Archaeology and Geography of Israel
21 November 2011
Dead Sea Scrolls; the Great Archeological Find
Dating over 2,000 years old, the Dead Sea Scrolls have remained one of the world’s greatest archeological finds. They are a priceless piece of history; the most ancient copies of Old Testament Books that have been discovered thus far were found among them. They also increase our knowledge and understanding of many things, such as Judaism and Christianity, as a matter of fact, they have been referred to as the evolutionary link between the two. For example, The Dead Sea Scrolls, which date back to the events described in the New Testament, have added to our understanding of the Jewish background of Christianity. Scholars have pointed to similarities between beliefs and practices outlined in the Qumran literature and those of early Christians. These parallels include comparable rituals of baptism, communal meals, and property. Most interesting is the parallel organizational structure, the sectarians divided themselves into twelve tribes led by twelve chiefs, similar to the structure of the early Church, with twelve apostles who, according to Jesus, would sit on twelve thrones to judge the twelve tribes of Israel. Many scholars believe that both the literature of Qumran and the early Christian teachings stem from a common stream within Judaism and do not reflect a direct link between the Qumran community and the early Christians. The Dead Sea Scrolls are more than just an amazing discovery that give us hints into the past; they also serve as a window that offers us a look into the future.
The story of the discovery and identification of the Dead Sea Scrolls is a complicated story that involves many personalities, the nations of Israel and Jordan, and the competing work of archaeologists and Bedouins in the Judean Desert. By the term Dead Sea Scrolls, I am referring to the 850+ documents, mostly in incomplete fashion, that were discovered in the Judean Desert, in and around Qumran, between the winter of 1946/47 and 1956. The initial discovery was supposedly made by a fifteen year old Bedouin shepherd boy named Muhammad Al-Dhib who was searching for lost sheep. He threw a stone into a cave and heard the sound of breaking pottery. Upon entering the cave, he found pottery jar and scrolls. This cave has come to be called Cave 1. Seven scrolls, including the Community, the Genesis Apocryphon, the War Scroll, the Habbakuk pesher,(pesher means commentary) of the Isaiah Scroll, and the Thanksgiving Hymns were among the scrolls found in Cave 1. It was not until 1949 that the site of the find was identified as the cave now known as Qumran Cave 1. It was that identification that led to further explorations and excavations of the area of Khirbet Qumran. Further search of Cave 1 revealed archaeological finds of pottery, cloth and wood, as well as a number of additional manuscript fragments. It was these discoveries that proved decisively that the scrolls were indeed ancient and authentic. Between 1949 and 1956, in what became a race between the Bedouin and the archaeologists, ten additional caves were found in the hills around Qumran, caves that yielded several more scrolls, as well as thousands of fragments of scrolls: the remnants of approximately 800 manuscripts dating from approximately 200 B.C.E. to 68 C.E. How do we know these dates are specific? Well, there are basically three methods used in dating the Dead Sea Scrolls, paleography, Radio Carbon Dating, and archaeology. The early paleographic work done on the scrolls was done by Frank Cross, and he and his team discovered that the scrolls were dated between the Maccabean and Roman periods, with different scrolls being dated to specific periods within this frame of reference. Radio-carbon dating has basically confirmed the paleographic dating of the scrolls. The archaeological work done by people like Roland de...