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The Dead Sea Scrolls

What Are They and Where Did They Come From?
The Dead Sea Scrolls are ancient manuscripts known by some as "the greatest manuscript discovery of modern times." They include books of the Torah (which forms the Christian Old Testament) and non-Biblical texts dating from 100 BC to AD 68. The scrolls are records of events created and recorded by scribes of the day. They are a thousand years older than the oldest Hebrew {Masoretic} text of the Torah. The English version of the Old Testament is based on this version of the Torah.
The scrolls are believed to have been written during one of the most important periods of the Jewish people, on the eve of Christianity. They provide an enormously valuable resource for the study of Biblical texts and the people who wrote them, as well as, of the Jewish history during the 4th century BC. The scrolls shed new light on the foundations of Christianity and the influence of Judaism on the Christian faith.
The first scrolls were found in 1947 in a cave on the northwest shore of the Dead Sea, in Jordan. They were found by a Bedouins shepherd who account of the discover has changed over the years. What is known about the original 7 scrolls found, is that the Bedouins tribe sold them to 2 antiquities dealers in Bethlehem. Three of the scrolls were acquired for the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, the other four were sold to the Syrian Orthodox Christian church, at the Monastery of St. Mark in the Arab quarter of Jerusalem.
The metropolitan (the head of the Syrian Orthodox Church) took his scrolls to the American School of Oriental Research in Jerusalem for examination. Satisfied that they were genuine, the American School photographed them and announced the discovery to the world in April 1948. These scrolls then made their way to the U.S. and finally were bought for the Israeli government for $250k. Eventually, in 1954 the remainder of the scrolls also came into the possession of the government of Israel.
During this wheeling and dealing, the Bedouins continued looking in the caves for additional scrolls. They did find thousands of fragments which they continued to sell to dealers. In 1949 the Department of Antiquities for Jordan, and the French Dominican School of Archaeology in Jerusalem, took over the search. They found hundreds of manuscripts, including almost all the books of the Old Testament.
The seven scrolls found in the first cave were the most important. There were two scrolls of the Book of Isaiah, one complete, the other incomplete. However, there is enough information to at least piece together some tidbits of well needed information.
The Scrolls
The Manual of Discipline
Also called the Rule of the Community, gives detailed information on all matters concerning a Jewish sect that lived an ascetic communal life on the shores of the Dead Sea. This sect is believed by most scholars to have been the Essenes. (you might check out the FMMC website to learn more about this very important community). There were however, 2 other sects in Judaism at the time, the Sadducee and the Pharisees. However, each sect did refer to itself as the Sons of Light.
The War of the Sons of Light Against the Sons of Darkness
This script discusses the coming victory over the Sons of Darkness. The Commentary on the Book of Habakkuk tells of the defiling of the sanctuary of God and the persecution of the Teacher of Righteousness, who was driven into exile by the Wicked Priest. Enemies called the Kittim are described as plundering and slaying.
The Thanksgiving Hymns
This is a collection of songs similar to Psalms.
The Book of Lamech
Also called the Scroll of the Apocryphal Genesis. Written in Aramaic this scroll seems to be the Book of Genesis. It describes the journeys of Abraham, the beauty of Sarah, his wife, and a recount of Noah's birth. This scroll was so deteriorated, it was 7 years before it could be unrolled.
The Copper Scroll
In 1952 a copper scroll was found in 1952, but was broken and too brittle to unroll. The Manchester College of Technology in England created a way of cutting the scroll into paper-thin strips which the letters could be read. The scroll contains a long list of hiding places of treasures of enormous value. Some 200 tons of silver and gold are itemized. They were hidden in wells, in tombs, and near certain trees and springs. Some scholars believe the list to be imaginary or symbolic. Some think it may be a catalog of the treasures of King Solomon's Temple, others that it's a list of actual treasures from the Essenes.
The Temple Scroll
In 1977, a translation of this the 8th and largest of the scrolls was published. The scroll itself is 27-feet and dates between the 2nd century BC and 70 AD. The document establishes clear links between early Christian doctrines and the religious teachings of the Essenes.
Their History
Near the caves is a ruined area known as the Arabs as Khirbat Qumran. Archaeologists have been excavating the ruins since 1951. They believe this area to be the community center of the Essenes and that it was the civilians of this community who documented their history in the scrolls. But there are some who believe the ruins are a military fortress and the scrolls are a treasury of Jewish writings sent out of Jerusalem for safekeeping--to be hidden in the caves away from the 1st-century Roman invaders.
From the artifacts found at the dig, the site is dated during the reign of Alexander Jannaeus (103-76 BC). It was destroyed by an earthquake in 31 BC and probably restored during the time of Herod's son Herod Archelaus (ruled 4 BC-AD 6) by the same community that occupied it before.
In the war that followed the Jewish revolt against the Romans, the people who lived in the community center at Khirbat Qumran were driven away or exterminated in 68 AD. Before the Romans arrived, however, the Essenes hid their library in jars in the surrounding caves. Where they remained during earthquake, destruction and finally time.
Their Controversy
Now you know that everything that has to do with religion always has to have a controversy. Did you think something as important as these scrolls would be different?
The biggest controversy is not really about the Scrolls and what they are or what they represent as an impact to our current belief systems. There at least seems to be a consensus about their importance and general origin.
The problem comes with modern man..of course..and the scholars translations of the individual scrolls. Some archeologists have laid blame to the many "religious" scholars who are attempting to decipher the texts. Charging that their "biased" perceptions are influencing their particular translations. Where a Christian scholar would read a phrase a certain way to support the coming and purpose of Jesus as the Savior, a Jewish scholar would interpret the same phrase as supporting just the opposite view.
However, the so called "unbiased" perceptions aren't necessarily any more accurate. Regional differences, even though some are very slight, exist between translations between a few European translators and some Israeli scholars.
All these "different" translations began when the Israeli government held the scrolls under lock and key..only allowing a select few review their writings. It wasn't until the mid 1980's that the unofficial publication of the scrolls became available to all who wanted to see them. A college professor from Chicago was invited to view the scrolls. During his examination he was able to make photostat copies of each page and fragment. When he returned to the US, he published those pictures and copies.
Of course the Israeli's were in an up-roar, but by then it was too late. Eventually more professional copies of the scrolls were distributed to the "scholarly" crowd and the interpretations abound..even today.

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