Dead Sea scrolls

Dead Sea scrolls

The Dead Sea Scrolls consist of roughly 1,000 documents, including texts from the Hebrew Bible, discovered between 1947 and 1979 in eleven 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 AD, and preserve evidence of considerable diversity of belief and practice within late Second Temple Judaism. They are written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek, mostly on parchment, but with some written on papyrus. [ [ From papyrus to cyberspace] "The Guardian August 27 2008.]

Publication of the scrolls has taken many decades, and the delay has been a source of academic controversy. As of 2007 two volumes remain to be completed, with the whole series, "Discoveries in the Judean Desert", running to thirty nine volumes in total. Many of the scrolls are now housed in the Shrine of the Book in Jerusalem. According to "The Oxford Companion to Archeology", "The biblical manuscripts from Qumran, which include at least fragments from every book of the Old Testament, except perhaps for the Book of Esther, provide a far older cross section of scriptural tradition than that available to scholars before. While some of the Qumran biblical manuscripts are nearly identical to the Masoretic, or traditional, Hebrew text of the Old Testament, some manuscripts of the books of Exodus and Samuel found in Cave Four exhibit dramatic differences in both language and content. In their astonishing range of textual variants, the Qumran biblical discoveries have prompted scholars to reconsider the once-accepted theories of the development of the modern biblical text from only three manuscript families: of the Masoretic text, of the Hebrew original of the Septuagint, and of the Samaritan Pentateuch. It is now becoming increasingly clear that the Old Testament scripture was extremely fluid until its canonization around A.D. 100." [ Brian M. Fagan, Charlotte Beck, "The Oxford Companion to Archeology", entry on the "Dead sea scrolls", Oxford University Press, 1996 ]


The scrolls were found in 11 caves, ranging in distance of 125m (Cave 4) to about 1000m (Cave 1) from the settlement at Qumran, located 1km off the northwest shore of 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 Muhammed edh-Dhib 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 discovered several ancient jars containing scrolls wrapped in linen. Another theory was that two young boys were looking for a lost goat and came upon some of them.

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 Pesher (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 Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR). Dr. Trever 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, the 1948 Arab-Israeli War prompted the removal of the scrolls from the country for safekeeping. The scrolls were removed to Beirut.

In early September 1948, Mar Samuel brought Professor Ovid R. Sellers, the new Director of ASOR, some additional scroll fragments that he had acquired. By the end of 1948, nearly two years after the discovery of the scrolls, scholars had yet to locate the cave where the fragments had been found. With the unrest in the country, no large scale search could be undertaken. Sellers attempted to get the Syrians to help locate the cave, but they demanded more money than Sellers could offer. Cave 1 was finally discovered on January 28, 1949 by a United Nations observer.

After some time, the Dead Sea Scrolls went up for sale in a June 1, 1954 advertisement in the Wall Street Journal.



Biblical manuscripts dating back to at least 200 B.C.
are for sale. This would be and ideal gift to an educational
or religious institution by an individual or group.

On July 1, after some delicate negotiations, the scrolls, accompanied by the Metropolitan and two others, came to the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York. They were purchased for US$250,000. Only some of this Mar Samuel actually got: due to a mix up in paperwork, the US government received most of the money, due to taxes.

Cave 2

Bedouins discovered 300 fragments of other scrolls in Cave 2, including Jubilees & Ben Sirach in the original Hebrew.

Cave 3

One of the most curious scrolls is the Copper Scroll. Discovered in Cave 3, this scroll records a list of 67 underground hiding places throughout the land of Palestine (Now 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 at Jerusalem that were hidden away for safekeeping. The Copper Scroll is currently being translated and the first two sections reveal the location of gold ingots and silver in the form of Shekels (a coin used in Israel in ancient times). According to Biblical Currency is equal to .364 oz. (troy). In a value of silver, it is equal to $7.28. As for gold, it is equal to $364.

Cave 4

90% of all the scrolls were found here and 80% were published. Cave 4 had 15,000 fragments from 500 different texts.

Caves 5 and 6

Caves 5 and 6 were discovered shortly after cave 4. Caves 5 and 6 yielded a modest find.

Caves 7–10

Archaeologists excavated caves 7 through 10 in 1955, but did not find many fragments. Cave 7 contained seventeen Greek documents (including 7Q5, which would be the subject of controversy in the succeeding decades). Cave 8 only had five fragments and cave 9 held 18. Cave 10 contained nothing but a single ostracon.

Cave 11

The Temple Scroll, so called because more than half of it pertains to the construction of the Temple of Jerusalem, was found in Cave 11, and is the longest scroll. It is now 26.7 feet (8.15 m) long, the total length of the original scroll may have been over 28 feet (8.75 m). The Temple Scroll document was regarded by Yigael Yadin as the Torah according to the Essenes. Hartmann Steggemann, a contemporary and friend of Yadin, believed the scroll was not to be considered as the Torah of the Essenes and was a document without any special significance. Steggemann notes the scroll is not once mentioned or referred to in other Essene writings found.

In cave 11 was also found an escatological fragment about Melchisedek (11Q13).


Some of the documents were published in a prompt manner: all of the writings found in Cave 1 appeared in print between 1950 and 1956; the finds from 8 other 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 was the documents from Cave 4, which represent 40% of the total finds. The publication of these 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 material entrusted to them in 1968, but spent much of their energies defending their theories regarding the materials, instead of publishing them. Geza Vermes, who had been involved from the start in the editing and publication of these documents, 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 even to allow the publication of photographs of these materials, preventing other scholars from making their own judgments. This rule was eventually broken: first by Ben Zion Wacholder's 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, in the 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", two volumes, Washington, D.C., 1991). As a result, the "secrecy rule" was lifted.

Publication accelerated with the appointment of the respected Dutch-Israeli textual scholar Emanuel Tov as editor-in-chief in 1990. Publication of the Cave 4 documents soon commenced, with five volumes in print by 1995. As of 2007 two volumes remain to be completed, with the whole series, "Discoveries in the Judean Desert", running to thirty nine volumes in total.

In December 2007, the Dead Sea Scrolls Foundation commissioned London publisher Facsimile Editions to publish exact facsimiles of three scrolls [cite web |url= |title=The Dead Sea Scrolls...made in St John’s Wood |accessdate=2008-08-14 |last=Rocker |first=Simon |date=2007-11-16 |work=The Jewish Chronicle - This article has been archived and you will need to enter "dead sea scrolls" in the search box |publisher= |doi= |archiveurl= |archivedate= |quote= ] : 1QIsa the Great Isaiah Scroll, 1QS the Order of the Community and 1QpHab the "Pesher" to Habakkuk. Of the first three facsimile sets, one was exhibited at the "Early Christianity and the Dead Sea Scrolls" exhibition in Seoul, South Korea, and a second set was purchased by the British Library in London.


The significance of the scrolls relates in a large part to the field of textual criticism. Before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the oldest Hebrew manuscripts of the Bible were Masoretic texts dating to 9th century. The biblical manuscripts found among the Dead Sea Scrolls push that date back to the 2nd century BC. Before this discovery, the earliest extant manuscripts of the Old Testament were in Greek in manuscripts such as Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus. Although a few 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.

Frequency of books found

Books Ranked According to Number of Manuscripts found (top 16) [cite book|author=Theodor H. Gaster|title=The Dead Sea Scriptures|publisher=Peter Smith Pub Inc |year=1976|id=ISBN 0-8446-6702-1]

Conspiracy and other theories

Because they are frequently described as important to the history of the Bible, the scrolls are surrounded by a wide range of conspiracy theories. There is also writing about the Nephilim related to the Book of Enoch. Theories with more support among scholars include Qumran as a military fortress or a winter resort; see above (Abegg et al 2002).

Digital copies

High resolution images of all discovered material are not available online. However, they can be purchased in inexpensive multi-volumes - on disc media or in book form - or viewed in certain university libraries.

According to Computer Weekly (16th Nov 2007), a team from King's College London is to advise the Israeli Antiquities Authority, who are planning to digitize the scrolls. On 27th Aug 2008 an Israeli internet news agency YNET announced that the project is under way [cite web |url=,7340,L-3588523,00.html |title=(Hebrew) The Dead Sea Scrolls Being Exposed |accessdate=2008-08-27 |date=2008-08-27 |publisher=YNET |doi= |archiveurl= |archivedate= |quote= ] . The scrolls are planned to be made available to the public via Internet. The project is to include infra-red scanning of the scrolls which is said to expose additional details, not visible in the regular light.

The text of nearly all of the non-biblical scrolls has been recorded and tagged for morphology by Dr. Martin Abegg, Jr., the Ben Zion Wacholder Professor of Dead Sea Scroll Studies at Trinity Western University in Langley, BC, Canada. It is available on handheld devices through Olive Tree Bible Software - BibleReader, on Macs through Accordance, and on Windows through Logos Bible Software and BibleWorks.

ee also

*Biblical archaeology
*Damascus Document
*Józef Milik
*Tanakh at Qumran
*Teacher of Righteousness
*The Book of Mysteries
*The Rule of the Blessing
*The Rule of the Congregation
*War of the Sons of Light Against the Sons of Darkness (War Scroll)
*War Rule




*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. ISBN 0-8006-2807-1
*Norman Golb, "Who Wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls? The Search for the Secret of Qumran", New York: Scribner, 1995
* Yizhar Hirschfeld, Qumran in Context: Reassessing the Archaeological Evidence, Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 2004.
* Yizhak Magen and Yuwal Peleg, "Back to Qumran: Ten years of Excavations and Research, 1993-2004," in The Site of the Dead Sea Scrolls: Archaeological Interpretations and Debates (Studies on the Texts of the Desert of Judah 57), Brill, 2006 (pp. 55-116).
* Elisha Qimron, "The Hebrew of the Dead Sea Scrolls", Harvard Semitic Studies, 1986. (This is a "serious" discussion of the Hebrew language of the scrolls.)
*Barbara Thiering, "Jesus and the Riddle of the Dead Sea Scrolls" (ISBN 0-06-067782-1), New York: Harper Collins, 1992
*Geza Vermes, "The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English", London: Penguin, 1998. ISBN 0-14-024501-4 (good translation, but complete only in the sense that he includes translations of complete texts, but neglects fragmentary scrolls and more especially does not include biblical texts.)
* C. Khabbaz, "Les manuscrits de la mer Morte et le secret de leurs auteurs",Beirut, 2006. (Ce livre identifie les auteurs des fameux manuscrits de la mer Morte et dévoile leur secret).
*John Marco Allegro, "The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Christian Myth" (ISBN 0-7153-7680-2), Westbridge Books, U.K., 1979.

Other sources

*Raphael Israeli, Piracy in Qumran: The Battle over the Scrolls of the Pre-Christ Era, Transaction Publishers: 2008 [ ISBN: 978-1-4128-0703-6]
*Martin Abegg, Jr, Peter Flint, and Eugene Ulrich, "The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible: The Oldest Known Bible Translated for the First Time into English", (1999) HarperSanFrancisco paperback 2002, ISBN 0-06-060064-0, (contains the biblical portion of the scrolls)
*"Dead Sea Scrolls Study" Vol 1: 1Q1-4Q273, Vol. 2: 4Q274-11Q31, (compact disc), Logos Research Systems, Inc., ASIN|B0002DQY7S (contains the non-biblical portion of the scrolls with Hebrew and Aramaic transcriptions in parallel with English translations)
* A. Powell Davies, "The Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls." (Signet, 1956.)
*D. Dimant and U. Rappaport (eds.), "The Dead Sea Scrolls: Forty Years of Research", Leiden and Jerusalem: E. J. Brill, Magnes Press, Yad Izhak Ben-Zvi, 1992.
* Rachel Elior, "The Three Temples: On the Emergence of Jewish Mysticism in Late Antiquity", Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 2004 (paperback edition 2005).
*Craig A. Evans and James A. Sanders, ed. "Paul and the scriptures of Israel, (1993) Sheffield: JSOT Press
*Joseph A. Fitzmyer, "Responses to 101 Questions on the Dead Sea Scrolls", Paulist Press 1992, ISBN 0-8091-3348-2
*Theodore Heline, "Dead Sea Scrolls", New Age Bible & Philosophy Center, 1957, Reprint edition March 1987, ISBN 0-933963-16-5
*Yitzhak Magen & Yuval Peleg, "The Qumran Excavations 1993-2004: Preliminary Report," JSP 6 (Jerusalem: Israel Antiquities Authority, 2007) [ Download]
*Johann Maier, "The Temple Scroll," [German edition was 1978] , (Sheffield:JSOT Press [Supplement 34] , 1985).
*Florentino Garcia Martinez, "The Dead Sea Scrolls Translated: The Qumran Texts in English," (Translated from Spanish into English by Wilfred G. E. Watson) (Leiden: E.J.Brill, 1994).
*James A. Sanders, ed. "Dead Sea scrolls: The Psalms scroll of Qumrân Cave 11 (11QPsa)", (1965) Oxford, Clarendon Press.
*Lawrence H. Schiffman, "Reclaiming the Dead Sea Scrolls: their True Meaning for Judaism and Christianity", Anchor Bible Reference Library (Doubleday) 1995, ISBN 0-385-48121-7, (Schiffman has suggested two plausible theories of origin and identity - a Sadducean splinter group, or perhaps an Essene group with Sadducean roots.) Excerpts of this book can be read at [ COJS: Dead Sea Scrolls] .
*Hershel Shanks, "The Mystery and Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls", Vintage Press 1999, ISBN 0-679-78089-0 (recommended introduction to their discovery and history of their scholarship)
*Hershel Shanks, editor, "Understanding the Dead Sea Scrolls: A Reader From the [ Biblical Archaeology Review] ", Vintage Press reprint 1993, ISBN 0-679-74445-2
*Carsten Peter Thiede, "The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Jewish Origins of Christianity", PALGRAVE 2000, ISBN 0-312-29361-5
*Michael Wise, Martin Abegg, Jr, and Edward Cook, "The Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Translation", (1996), HarperSanFrancisco paperback 1999, ISBN 0-06-069201-4, (contains the non-biblical portion of the scrolls)
*Samuel Ifor Enoch 'The Jesus of Faith and the Dead Sea Scrolls' 1968 Presbyterian Church of Wales

External links

* [ UCLA Qumran Visualization Project]
* [ Dead Sea Scrolls Institute]
* [ The Dead Sea Scrolls Collection] (Part of the Gnosis Archive)
* [ 25 Fascinating Facts About the Dead Sea Scrolls]
* [ Orion Center for the Study of the Dead Sea Scrolls] .
* [ Basic Facts Regarding the Dead Sea Scrolls]
* [ Timetable of the Discovery and Debate about the Dead Sea Scrolls]
* [ Dead Sea Scrolls & Qumran]
* [ The Dead Sea Scrolls] ("FARMS")
*Some of the scrolls can be seen inside the [ Shrine of the Book] at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem
* [ Scrolls From the Dead Sea: The Ancient Library of Qumran and Modern Scholarship] at Library of Congress
* [ Library of Congress On-line Exhibit]
* [ The Dead Sea Scrolls Project at the Oriental Institute] features several articles by Norman Golb, some of which take issue with statements made in popular museum exhibits of the Dead Sea Scrolls
* [ Guide with Hyperlinked Background Material to the Exhibit Ancient Treasures and the Dead Sea Scrolls Canadian Museum of Civilization]
* [ The Importance of the Discoveries in the Judean Desert] Israel Antiquities Authority
* [ Dating of the Dead Sea Scrolls by the University of Arizona]
* [ F.F Bruce, "Second Thoughts on the Dead Sea Scrolls" (1956)] On-line book (PDF).
* [ The Dead Sea Scrolls and Why They Matter] The Dead Sea Scrolls examined by "Biblical Archaeology Review"

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • DEAD SEA SCROLLS — DEAD SEA SCROLLS, the popular designation given to collections of manuscript material found in 1947 and the following years in various caves west of the Dead Sea, notably at qumran , Murabbaʿāt , Khirbat Mird, together with en gedi and masada .… …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

  • Dead Sea Scrolls — Dead′ Sea′ Scrolls n. pl. ara a number of leather, papyrus, and copper scrolls dating from c100 b.c. to a.d. 135, containing partial texts of Old Testament books and some non Biblical scrolls, in Hebrew and Aramaic, and including apocryphal… …   From formal English to slang

  • Dead Sea Scrolls — Dead Sea Scrolls, the a collection of ancient Jewish ↑scrolls (=rolls of paper containing writing) from around the time of Christ. They contain the oldest copies of parts of the Old Testament of the Bible, and were found near the Dead Sea between …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • Dead Sea Scrolls — n. a number of scrolls dating from about 100 B.C. to about A.D. 70 discovered at various times since 1947 in caves near the Dead Sea: they contain Jewish Scriptural writings and religious writings of an Essene community …   English World dictionary

  • Dead Sea Scrolls — Coordinates: 31°44′27″N 35°27′31″E / 31.74083°N 35.45861°E / 31.74083; 35.45861 …   Wikipedia

  • Dead Sea Scrolls — a number of leather, papyrus, and copper scrolls dating from c100 B.C. to A.D. 135, containing partial texts of some of the books of the Old Testament and some non Biblical scrolls, in Hebrew and Aramaic, and including apocryphal writings,… …   Universalium

  • Dead Sea scrolls — noun (Old Testament) a collection of written scrolls (containing nearly all of the Old Testament) found in a cave near the Dead Sea in the late 1940s the Dead Sea Scrolls provide information about Judaism and the Bible around the time of Jesus •… …   Useful english dictionary

  • Dead Sea scrolls — Documents first discovered accidentally in 1947 on the west side of the Dead Sea, in what was the country of Jordan and which has been the Israeli occupied West Bank, where a Jewish monastic community was established near Qumran in the 1st cents …   Dictionary of the Bible

  • DEAD SEA SCROLLS —    a collection of early manuscripts of the HEBREW BIBLE discovered in a cave in 1948 near the Dead Sea. In addition to Biblical texts, the scrolls contain other documents relating to the RITUALS and discipline of an unnamed religious SECT often… …   Concise dictionary of Religion

  • Dead Sea Scrolls — ancient Hebrew manuscripts discovered near the Dead Sea …   English contemporary dictionary

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