Importance of Dead Sea Scrolls

The site of Khirbet Qumran is located in the West Bank, near the northern edge of the Dead Sea, and is the place where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in 11 nearby caves 70 years ago.

The discovery of a 12th cave has spurred plans for new excavations near the Dead Sea.

The Dead Sea Scrolls are a collection of manuscripts written on leather and papyrus scrolls that had been sitting in clay jars, waiting to be discovered for almost 2,000 years. Around the beginning of 1947, Bedouin teenagers were tending sheep and goats in the West Bank area, as it’s now called, bordering Israel. One of the boys tossed a stone into a cave, and the surprising shattering sound he heard has reverberated throughout history.

The shattering sound the boy heard was a clay jar. The contents of the jar were the scrolls. A complete copy of the Book of Isaiah was found among the manuscripts, as well as fragments from every book of the Old Testament except for Esther. They’re believed to have been written between 150 B.C. and A.D. 70. Other texts found among the scrolls were a rule of life for the Essenes of Qumran, the group believed to have produced the scrolls and various other religious writings not from the Hebrew Scriptures. In total, over 900 manuscripts are represented in the fragments discovered.

Interest in the Dead Sea Scrolls was recently renewed after it was announced in early February that a 12th cave had been discovered. The previous cache of scrolls and artifacts was from 11 other caves. This 12th cave, while an exciting development, didn’t yield any new manuscripts. A tantalizing discovery was made though: an intact scroll in a jar. It was blank.

Though no new scrolls or fragments were found, the new cave contained string and cloth wrappings indicating that there had been scrolls there. These were probably stolen by looters, as rusty pickax heads were also found. Because the area has been such a target for looters, the Israeli Antiquities Authority is urging the Israeli government to sponsor a “systematic excavation” of the area in hopes of finding scrolls before thieves do.

Click here for more about the importance of this discovery and the partnership of archaeology and faith.

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