The Discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls
In the spring of 1947 Bedouin goat-herds, searching the cliffs along the Dead Sea for a lost goat (or for treasure, depending on who is telling the story), came upon a cave containing jars filled with manuscripts. That find caused a sensation when it was released to the world, and continues to fascinate the scholarly community and the public to this day.
The Qumran site and the Dead Sea.
The first discoveries came to the attention of scholars in 1948, when seven of the scrolls were sold by the Bedouin to a cobbler and antiquities dealer called Kando. He in turn sold three of the scrolls to Eleazar L. Sukenik of Hebrew University, and four to Metropolitan Mar Athanasius Yeshue Samuel of the Syrian Orthodox monastery of St. Mark. Mar Athanasius in turn brought his four to the American School of Oriental Research, where they came to the attention of American and European scholars.
It was not until 1949 that the site of the find was identified as the cave now known as Qumran Cave 1. It was that identification that led to further explorations and excavations of the area of Khirbet Qumran. Further search of Cave 1 revealed archaeological finds of pottery, cloth and wood, as well as a number of additional manuscript fragments. It was these discoveries that proved decisively that the scrolls were indeed ancient and authentic.
Between 1949 and 1956, in what became a race between the Bedouin and the archaeologists, ten additional caves were found in the hills around Qumran, caves that yielded several more scrolls, as well as thousands of fragments of scrolls: the remnants of approximately 800 manuscripts dating from approximately 200 B.C.E. to 68 C.E.
The manuscripts of the Qumran caves include early copies of biblical books in Hebrew and Aramaic, hymns, prayers, Jewish writings known as pseudepigrapha (because they are attributed to ancient biblical characters such as Enoch or the patriarchs), and texts that seem to represent the beliefs of a particular Jewish group that may have lived at the site of Qumran. Most scholars believe that the Qumran community was very similar to the Essenes, one of four Jewish "philosophies" described by Josephus, a first century C.E. Jewish historian. Some have pointed to similarities with other Jewish groups mentioned by Josephus: the Sadducees, Pharisees, and Zealots.
We do not know precisely who wrote those sectarian scrolls, but we can say that the authors seemed to be connected to the priesthood, were led by priests, disapproved of the Jerusalem priesthood, encouraged a strict and pious way of life, and expected an imminent confrontation between the forces of good and evil.
The Qumran library has proven to be enormously informative. From these texts we have increased our understanding of the transmission of the Bible, we have learned more about the development of early Judaism, and we have gained insight into the culture out of which emerged both Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity.
Photographs by Bruce and Kenneth Zuckerman, West Semitic Research.
Commentary by Marilyn J. Lundberg.
Allegedly discovered by a Bedouin shepherd chasing a stray, the initial Dead Sea Scrolls found here changed the study of the Old Testament.
The seven scrolls were the Manual of Discipline, War of Sons of Light, Thanksgiving Scroll, Isaiah A and B, Genesis Apocryphon and Habakkuk Commentary.
The Copper Scroll was found in this cave in 1952. This was the only scroll photographed in site.
The Copper Scroll is on display in the Amman Museum and lists 63 treasures hidden in the Judean wilderness and Jerusalem area.
This most famous of the Dead Sea Scroll caves is also the most significant in terms of finds. More than 15,000 fragments from over 200 books were found in this cave, nearly all by Bedouin thieves. 122 biblical scrolls (or fragments) were found in this cave. From all 11 Qumran caves, every Old Testament book is represented except Esther. No New Testament books or fragments have been found.
Cave 4 Interior
The scrolls found in this cave were poorly preserved because they were not stored in jars. The practice of paying "per piece" led to the creation of multiple fragments from single pieces by the Bedouin thieves.
This cave was among those looted by the Bedouin in the free afternoons of the days they were in the employ of the Qumran archaeologists.
Cave 5 (foreground)
This eroded cave was discovered by the archaeologists (Bedouin found caves 1, 2, 4, 6, 11). It is one of those in the marl terrace close to the site of Qumran (also caves 4, 7, 8, 9, 10). Archaeologists estimate that there were originally 30-40 caves in the marl terrace.
This cave was not used for inhabitation, but only for the deposit of scrolls.
This is the most accessible of the Dead Sea Scrolls to visitors today (follow the aqueduct from Qumran to the hills and it's on the left).
Cave 7 (right), 8 (left)
Everything found in Cave 7 was in Greek. The cave collapsed shortly after the scrolls were hidden.
In Cave 8 were discovered 8QMezuzah, Genesis, and a hundred squares of small leather with strips. The guy who lived here had the job of making these strips.
Cave 10 (right)
Only one ostracon was found in Cave 10. Complete scrolls were found only in caves 1 and 11.
In all 11 caves, some biblical books were found in large numbers:
34 copies of Psalms
27 copies of Deuteronomy
24 copies of Isaiah
20 copies of Genesis
The last Dead Sea Scrolls found to date were found in this cave. Thirty scrolls were found including Leviticus and the Temple Scroll.
The Temple Scroll was held by the antiquities dealer Kando until 1967 when being put in jail by Yadin, he agreed to sell it "of his own free will" for $110,000.
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