Dead Sea Scrolls

The Dead Sea Scrolls (also the Qumran Caves Scrolls) are ancient Jewish and Hebrew religious manuscripts that were found in the Qumran Caves in the Judaean Desert, near Ein Feshkha on the northern shore of the Dead Sea in the West Bank; the last scrolls discovered were found in the Cave of Horror in Israel.[1][2] The texts have great historical, religious, and linguistic significance because they include the second-oldest known surviving manuscripts of works later included in the Hebrew Bible canon, along with deuterocanonical and extra-biblical manuscripts which preserve evidence of the diversity of religious thought in late Second Temple Judaism. Almost all of the scrolls are held by the state of Israel in the Shrine of the Book on the grounds of the Israel Museum, but ownership of the scrolls is disputed by Jordan and Palestine.[3]

The Dead Sea Scrolls
The Psalms Scroll (11Q5), one of the 981 texts of the Dead Sea Scrolls, with a partial Hebrew transcription.
MaterialPapyrus, parchment and bronze
WritingMostly Hebrew; Aramaic, Greek, and Nabataean-Aramaic
CreatedEst. 408 BCE to 318 CE
Present locationVarious

Many thousands of written fragments have been discovered in the Dead Sea area. They represent the remnants of larger manuscripts damaged by natural causes or through human interference, with the vast majority holding only small scraps of text. However, a small number of well-preserved, almost intact manuscripts have survived – fewer than a dozen among those from the Qumran Caves.[4] Researchers have assembled a collection of 981 different manuscripts – discovered in 1946/47 and in 1956 – from 11 caves.[5] The 11 Qumran Caves lie in the immediate vicinity of the Hellenistic-period Jewish settlement at Khirbet Qumran in the eastern Judaean Desert, in the West Bank.[6] The caves are located about one mile (1.6 kilometres) west of the northwest shore of the Dead Sea, whence they derive their name. Archaeologists have long associated the scrolls with the ancient Jewish sect called the Essenes, although some recent interpretations have challenged this connection and argue that priests in Jerusalem, or Zadokites, or other unknown Jewish groups wrote the scrolls.[7][8]

Most of the texts use Hebrew, with some written in Aramaic (for example the Son of God text; in different regional dialects, including Nabataean), and a few in Greek.[9] Discoveries from the Judaean Desert add Latin (from Masada) and Arabic (from Khirbet al-Mird) texts.[10] Most of the texts are written on parchment, some on papyrus, and one on copper.[11] Scholarly consensus dates the scrolls from the last three centuries BCE and the first century CE,[4][12] though manuscripts from associated Judaean Desert sites are dated as early as the 8th century BCE and as late as the 11th century CE.[13] Scholarly consensus dates the Qumran Caves Scrolls from the last three centuries BCE and the first century CE.[4] Bronze coins found at the same sites form a series beginning with John Hyrcanus (in office 135–104 BCE) and continuing until the period of the First Jewish–Roman War (66–73 CE), supporting the radiocarbon and paleographic dating of the scrolls.[14] Two silver scroll-shaped amulets dated c. 600 BCE and containing portions of the Priestly Blessing from the Book of Numbers were excavated in Jerusalem at Ketef Hinnom; some scholars also include the controversial Shapira Scroll.

Owing to the poor condition of some of the scrolls, scholars have not identified all of their texts. The identified texts fall into three general groups:

  1. About 40% are copies of texts from the Hebrew Scriptures.
  2. Approximately another 30% are texts from the Second Temple Period which ultimately were not canonized in the Hebrew Bible, like the Book of Enoch, the Book of Jubilees, the Book of Tobit, the Wisdom of Sirach, Psalms 152–155, etc.
  3. The remainder (roughly 30%) are sectarian manuscripts of previously unknown documents that shed light on the rules and beliefs of a particular group (sect) or groups within greater Judaism, like the Community Rule, the War Scroll, the Pesher on Habakkuk, and The Rule of the Blessing.[15][need quotation to verify]