Dead Sea Scrolls Term Paper

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Dead Sea Scrolls

Hershell Hanks begins his book "The Mystery and Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls," (Shanks, 1998) with a startling revelation. Despite numerous treatises, articles and books on the subject, it is still unclear who found The Dead Sea Scrolls. An Arab shepherd boy or maybe two shepherd boys searching for their lost sheep close to the banks of the Dead Sea discovered the 'Scrolls' in 1947 in a cave in Qumran -- though the date varies depending on the source. In an effort to look for the lost sheep, the Bedouin shepherd began throwing stones into nearby caves. An unexpected cracking sound of earthenware inside the cave encouraged him to explore further. Muhammad Ahmad el-Hamed of the Ta'amireh tribe is assumed to be the shepherd who found the scrolls. This fact has however been constantly debated and interviewing and identifying the right individual who found the scroll was never possible at the time.

An official archaeological expedition was begun in 1949, which eventually resulted in the discovery of ten additional caves in the surrounding area. Each of these also containing scrolls. Initially, seven scrolls were discovered in the cave. The seven scrolls were divided into two lots: one of four scrolls and the other of three scrolls. These shepherds sold the four-scroll lot to Khalil Iskander Shahin (Kando) and the three-scroll lot to Faidi Salahi, both for very paltry amounts of money. The finders were assured that once the scrolls were resold, they would receive more money. Kando sold four scrolls to Mar Athanasius Yeshue Samuel; Salahi sold the three-scroll lot to Eleazer Lupa Sukenik, a professor at Hebrew University who realized the significance of the discovery immediately.

The year 1947 was a very difficult period in the Dead Sea region. November 29th 1947 was the day that the United Nations voted for the recreation of the Jewish state of Israel. The last days of the British Mandate period in Palestine were filled with terror. Tensions ran high between the Arab and the Jewish populations. This made examination of the scrolls by scholars extremely dangerous. The three scrolls obtained by Sukenik had found a home in the newly created Israeli country. Samuel repeated attempts to find a buyer for the four scrolls that he possessed however came up negative. He was forced to place an advertisement in the Wall Street Journal. Yigael Yadin, an Israeli professor, noticed the advertisement. He set up a chain of events that would eventually result in the scrolls being in the possession of Israel. The priceless scrolls were purchased for $250,000. This was a pittance when compared to the payment made for other famous texts and books at the time. The tension between Jordan and Israel at the time prevented any other institution to purchase these valuable and treasured scrolls. Israel was the only country that could purchase these scrolls and make the sale possible. The scrolls are displayed in a special museum at Hebrew University in Israel. The place that they are housed is aptly named the Shrine of the Book.

The discovery of the original seven scrolls was just the beginning. The cave in which these scrolls were found came to be called Cave One. Over six hundred scrolls and thousands of fragments were subsequently discovered in the 11 caves in the Qumran region. Approximately 800 manuscripts were found in Cave Four and a copper scroll was discovered in Cave 3. The copper scroll consisted of a list of buried treasures and their locations. Until 1947, the Aleppo Codex was considered to be the oldest existing text of the Hebrew bible until the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. The Aleppo Codex was dated to the tenth century. It was stored in the Aleppo synagogue. Prior to the Seven Day War, in 1947, during a rampage, a Syrian mob set fire to the synagogue. And part of the Aleppo Codex was burnt. The remaining 294 leaves out of a total of 380 are now housed in the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

The Essenes -- a Jewish race wiped out in A.D. 68 -- are assumed to be the writers of the scrolls. The writers were mostly a group of priests and laymen who pursued a life strictly dedicated to God. Graves and human remains around the location of the caves indicate that there were more men than women in the tribe. The scrolls were identified as belonging to a library of manuscripts that belong to the group of marginal Jews. The Essenes used a different calendar. Their customs also differed from those of other Jewish communities of the time. It is assumed by many of the scholars that the scrolls were not produced at Qumran, but brought to the caves for safe keeping during the revolution.

The president of the Palestine Archaeological Museum, Pere de Vaux, in 1950, decided to gather a team of scholars and experts in the field. This team would help sort and translate the huge amount of material that was discovered in the caves. The team comprised of a total of eight scolars. This team also included De Vaux. The other seven scholars were; Frank Cross and Father Patrick Skehan from the United States, Father J.T. Milik, a Pole living in France, John Allegro and John Strugnell from England, and Abbe Jean Starcky from France. Although the scrolls were about the Jewish religion, there was no Jew on the team. This was done in order to keep the finding and documentations as unbiased as possible. John Strugnell took over as chief editor of the publication associated with the printing of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1987. Strugnell brought on Jewish and Israeli scholars with publication assignments into the team. Pere Roland de Vaux excavated the Qumran site during his tenure.

De Vaux's outright refusal to make scrolls available to any other qualified scholars increased the mystery and the aura of the scrolls. In 1988, Strungell had thirty copies of the scroll concordance published in Gottingen, Germany. But he reserved copies only, according to the Biblical Archeology Review (BAR), "for the use of editors." If not for the decision by De Vaux (to not make translations public) the transcripts from the scroll could have been made available as early as 1960. In 1991, William Moffett, the director of the Huntington Library of California made an astounding discovery -- photographs of the Dead Sea Scroll in a safe of the library. He strove endlessly to make these photographs available to all scholars and researchers who needed the material. Shanks, the then editor of the BAR in Washington, D.C., was sued for his unending attempts to free the scrolls and place them in the public domain.

The Dead Sea Scrolls shed information of great biblical significance regarding the book of Isaiah. These scrolls consisted of a complete Isaiah manuscript, a rulebook entitled The Manual of Discipline, a commentary on the Book of Habakkuk and a manuscript now known as the Genesis Apocryphon. These documents, mirroring most of the books of the Old Testament and its Messianic Prophecies (the Habakkuk document in the Scrolls) destroyed the credibility of those who averred that early Christians were the "creators" of the Bible. Prior to the discovery of the scrolls, except the Nash Papyrus, there was no Jewish text in either Hebrew or Aramaic. Similarities in the language used in the Scrolls and the New Testament were observed. The Dead Sea Scrolls demonstrated that the Old Testament was accurately transmitted over the generations.

When the New Testament doctrine is compared against the prophesies of the Old Testament and the Scrolls, the character and works of Jesus of Nazareth fit the profile of the Messiah. The wording in the Scrolls, "the Son of God," also appears in Luke 1:3,35. Several predictions were made about the coming of the Messiah and his earthly works in the scroll. The beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount stated by both Matthew and Luke have a corresponding reference in the scrolls. There is also a parallel in the Annunciation scene described in Luke and the text in 4Q246 written in Aramaic. The early Christians still considered themselves Jews and there is similarity in their worshiping practices (pray together) and their living habits (common property and sharing of food). Another document from Cave Four, "Testimonia," presents the basis for people's expectations about a Messiah. In Deuteronomy 18:18-19, God says to Moses, "I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren;" and in Numbers 24:15-17, Balaam foresees the rise of a princely conqueror: "a Scepter shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite the corners of Moab," to name but a few.

The residents of Qumran believed that the final judgment would be the defeat of their enemies in a cataclysmic fire (the apocalypse) and, as God's chosen, their own victory -- a fulfillment of the prophecies during the time of Abraham and Isaac. The ruins of Qumran revealed that a substantial group of Jewish ascetics inhabited this community.…

Sources Used in Document:


Shanks, H. (1998) The mystery and meaning of the Dead Sea scrolls, Random House, New York.

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