According to Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, the Dead Sea Scrolls, since their discovery in the Judaean desert and their arrival at the various institutions that retain them today, have created "a contradiction. . . between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith" and have indicated "how explosive a non-partisan examination of the scrolls might be for the whole of Christian theological tradition" (xii).
With this in mind, it is clear that the Dead Sea Scrolls contain historical information that could, in essence, upset the entire scheme of things in relation to the life of Jesus Christ and his role in the history of his people, being the Israelite Jews. Thus, the overall importance of the Dead Sea Scrolls lies in the fact that what theologians and religious historians currently accept as the truth concerning the history of Palestine and the role of Jesus within it may be inaccurate with the result being a complete re-writing of history as it is reflected in the scrolls.
One of the first scholars to actually see and photograph the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1948 was John Trever, who has provided a highly-researched and documented history of the initial find at Qumran. According to Trever's account, three Bedouin shepherds were in the area of Qumran, located on the northwest side of the Dead Sea, in the spring of 1947. During this time, the area was under the control of the British Mandate in Palestine, and the shepherds were apparently tending their flocks when one of them casually began to throw stones at what appeared to be the opening of a cave just west of the plateau at Qumran.
One of these stones entered the cave opening and the shepherd heard something break. Two days later, another shepherd became curious, went back to the cave site and managed to squeeze into the narrow and hazardous opening of the cave. Inside, he found ten jars, each being about two feet in height; however, all but two of them were empty, with one holding only dirt. But inside the other jar, the shepherd discovered three scrolls with two of them wrapped in linen cloth. After removing the scrolls from the cave, the shepherd presented them to the authorities who later identified them as copies of the Book of Isaiah from the Old Testament, the Manual of Discipline which set forth the rules for a community, and a commentary on the prophesies of Habakkuk (Trever 135).
The contents of the scrolls have been debated since their discovery, yet it is clear that they contain two different types of religious writings, being the biblical and the non-biblical. Michael Wise points out that the biblical texts "are copies of the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament) which form about one-quarter of the total number of scrolls in the collection." The scrolls also represent "the oldest group of Old Testament manuscripts ever found, at least a thousand years older than the traditional Hebrew texts from the early medieval period" which serves as the foundation for modern Biblical translations (11). The non-Biblical scroll, namely, the 'Community Rule,' contains "the rituals and regulations governing life in the desert community. . . A hierarchy of authority (and) instructions for the master of the community. . . principles of behavior and punishment for the violation of these principles" (Baigent 140).
In March of 1947, the scrolls were brought Khalil Iskandar Shahin, a member of the Syrian Orthodox Church. He then contacted another church member named George Isaiah who then contacted St. Mark's Monastery in Jerusalem. Of course, since the scrolls had never been fully examined at this time, no one knew what they contained, what language they were written in or how much they might be worth to international collectors. Certain members of the monastery then tried to obtain expert advice about the scrolls and one of those contacted was Professor Eleazar Sukenik of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem who showed much interest in purchasing them.
It seems that originally there had been seven scrolls instead of three discovered in the cave at Qumran; these other four contained a collection of psalms, another partial copy of the Book of Isaiah, the War Scroll which described the final battle between the "sons of light" and the "sons of darkness," and the Genesis Apocryophon, being stories based on certain narratives found in the Book of Genesis.
Not too long after Sukenik bought three of the scrolls, other interested parties had managed to identify the original Isaiah scroll; Sukenik then considered the possibility that the scrolls might be linked to the Essenes, for the Roman geographer Pliny had described a group of Essenes living near the shores of the Dead Sea not too far from where the scrolls were first discovered. In his Natural History (volume five), Pliny relates that the Essenes were "remarkable beyond all the other tribes in the whole world, as it has no women and has renounced all sexual desire. . . " (Baigent 20), a statement that makes it highly feasible that Jesus may have been a member of this religious and dogmatic tribe living along the banks of the Dead Sea.
While the tale of the seven mysterious scrolls and their ultimate fate contains many strange coincidences, most of the information about them was published about three or four years after their discovery in the caves of Qumran. For example, the American Schools of Oriental Research published photographs and transcriptions of the Isaiah scroll, the commentary on Habakkuk and the Manual of Discipline in 1950 and 1951, while those purchased by Sukenik appeared to a volume dated 1954, a short time after his death. The last of the seven scrolls to appear, being the Genesis Apocryphon, was not so fortunate, due to being in a bad state of decay, yet when it was finally examined and read, the results were published in 1956.
As of 1994, a total of eleven caves at Qumran have provided approximately 800 manuscripts and it is clear that some of them were copied and written at Qumran while others bear evidence of being written or copied at another location. As to their dates, it has been determined that some of the scrolls were created in the 3rd or early 2nd century B.C.E, while others date from about the time of Christ, circa 25-30 a.D. Of course, for many modern-day Jews, the most important scrolls are the Biblical ones.
The latest list of the Biblical manuscripts include the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, 1st and 2nd Samuel, 1st and 2nd Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekial and the Twelve Prophets; Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Solomon, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah and finally 1st and 2nd Chronicles, all of which make up the Old Testament with the first five books comprising the Pentateuch, those most sacred to the Jewish people.
These numbers provide a reasonable estimate as to where the Qumran group placed its cultural and societal importance. The Psalms could have been used for many purposes, such as for worship and meditation; the legal books ( first five excluding Genesis) may have served as the authoritative foundation for the way of life developed by the group; the book of Isaiah may have helped the group to understand religious predictions and the messianic leaders that were prophetized to appear, including Jesus Christ. The low number of historical books could mean that historical facts played a rather minor role for those at Qumran. It should be pointed out that the Essenes, quite possibly the group that wrote and copied these Biblical texts, may have had Jesus of Nazareth as one of their members.
Around 1907, some forty years before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, it was reported in the German text of the Crucifixion by an Eye-Witness that Jesus was the son of an Essene teacher whose knowledge "of secret Essene medical knowledge enabled him not just to survive the crucifixion but also to appear to his disciples afterwards as if 'risen from the dead'" ( Baigent 167-68).
The other manuscripts that make up the Dead Sea Scrolls include the Targums, or those translated from Hebrew into Aramaic, the language of Jesus; the Tefillin and Mezuot, parchments containing passages from Exodus and Deuteronomy; the Apocrypha books, made up of the Tobit (a dramatic story of a Jewish exile from the northern kingdom of Israel), the Sirach (the wisdom of Jesus ben Sira, a Jewish teacher), the letter of Jeremiah (an attack on idolatry) and Psalm 151 (an extra psalm similar to that of King David); the Pseudepigrapha (Jewish religious books that did not become part of the Hebrew Bible), composed of Enoch, the Jubilees (a re-telling of the Biblical stories of creation), the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs (the twelve sons of Jacob), and the New Pseudepigrapha, a collection of Biblically-related stories and tales of Jacob, Moses, Joshua and Kings Samuel and David.