The Dead Sea Scrolls

qumran_cave4_fjenkins_040808_157tOne of the most important discoveries in archaeology was made in a cave located near the Dead Sea in 1947, when a young Bedouin shepherd discovered a stash of seven documents written on animal skin in jars sealed for two thousand years. The boy sold the documents to two antiques dealers in Bethlehem for a fraction of their value and four quickly ended up at the Syrian Orthodox Monastery of St. Mark in Jerusalem, although they soon would be relocated to a Syrian Church in New Jersey for safe-keeping.

Over the next decade 11 stashes were uncovered representing 800 manuscripts, although most were in fragments. They included copies of the Old Testament 1,000 years older than any previously known copies, and much original material never before published.  One scroll was etched in copper and it was the treasure map detailing where other material was buried.

But perhaps the most important documents were the ones relating to the time of Jesus, and they were over 100 years older than any Christian documents previously known to history, so this represented the first opportunity for a glimpse past the censorship that had taken place during the early centuries of Christianity. In 1954, an advertisement in the Wall Street Journal offered four scrolls for sale, and these were secretly purchased by Israel.

When the second Temple in Jerusalem was razed and Jews banished from Judea, many scrolls from the Temple were apparently saved by the Christians of Jerusalem, who were being led at the time by Bishop James, the alleged brother of Jesus. It was the assassination of James that led to the riots that culminated in the destruction of the Temple and banishment of the Jews from Judea.

Less than a dozen scholars were assembled, and given exclusive access to the scrolls. This was a complex jig-saw puzzle involving 15,000 fragments laid out on tables. The opportunity for distortions to creep in were obvious when dealing with such fragmented pieces. In 1991, 44 years after their discovery, very little from the scrolls had reached the public, despite a few of them being found relatively intact, most notably the Temple Scroll from Cave 11, found in 1956, which was 28 feet long, and included Moses’ instruction on building and operating the Temple.

Today, however, many of the scrolls are online and free to read, and they tell a much different story from the New Testament.

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