Chapter 9: The Dead Sea Scrolls
by Juan Ruiz Minchero
© 2003 by Juan Ruiz Minchero
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"In 1947, a Bedouin shepherd named Mohamed ed-Dhib, also known as The Wolf, of the Taamireh tribe, found in a cave on the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea what came to be called the Dead Sea Scrolls," said the Teacher, who went on to explain:
The ancient manuscripts known as the Dead Sea Scrolls have been called by scholars "the greatest manuscript discovery of modern times. They include books of the Torah (the Pentateuch, or the first five books of the Hebrew Bible) and non-biblical texts dating from 100 B.C. to A.D. 68."
Actually, they are not original manuscripts, but copies thereof made by scribes. They are a thousand years older than the oldest known Masoretic (traditional Hebrew) text of the Torah, which is the basis of the English translation of the Old Testament.
The account of the details of the discovery of the first scrolls varied in later years. One version was that a runaway goat jumped into the cave on the rocky hillside. The shepherd threw in a stone and heard the sound of breaking pottery. He called another boy, and the two crawled into the cave. They saw several large pottery jars, most of them broken. Protruding from the necks of the jars were scrolls of leather wrapped in linen cloth. Although they were badly decomposed, it was possible to see that they were inscribed in a strange writing. There were seven scrolls. What could they do with their find? the shepherds wondered. Some months later the Bedouins went to Bethlehem, their traditional shopping center, to see a Christian shoemaker called Jalil Iskandar Schalim, popularly known as Kandu. They hoped that this shoemaker could make them some cheap pairs of sandals or something else out of those old leather scrolls. Kandu kept the scrolls, paying a few coins to the Bedoiuins. Then, probably in late July 1947, Kandu took the scrolls to his spiritual head, the Syrian Metropolitan Mar Athanasious Samuel, of the Syrian Orthodox Christian church, at the Monastery of St. Mark, in the Arab quarter of Jerusalem. Other 3 scrolls had also similarly reached the hands of an archaeologist of the Jerusualem's Hebrew University. Professor Eliezer Lipa Sukenic, father of Yigael Yadin, an agent of the Israeli secret service. In the 1948 independence war, Yigael Yadin was Chief of Staff of the Israeli Army, then he was archaeology professor and interim minister and vice prime minister of the State of Israel. He died on June 1948 at 67. Upon the State of Israel winning its independence, these 3 scrolls bought by his father were already at the Hebrew University. Ever since they constitute the core of the Israeli holdings of the Qumran findings.
The Metropolitan 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.
The Metropolitan then took his scrolls to the United States. In 1954 Professor Yigael Yadin, son of Sukenik, was lecturing in the United States on the three scrolls acquired by his father for the Hebrew University. By chance he learned that the Metropolitan was advertising the other four scrolls for sale in a New York newspaper. He purchased them for 250,000 dollars for the government of Israel.
Meanwhile Bedouins were searching every cave near the first one and finding thousands of fragments, which they sold to dealers. In 1949 G. Lankester Harding, British-born director of the Department of Antiquities for Jordan, and Father Roland de Vaux, head of the French Dominican School of Archaeology in Jerusalem, took charge of exploring the caves. Hundreds of manuscripts were found, including almost all the books of the Torah. In February 1952 some Bedouins found another cave near the first one, with remains of some scrolls. This new finding triggered a systematic search of 270 caves along the range's hillside, but they found only one more cave less than a mile north of the first one. At the entrance of this third cave, there were two scrolls of copper plate hidden under stone, so badly covered wtih Paris green that it was impossible to unroll them. When at last they cold be unrolled, in 1956, it was found that they formed a set. The text is an index of 64 places where giant treasures had been hidden.
The seven scrolls found in the first cave were the most important. They consisted of two scrolls of the Book of Isaiah, one complete, the other incomplete, and five scrolls of nonbiblical texts.
The Dead Sea Scrolls were written during one of the most decisive periods in the history of the Jewish people, on the eve of the birth of Christianity. The tens of thousands of scroll fragments represent a great amount of new material for the study of biblical texts and the people who wrote them as well as of Jewish history after the 4th century B.C. There was a long-standing controversy over the fact that access to the scrolls was limited to a small number of scholars. This was resolved to some degree in the early 1990s when copies of the scrolls were finally published.
The War of the Sons of Light Against the Sons of Darkness discusses the coming victory of the former 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 scroll of the Thanksgiving Hymns is a collection of songs similar to the Psalms.
The Book of Lamech was so fragile that seven years went by before it could be unrolled. It was assumed to be the lost Aprocryphal Book of Lamech, but it proved to be a document in Aramaic relating to the Book of Genesis. It is now called the Scroll of the Apocryphal Genesis. It describes the journeys of Abraham.
One of the later discoveries, one of the most interesting was the copper scroll found in 1952. It was broken in two pieces and was too brittle to unroll. The Jordan government sent it to the Manchester College of Technology in England. Professor H.W. Wright-Baker devised a way of mountain the pieces on a spindle and cutting them into paper-thin strips through which the letters could be read. The scroll contains a long list of hiding places of treasures of enormous value. They were hidden in wells, in tombs, and near certain trees and springs. Some scholars believe the list to be imaginary or symbolic. Some others think it may be a catalog of the treasures of King Solomon's Temple, others that it lists actual treasures of the Essenes. The Solomon Temple at Jerusalem could be equated to the richest central bank in the Middle East at that time. The treasures could not be just imaginary, but actual internments of valuable temple assets being guarded against war and conquest.
An eighth scroll, the longest and most complete of all, was acquired by the Israeli government during the Six-Day War in 1967. Called The Temple Scroll, it was found in 1950s. Yadin, who published a translation of the 27-foot (8-meter) scroll in 1977, dated it between the 2nd century B.C. and A.D. 70. The document establishes clear links between early Christian doctrines and the religious teachings of the Essenes.