Dead Sea Scrolls

The Dead Sea Scrolls refer to 900 documents found in 11 caves near the ruins of an ancient settlement on the West Bank. The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls includes the only known surviving texts of the Bible made before 100 A.D. These documents show a wide diversity of practice and belief in Judaism during this time.

The documents have been analyzed using carbon dating, handwriting analysis, and textual analysis. The Dead Sea Scrolls were written over many years between the middle of the second century B.C. and the first century A.D.

The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls would have been impossible without the incredibly dry conditions in the area. The dry climate preserved the scrolls, made of papyrus and gevil, until their discovery two millennia later.

The Dead Sea Scrolls translation has revealed some interesting facts. About 80% of these scrolls are written in one of three Hebrew dialects. The Copper Scroll, created of thin sheets of inscribed copper, appears to list caches of valuables that may represent temple treasures hidden from the Romans.

All the Dead Sea Scrolls were found within 11 caves. Some of these caves yielded only fragments, while others held a rich treasure trove of documents. By far the longest of these scrolls is the Temple Scroll. Currently, it measures less than 27 feet, although the original scroll possibly measured in excess of 28 feet.

About 40% of the total material has come from Cave 4. While most of the other material has been published and translated, the finds from Cave 4 were kept secret for many years. An international team led by a member of the Dominican order in Jerusalem held the documents, maintaining a “secrecy rule” that would last until 1991. As of 2007, the Cave 4 documents include 39 volumes, 37 of which have been completed.

It is not known who put these scrolls in the caves or why. This makes their true significance unclear. Perhaps the scrolls were written by the Essenes, who lived in the nearby ancient town of Khirbet Qumran. Other scholars point to purity laws in the scrolls laws that are identical to those of the Sadducees (Zadokite priests). What is beyond doubt
Is the age of the scrolls, many of which are older than the town.

Several other theories have been posited to explain the scrolls. Further study should help to clear up the mystery.

If you are looking for digital copies of the scrolls, they are so far unavailable online. However, inexpensive volumes (on CD or in books) are available, and many university libraries can access digital images.

Fragments of the scrolls on display at the Archaeological Museum, Amman. Courtesy Wikipedia.