Unarguably, the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran is Israel’s most important and significant find! The revelation of about 900 ancient texts (depending on how you cont them) from just 11 caves along the western coastline of the Dead Sea changed the face of biblical scholarship. Preserved in jars in the dry and arid conditions of the Judean Desert, these texts of Scripture and sectarian texts of the Essenes community represent priceless artifacts from 2,000 years ago. And now just recently revealed, a handful of texts never seen or studied before continues the excitement that these texts brought nearly 70 years ago when the Dead Sea Scrolls were first found in 1947.
The story of how the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered is a remarkable one. According to the story, it all started with a Beduion young shepherd named Juma. As told by Dr. Will Varner (in a republished Associates for Biblical Research article in 1997) “Juma was getting a little nervous when he noticed some of his goats were climbing too high up the cliffs. He decided to climb the face of the cliff himself to bring them back. He threw a rock into one of the openings (now referred to as Cave 1). The unexpected cracking sound surprised him; what else could be in those remote caves but treasure? He called to his cousins, Khalil and Muhammed, who climbed up and heard the exciting tale. But it was getting late, and the goats had to be gathered.”
They returned to the cave the following day, only to find the cave floor covered with debris, including broken pottery. Along the wall stood a number of narrow jars, some with their bowl-shaped covers still in place. What they found were a few bundles wrapped in cloth and greenish with age. The scrolls those Bedouin boys removed from that dark cave that day and the days following would come to be recognized as the greatest manuscript treasure ever found—the first seven manuscripts of the Dead Sea Scrolls! According to the story, after oddly hanging from a pole in a Bedouin tent for a period of time, the seven original scrolls were sold to two separate Arab antiquities dealers in Bethlehem. Unbelievably, portions of these scrolls would a few years later be sold in the U.S. as a result of a Wall Street Journal advertisement.
The seven original scrolls from Cave 1 comprised the following:
- A well-preserved copy of the entire prophecy of Isaiah—the oldest copy of an Old Testament book ever to be discovered
- Another fragmentary scroll of Isaiah
- A commentary on the first two chapters of Habakkuk—the commentator explained the book allegorically interms of the Qumran brotherhood
- The “Manual of Discipline” or “Community Rule”—the most important source of information about the religious sect at Qumran—it described the requirements for those aspiring to join the brotherhood
- The “Thanksgiving Hymns,” a collection of devotional “psalms” of thanksgiving and praise to God
- An Aramaic paraphrase of the Book of Genesis the “Rule of War” which dealt with the battle between the “Sons of Light” (the men of Qumran)
- The “Sons of Darkness” (the Romans?) yet to take place in the “last days,” which days the men of Qumran believed were about to arrive.
What makes the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls so very important is summarized by Dr. Bryant Wood, “Probably the Dead Sea Scrolls have had the greatest Biblical impact. They have provided Old Testament manuscripts approximately 1,000 years older than our previous oldest manuscript. The Dead Sea Scrolls have demonstrated that the Old Testament was accurately transmitted during this interval. In addition, they provide a wealth of information on the times leading up to, and during, the life of Christ.” (Dr. Bryant Wood, archaeologist, Associates for Biblical Research).
But just recently, archaeologists have announced the publication of more than 25 Dead Sea Scroll fragments, each holding various excerpts from the Hebrew Bible dating back almost 2,000 years. But most interestingly, the fragments include written information about some of God’s promises of rewards for those who obey the 10 Commandments, as found in the Book of Leviticus.
Live Science reports that the fragments, found in the Qumran caves in the West Bank, come from the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Samuel, Ruth, Kings, Micah, Nehemiah, Jeremiah, Joel, Joshua, Judges, Proverbs, Numbers, Psalms, Ezekiel and Jonah. For the article on these newly-revealed text fragments, go HERE.
In addition to this new revelation of texts, just two years ago, another discovery was made public. Nine (9) teffilin (phylacteries) texts were found. Teffilin are used in Jewish prayers and consists of two small boxes which contain a portion of text from the Hebrew Bible. Teffilin are used in times of prayer. They are actually mentioned in Matthew 23 (mt. 23:5). For the article on these recently-revealed tefillin texts, go HERE.