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The Greatest Discovery of the Century
Found inadvertently in 1947, the Dead Sea Scrolls are regarded by many as the most important archaeological find of the twentieth century.
Mystery and intrigue surrounded their acquisition and there are many accounts of their subsequent ‘wanderings’ as they continued to change hands after their discovery.
While many of the manuscripts have suffered the ravages of time the ancient people who hid the scrolls in the caves sealed some of them in clay jars, often wrapped in linen covers to help preserve them.
Unraveling the Mistery
The skins of most of the Dead Sea Scrolls are leather or parchment, light brown or yellowish in colour. The finest scrolls are almost white.
The scrolls are believed to have been treated with salt and flour to remove the hair, and tanned with gall-nut liquid that was lightly brushed on or sprinkled over both surfaces of the skin.
Most of the scrolls were written with carbon ink (powdered charcoal) which was fairly easy to erase. Yigael Yadin established that the Dead Sea scrolls generally conform to the later Talmudic rules for the writing of sacred scrolls.
A Text lost for 2000 Years
The first seven scrolls came into the hands of dealers in antiquities who offered them to scholars. The first to recognise their antiquity was Professor Eleazar Sukenik, father of Yigael Yadin, who succeeded in acquiring three of them for the Hebrew University and, between 1948 and 1950, he published specimens from them.
Sukenik recollected, "My hands shook as I started to unwrap one of them. I read a few sentences. It was written in beautiful biblical Hebrew. The language was like that of the Psalms, but the text was unknown to me. I looked and looked, and I suddenly had the feeling that I was privileged by destiny to gaze upon a Hebrew scroll which had not been read for more than 2,000 years."
The Journeys of the Scrolls
Four other scrolls, sold by the Bedouin to the Bethlehem antiquities dealer Kando who in turn sold them to Mar Athaniasius Samuel, the Archbishop of the Syrian Orthodox Christian community, were independently recognized as ancient and photographed by Dr. John Trever and Dr. William Brownlee in Jerusalem in 1948.
Mar Samuel brought them to the United States where they were exhibited first in 1949. The photographs of two were published in 1950: the Great Isaiah Scroll and the Commentary on Habakkuk. Photographs of the Manual of Discipline were published in 1951. Subsequently in 1954, the Government of Israel, with the help of a donation from Samuel Gottesman, purchased the scrolls which are now housed in the Shrine of the Book in Jerusalem.
In 1949 Gerald Lankester Harding and Father Roland de Vaux excavated Qumran Cave 1 and found fragments from seventy more original scrolls. Between 1951 and 1962 tens of thousands of additional scroll fragments were discovered, mostly by Bedouin, in 10 more caves near Qumran and in several other locations in the Judaean Desert.
Finally to the public
It has taken 60 years to publish this vast collection. After the Six-Day War in 1967, Yadin obtained the Temple Scroll. As a result of the capture of East Jerusalem by Israel the major collections from Qumran Caves 2-11 and Wadi Murabba‘at in the Palestine Archaeological Museum (renamed in 1967 the Rockefeller Museum) in East Jerusalem came under the control of the Israel Department of Antiquities. The only major scroll not in Jerusalem was the Copper Scroll which together with other scroll fragments was on display in Amman, Jordan. These are displayed today in the National Archaeological Museum of Jordan. While scholars wrestle with the contents of the scrolls, their antiquity is no longer in question. What is remarkable is that the text of many of these Hebrew manuscripts has hardly changed over the course of 2000 years.
The Great Isaiah Scroll, 1QIsa
The Isaiah Scroll is the only complete biblical book surviving among the Dead Sea Scrolls. Found in Cave One at Qumran in 1947, it dates from about 120 BCE. The text of the scroll hardly differs from the version used today and demonstrates the degree to which the text of the Bible was faithfully transmitted over the centuries.
The Manual of Discipline, 1QS
Also discovered in Cave One at Qumran, this scroll fragment is known variously as the Manual of Discipline and the Rule of the Community and was in two pieces when it was brought by the Bedouin to Bethlehem in 1947. It embodies the rules of conduct for the Qumranites themselves, rules which are additional to the 613 commandments found in the Pentateuch (Torah). These rules of conduct regulated interpersonal relationships and matters of personal piety in a Jewish community which had apparently separated itself both geographically and ideologically from the more mainstream sects of Judaism in Jerusalem.
The Habakkuk Commentary, 1QpHab
The Habakkuk Commentary, also discovered in Qumran Cave One, is part of a group of literature found in several caves at Qumran, which have come to be known by the Hebrew word pesharim, - commentaries.- These explanations often interpret the biblical text with reference to events in the writer’s own time, the recent past, or the near future. Other such commentaries found at Qumran explain in this way the biblical books of Isaiah, Micah, Zephaniah, Psalms, Hosea, and Nahum.
We have 1 facsimile edition of the manuscript "Dead Sea Scrolls": The Dead Sea Scrolls facsimile edition, published by Facsimile Editions Ltd., 2007
Interested in viewing some photos? Here's the gallery of the facsimile edition!
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