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Dead Sea Scrolls

Dead Sea Scrolls

The Dead Sea scrolls comprise roughly 825-870 documents, including texts from the Hebrew Bible, discovered between 1947 and 1956 in eleven caves in and around the Wadi Qumran (near the ruins of the ancient settlement of Khirbet Qumran, on the northwest shore of the Dead Sea). The texts are of great religious and historical significance, as they are practically the only known surviving Biblical documents written before AD 100.

It is widely believed that the first set of Dead Sea Scrolls were found in 1947, by a young Bedouin shepherd, searching for a stray goat in the Judean Desert. He entered a long-untouched cave and found jars filled with ancient scrolls wrapped in linen. That initial discovery by the Bedouins yielded seven scrolls and began a search that lasted nearly a decade and eventually produced thousands of scroll fragments from eleven caves. During those same years, archaeologists searching for a habitation close to the caves that might help identify the people who deposited the scrolls, excavated the Qumran ruin, a complex of structures located on a barren terrace between the cliffs where the caves are found and the Dead Sea. Within a fairly short time after their discovery, historical, paleographic, and linguistic evidence, as well as carbon-14 dating, established that the scrolls and the Qumran ruins dated from the third century B.C.E. to 68 C.E. They were indeed ancient! Coming from the late Second Temple Period, a time when Jesus of Nazareth lived, they are older than any other surviving manuscripts of the Hebrew Scriptures by almost one thousand years.

Since their discovery nearly half a century ago, the scrolls and the identity of the nearby settlement have been the object of great scholarly and public interest, as well as heated debate and controversy. Why were the scrolls hidden in the caves? Who placed them there? Who lived in Qumran? Were its inhabitants responsible for the scrolls and their presence in the caves? Of what significance are the scrolls to Judaism and Christianity?


In Feb of 1947, a Bedouin Shepard discovered several jars filled with 7 ancient scrolls wrapped in linen.


In 1952, the Bedouins discovered 300 fragments of other scrolls in Cave 2, including Jubilees & Ben Sirach in the original Hebrew. They were sold to the Palestine Archeological Museum.


On March 14th, 1952, one of the most intriguing scrolls, the Copper Scroll was discovered in Cave 3. This scroll records a list of 67 underground hiding places throughout the land of Israel. According to the scroll, the deposits contain certain amounts of gold, silver, aromatics, and manuscripts. These are believed to be treasures from the Temple at Jerusalem that were hidden away for safekeeping.


This most famous of the Dead Sea Scroll caves is also the most significant in terms of finds. 80% of all the scrolls were found here and 90% were published. Cave 4 had 15,000 scroll fragments, identified eventually as the remains of 574 separate manuscripts.


Caves 5 and 6 were discovered shortly after cave 4. Caves 5 and 6 yielded a modest find.

Caves 7-10

Archaeologists excavated caves 7 through 10 in 1955, but did not find many fragments. Cave 7 contained seventeen Greek documents (including 7Q5, which would be the subject of controversy in the succeeding decades). Cave 8 only had five fragments and cave 9 held 18. Cave 10 contained nothing but a single ostracon.

Cave 11

The Temple Scroll, so called because more than half of it pertains to the construction of the Temple of Jerusalem, was found in Cave 11, and is the longest scroll. It is now 26.7 feet long. The total length of the original scroll may have been over 28 feet.

The Dead Sea Scrolls have been the subject of avid interest and curiosity for nearly fifty years. Today, scholars agree on their significance but disagree on who produced them. They debate specific passages of individual scrolls and are still assessing their impact on the foundations of Judaism and Christianity. For the public in this country and throughout the world, the scrolls have an aura of reverence and intrigue which is reinvigorated periodically by the media–journalists who report serious disagreements among well-known scholars, as well as tabloids which claim that the scrolls can predict the future or answer life’s mysteries.

Israel to Display the Dead Sea Scrolls on the Internet


The Dead Sea is located in Israel and Jordan, about 15 miles east of Jerusalem. It is extremely deep (averaging about 1,000 feet), salty (some parts containing the highest amount of salts possible), and the lowest body of water in the world. The Dead Sea is supplied by a number of smaller streams, springs, and the Jordan River.

Because of its low elevation and its position in a deep basin, the climate of the Dead Sea area is unusual. It’s very high evaporation does produce a haze yet its atmospheric humidity is low. Adjacent areas are very arid and favorable for the preservation of materials like the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The Bible’s description, in Genesis 19, of a destructive earthquake near the Dead Sea area during the time of Abraham is borne out by archaeological and historic investigation. While no evidence remains of the five cities of the plain (Zeboim, Admah, Bela or Zoar, Sodom, and Gomorrah) their sites are believed to be beneath the waters at the southern end of the sea.

Archaeological sites near the Dead Sea include Masada, Ein Gedi, and Qumran (where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found).


Library of Congress


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