Qumran & the Dead Sea scrolls: Part two

The Israel Museum, JerusalemThe Great Isaiah Scroll 

By Yoni

The most intact of the scrolls found so far is the Isaiah Scroll which is housed in The Shrine of the Book in the Israel Museum, a copy of which is displayed around the central column in the Shrine. At 7.34 metres it is also the longest scroll found to date.

The Dead Sea Scrolls.

The first of what were to become known as the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in the winter of 1946/1947.
There are a number of legends concerning their discovery, but one of the most well known is this:

A Bedouin shepherd boy was searching for a sheep that had wandered off; passing by a cave he picked up a rock and tossed it into the cave in the hope that if the sheep was in there the rock would drive it out. There was no sign of the sheep but what he did hear was the sound of pottery shattering. Upon investigation, he found inside the cave 10 pottery jars.
Most were empty but one contained 3 parchment scrolls. In total, the Bedouin found a total of 7 scrolls in that cave which is today referred to as Cave 1.

The Bedouin community had no idea what they had found but they did notice that the scrolls were made of leather, as parchment is processed animal hide.
They sold the scrolls to a man named Kando who was a cobbler in Bethlehem. Kando was also a dealer in antiquities and there begins a story that is only lacking the presence of Harrison Ford!


Once it was ascertained what the scrolls actually were, Scroll Fever hit Qumran as people started scouring caves all over the Qumran area.
The Dead Sea Scrolls had become big money to whoever found them.
An example of this is that on 01/06/1954 an advertisement appeared in the Wall Street Journal stating that 4 Dead Sea Scrolls were for sale.
These were eventually bought by Yigael Yadin on behalf of the State of Israel for $250,000. A considerable sum in 1954!

So, what exactly are the Dead Sea Scrolls? 
Mostly they are copies of books from the Tanakh (the Old Testament); in fact copies of every book except the books of Nehemiah and Esther.
About 200 copies in all. There are 30 copies of D’varim (Deuteronomy)
But they also include the Community Rule, the War Rule, Apocalyptic writings, Hymns and Poems, Prayers and Calendars.
Many of the scrolls were found in fragments; something like 95,000 fragments I think I remember reading.

The most intact of the scrolls found so far is the Isaiah Scroll which is housed in The Shrine of the Book in the Israel Museum, a copy of which is displayed around the central column in the Shrine. At 7.34 metres it is also the longest scroll found to date.

Most of the scrolls are made from parchment, but a small number are made from papyrus. Probably the most unique scroll is the Copper Scroll.
As its name suggests it is made of copper, but it’s other uniqueness is that unlike every other scroll it’s content has nothing to do with the Tanakh or the Yachad (Community), but is in fact a list of a fantastical treasure and clues as to where it is buried in various places around Qumran.
I use the term fantastical because today its worth would be in the billions. For obvious reasons many people have tried to figure out its whereabouts but no treasure has ever been found.
Could it be that some person from antiquity with too much time on their hands was also a practical joker?

So why are the scrolls important?

Firstly they give a true and hitherto unknown picture of how life was conducted in that era, but the main reason for their importance lies in the fact that they are the oldest known copies of Biblical texts in existence. As such they are invaluable in checking the Bible texts of today to see if they differ in any way from ancient times.


Until the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls the oldest known copy of the Bible was from the 10th century CE so the fact that many of these scrolls date from a thousand years earlier makes them invaluable to Bible scholars.


Comparing, for instance, the Isaiah scroll against today’s Hebrew Isaiah reveals that nothing in the text has changed. Except of course for the chapter and verse divisions that were not in the original texts.

Some frequently asked questions:

Did the Essenes write the Dead Sea Scrolls?
General consensus today is that yes they did write some, but not all of the scrolls, the balance having been brought from elsewhere for safe keeping, possibly from Jerusalem, before its destruction by the Romans.

Was Yeshua (Jesus) a member of the Qumran Community?
The general consensus is a definite no!
But there is a reason to believe that Yochanan the Immerser (John the Baptist) may have been.

Was the community of mixed gender or exclusively male?

Based on the excavation of a portion of a nearby cemetery by Professor Father Roland deVaux in the 1950’s when female skeletal remains were found, it was thought the community was of mixed gender. Later forensic research of these remains has determined they were interred at a much later date and are probably of Bedouin or Arab origin.

My own personal view is that the community was exclusively male.
I base this on the fact of the community having to take ritual baths during the day. A ritual bath is a Mikvah and its purpose is not wash off physical dirt but to cleanse one spiritually. It is essential for the “Living Water” in the Mikvah to come in contact with every part of your body.
Dirt is removed from under finger and toenails prior to immersion because that may prevent the water from contacting that part of your skin and the person entering the Mikvah does so naked. To this day!

Considering the orthodoxy of the community and the naked state of the men going into the Mikvah it would highly problematic if there was any female presence.

I have just barely scratched the surface of what is a huge topic.
Two books I can recommend for further reading or study if you want to pursue the subject further are…


i. The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English by Geza Vermes.
I would recommend borrowing from a library because most people will just skim through it and to buy the book would be a waste of money.
ii. The Archaeology of Qumran & the Dead Sea Scrolls by Jodi Magness
This is an excellent book with a number of illustrations and plans of the community. Very well written and easy to read.

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