Why are the Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran so important?
At the Qumran caves, a desolate place overlooking the Dead Sea, a discovery was made that gave us dramatic new evidence that the Hebrew text of the Old Testament is accurate and trustworthy. This was the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
That’s one fact, which made the church and other Christians happy. But you need to understand that western society is originally based on Christianity. Today, many people moves away from religions and of course Christianity, but do they move away from the truth?
And there is another aspect to the whole story. We are not talking particular about the Christians! We are factually talking about the old Testament, which is a copy of the Jewish Torah! That book is accurate and trustworthy!
How were the Dead Sea scrolls discovered?
The story of the discovery of these famous scrolls begins at these caves in 1947 when two young, Bedouin shepherd boys were searching on the rocky hillsides for a lost goat.
One of the boys, Mohammed ed Dhib, tossed rocks into one cave hoping to scare the animal out. Instead of hearing the goat he heard the sound of pottery breaking. He ran off, but later came back with friends. Inside the cave they found large clay jars. Upon looking inside the jars they found seven very old scrolls. Mohammed ed Dhib took all seven scrolls to a Bethlehem shopkeeper named Kando. Kando divided them into two groups.
Three went to a Jewish scholar named Sukenik at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
The other four went to the Archbishop of the Syrian Orthodox Church, Athanasius Samuel. Samuel took his scrolls to the American School for Oriental Research in Jerusalem about a year later where a young scholar named John Trever, quickly realized that one of the scrolls was a manuscript of the Old Testament book of Isaiah.
Trever rushed photographs of the scrolls to the well-known American archaeologist William F. Albright at the Johns Hopkins University. Albright cabled back the exciting news. This manuscript of Isaiah was an old one, probably a thousand years older than any possessed at that time. In respect to the text of the Old Testament, this was the greatest archaeological discovery ever made.
On April 11, 1948, the existence of the Dead Sea Scrolls was announced to the world. But, what was written on these precious scrolls?
Two of the scrolls were copies of the book of Isaiah. One was a complete copy. There was also an ancient commentary on Habakkuk and a book of rules for a religious community. There was a scroll describing the great final battle between good and evil at the last day called “The War of the Sons of Light and the Sons of Darkness”. And there were scrolls of psalms and the stories of the patriarchs as found in the book of Genesis.
The Isaiah scroll was produced between 100 B.C. and 100 A.D. and is the oldest complete copy of a Biblical book ever discovered. It is of great interest that this ancient manuscript is essentially identical with the Hebrew text of Isaiah which has been copied and passed down through the centuries.
Scholars used the Isaiah scroll in the translation of our Revised Standard Version of the Bible. However, when you compare the Hebrew text handed down by copyists through the Middle Ages, called the Masoretic text, to the Isaiah scroll, the text showed something amazing, they read almost identical! Only thirteen minor changes were introduced because of different readings in the Qumran Isaiah Scroll! Amazing!
After the discovery of the first cave, archaeologists and Bedouin explorers investigated hundreds of caves in the area. They found scrolls or fragments of scrolls in ten of the caves. The fourth cave, which was discovered in 1952, proved to hold the most valuable materials of all.
Cave four had no complete manuscripts, but it did have tens of thousands of fragments. This is the largest fragment. It measures 9 inches by 5 1/2 inches and is a collection of Old Testament verses about the end of time and the coming of the Messiah.
Archaeologists estimate that cave four contained at least 382 separate manuscripts. About 100 of these were Biblical manuscripts and included all the Old Testament books except Esther.
More caves were found in 1955 and 1956, not quite ten years after the boys found the first cave in 1947.
Many of the fragments were so old and worn that they could never have been studied without modern technology. Here, for example, is a scroll fragment that could not be read.
But with the use of infra-red photography the words can all be read.
But who wrote the scrolls? Why were they hidden in caves? Why did the owners never return for them?
The ruins of Khirbet Qumran, located here near the Dead Sea, seem to offer the best hope for finding answers to these questions.
Scholars believe that a devout community of Jews, known as Essenes, came here to live about 135 years before the birth of Jesus. They were waiting for the Messiah and spend their time studying and copying scrolls. The community was formed, not only because of Messianic hopes, but also out of dissatisfaction with Hellenistic and Roman rule.
The Essenes were described in the first century by the Jewish historian, Josephus, and the Roman historian Pliny. The group numbered perhaps two to four hundred at any one time. They have little historical importance but the scrolls they behind left are priceless.
Scholars were amazed at the age of the scrolls–1,000 years older than the oldest known Hebrew manuscripts of the Old Testament. Before the scrolls were discovered, there was a 1,300 year gap between the time the Old Testament was complete and the oldest known Hebrew copy.
The Dead Sea Scrolls are more that a thousand years older than the Ben Asher Codex, so the gap between the original writings of the Old Testament and the oldest manuscripts has now been reduced from 1,300 years to just 300 years.
The Hebrew text of the Old Testament that has been used in making every English translation from the King James to our recent modern-speech version is the Masoretic text.
Looking at all the ‘proof’ and visiting the places where the caves were found and exploring the environment myself multiple times, it is not the end. In my opinion, the explorers didn’t finish with their search, yet. There are more caves and there are some mysteries to be resolved. Some of the caves are strangely closed off after 23 meters. Some other caves were blocked off too, except when we removed part of the wall, we could walk at least two kilometers.