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

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 nd 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 as 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, pocalyptic 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 of Sirach and the Songs of Sabbath Sacrifice were found. The scrolls found in the Qumran are 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 Hewbrew Bible, Apocryphal or Pseudepigraphical- works not in some Bibles but included in others, and Sectarian- ordinances, biblical commentaries, apocalyptic visions, and sacred works. One of the longer texts found in the Qumran is the Tehillim or Psalms Scroll. It was found in 1956 in cave 11 and unrolled in 1961. It is an assortment of Psalms, hymns and a passage about the psalms authored by King David.

The Manual Of Discipline or Community Rule contains rules, warnings and punishments to violators of the rules of the desert sect alled 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 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. 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.

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 and 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 Essene’s main settlements were on the shores of the Dead Sea. According to a few 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.

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 hat the site was no monastery but rather a Roman fortress or a winter residence. The Temple Scrolls were a section of the Qumran scrolls that revealed a list of rules of conduct resembling standard Christian ethics. These were believed to be written by the Essenes. 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.

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 nd 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. 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 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 ive by. Scholars have emphasized similarities between the beliefs and practices shown in the Qumran material and those of early Christians. These similarities include rituals of baptism, communal meals, and property.

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. The scrolls today are mostly entrusted to the Rockefeller Museum in East Jerusalem. The remaining scrolls are in the Israel Museum’s Shrine of the Books. These and the Rockefeller books were published, but those that are under private ownership are kept private. In 1967, the Arab-Israeli War placed the scrolls under the Israeli Antiques Authority.

They control a good portion of the scrolls now. Huntington Library, San Marino, California pursued the idea of having the IAA’s scrolls published. In good time, the deed was accomplished. 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.

Being in a crucial area of religion and greatly expanding and teaching the origins of Judaism along with Christianity, the scrolls were a goldmine find for the religious historians and rabbis. The Qumran Scrolls provided great insight into the world of Judaism and the people of the area. From the scrolls society was able to expand its knowledge of the people, religion, and events of the time. The Dead Sea Scrolls give us a better view of a crucial period in the history of Judaism, and the most influential religions of today would not be the same.

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