianity is even more important. Estimates of their relevance in this respect have varied greatly, from those who find no connection at all to the minority that would go so far as to recognize Jesus himself in the Teacher of Righteousness. We may forget such extreme positions and welcome in the Scrolls an abundance of new background material against which the New Testament can be read with greater understanding. It is difficult to think of any part of the New Testament which is not illuminated in some way by this discovery.

   
           

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Whereas the New Testament is dominated by the proclamation that in Jesus the Kingdom of God or age of the Messiah has arrived, the Scrolls (even the latest of them) still look forward to its coming, although it is regarded as imminent. Its advent, in the community's expectation, would be marked by the appearance of three figures foretold in Old Testament prophecy — a prophet (a second Moses), an anointed priest (a second Aaron) and an anointed king (a second David, a great military leader). While the early Christians regarded Jesus as the promised Messiah (or 'Anointed One'), the Teacher of Righteousness does not appear to have been a messianic personage either in his own eyes or in those of his followers, but rather a preparer of the way for the messianic age. His role is thus more comparable to that of John the Baptist in the New Testament narrative; and while identity is out of the question, the life and activity of John the Baptist offer one of the most promising areas of common ground between the Scrolls and the New Testament. Another such area may be found in Paul's sojourn in Damascus, a place which figures in one of the most important texts (the 'Zadokite Work') as an outpost of the community.

   
            

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While the Qumran community's ideal of holiness involved insulation from sinners, the ideal of Jesus and his disciples involved association with them. The rapid spread of Christianity through the Mediterranean world between 30-70 AD meant that it could not be suppressed by the extermination of any one center of its life, as the Qumran community came to an end with the destruction of its headquarters.

   
            

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