• Ward Sanford

The Dead Sea Scrolls: A Window into the Past

Updated: Apr 24

In my last blog I discussed the Qumran site near the Dead Sea and who the residents might have been—a group of Essenes or a related offshoot. The group is most famous for their meticulous writings on scrolls they kept in tall clay jars (see above) and hid in nearby caves, likely to keep them from falling into the hands of the Romans or other enemies and being destroyed. Their tactic worked. Many survived unharmed—owing to the hyper-arid environment—for nearly 2,000 years. Now we can see what the group was thinking, writing, and preserving during that time.

The scrolls consist of hundreds of manuscripts, some recreated from the thousands of fragments found. A smaller group are intact scrolls of sections of books from the Old Testament, including an entire scroll of the book of Isaiah (see below)–from start to finish as it exists in today’s version. These scrolls are important because before their discovery the oldest copy of the Old Testament were Masoretic texts from the 9th century CE. The Qumran copy of Isaiah—and most other texts—are nearly identical to the 9th century ones except for some very minor spelling and word preferences. It shows that Jewish scribes have been meticulous throughout the centuries at preserving their religious books, and thus the meanings have not changed down through time. The languages of the scrolls are almost entirely Hebrew and Aramaic; the latter being the lingua franca of the Mid-Eastern world at the time. The scrolls have been dated by three methods which all put them roughly between 140 BCE and 70 CE: carbon-14 dating, paleographic analysis (writing style), and coins from that time period discovered at the Qumran site.

The first seven scrolls were discovered by Bedouin shepherd boys sometime in the winter of 1946/47. Many more were then discovered by archaeologists in 1951 and 1952 after they deduced where the originals had come from. In addition to sections of Old Testament books, some scrolls contain rules for the functioning of the community. Others contain prophetic type writings predicting a coming war between good and evil. Much has been written about the scrolls that is in the public domain, including many details in the Wikipedia site: In my next blog I will discuss one particularly unusual scroll—made of copper—that is included in a substantial plotline in our historical novel series Cry for Jerusalem.

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