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The Dead Sea Scrolls are perhaps the greatest archaeological discovery of the present century. The seven scrolls were found by a Bedouin in a cave near the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea, in 1947. Some of these were acquired by E.L. Sukenik for the Hebrew University while the rest were sold in the United States and later bought by the Government of Israel; all are now kept in the Shrine of the Book in Jerusalem. Shortly after the first discovery, several scholars, and larger numbers of Bedouins, began the hunt for more scrolls. Numerous additional ones were found in the vicinity of Khirbet Qumran, and some in four other caves to the north of that site.
The scrolls were mostly written on parchment (Leather); only a few were on papyrus (Writing materials). The writing was mostly in ink made of powdered charcoal, though a metallic ink was also used. One scroll was engraved on copper sheets. In the main the scrolls were written in the Hebrew square script (Inscriptions). Paleographic analysis has divided this script into three chronological periods: pre-Hasmonean, Hasmonean and Herodian. Certain words, such as the names for God, were sometimes written in the ancient Hebrew script.
The importance of the discovery of these scrolls is that some of them are copies of certain books of the Bible made between the 2nd century BC and the 2nd century ad, and are thus earlier by about a thousand years than any previously known copy of the Bible. They are of great value in tracing the process of codification of the books of the Bible. The scrolls fall into two main classes: manuscripts of the Bible and the Apocrypha; and the special writings of the Dead Sea sect.
the biblical and apocryphal literature Except for the book of Esther, complete scrolls or fragments of all the books of the Old Testament were found. The most complete texts were in cave 1, which yielded one complete scroll of Isaiah, another containing chapters 53–60 and fragments of others. One of the Isaiah scrolls differs from the current Hebrew text in the use of the full script (i.e. with all vowels, which were later partly replaced by dots below and above the letters) and also in certain grammatical forms. Other fragments of Isaiah are much closer to the present Masoretic (traditional) text. Cave 4 yielded numerous fragments of scrolls representing fourteen copies of Deuteronomy, twelve of Isaiah, ten of Psalms and eight of the twelve minor prophets. Of the Book of Exodus two copies, one of which is close to the Samaritan codex, were in the ancient Hebrew script, while six others were in the square Hebrew script, one being close to the text of the Septuagint. One copy of Numbers was written in red ink and is more detailed than the current text. Differences of this kind are found in other books from this and the other caves.
The Apocrypha includes fragments of the Hebrew or Aramaic texts of Jubilees, Enoch, Tobit, Testament of Levi, Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, the Wisdom of Ben-Sirah, etc. It is not known whether these books were considered by the Dead Sea sect to be as sacred as the books of the Bible. What is certain is that, unlike the copies of the books of the Bible, they were not written by the sect’s own scribes. The texts of the Apocrypha found in the Judean Desert Caves settle once and for all some doubts concerning the original language of some of the books that were previously known only from late translations; they were found at Khirbet Qumran for the first time written in their original language. Still other books, such as the Genesis Apocryphon (written in Aramaic), were not known at all.
the writings of the dead sea sect These scrolls include a large number of books peculiar to the Qumran community and other sects which dwelt in the Judean Desert. They fall into several groups.
The Commentaries Each of these scrolls begins with a biblical passage, followed by a commentary. The commentaries include allusions to contemporary events and provide a glimpse into the history of the sect and the actions of its leader. Most complete are the commentaries on the Book of Habakkuk. Other fragments concern the Psalms, Isaiah, Micah, Zephaniah and Nahum. One scroll book, entitled 4Q Florilegium, is a compilation of commentaries on verses from Genesis (49), 2 Samuel (7) and the Psalms (2–3).
The Scrolls of Manuals In this scroll three main works are assembled. The largest and most important is the Manual of Discipline, which contains prescriptions for the annual ceremony at which the covenant between the sect and God was renewed; the ideology of the sect; its laws and regulations; the principles of religion and law; and the rules of conduct for sectarians. This part concludes with a hymn of praise to God. The other work in the Manual is the Rule for all the Congregation of Israel in the Last Days. This contains an ideal constitution for the future Israelite congregation, which will carry out the precepts of the sect. The scroll concludes with the Psalms of Thanksgiving, to be included in a certain ritual in the Last Days.
The Scroll of the War of the Children of Light against the Children of Darkness This scroll describes a future war between the people of Israel and the nations which rule the world (called Kittim in the scroll). Israel is referred to as the Children of Light, representing the righteousness of the world, while Kittim represent evil. The scroll contains a prophecy of the coming war, followed by regulations for the enrollment of the people, the ritual and the strategy of the war, including a time-table according to which the Children of Light will conquer the world. It specifies the trumpet calls and signals to be used by the warriors and describes their arms; it also lays down the tactics to be employed. The extant part of the scroll concludes with the prayers to be said before, during and after the battle. The end of the scroll is missing.
The Thanksgiving Scroll This is a collection of hymns of praise to God, usually opening with the words ‘I thank thee, O Lord’. In these hymns the poet expresses his belief that all his spiritual qualities, as well as his right to be a member of the sect, are due to the grace of the Lord. Man is lowly and cannot achieve real righteousness, but God has chosen the poet and his friends, giving them unusual spiritual qualities. The poet has also been endowed with the qualities of leadership and the ability to enlighten others with the true belief. It is for this reason that he is being hunted by his adversaries.
The Damascus Document This book was already known from a later copy found in 1896 among the ancient texts preserved in the Cairo synagogue (Damascus). Fragments of several copies were found to supplement the known text. The Damascus Document contains certain exhortations whose aim is to make the people return to the true faith. It is interwoven with the history of Israel, and there are some allusions to the history of the sect as well. The second part contains rulings which differ to a lesser or greater degree from the standard regulations of the Mishnaic authorities.
The Copper Scroll This scroll consists of two rolls of copper found in cave 3. Written in Hebrew, it contains a list of hiding-places in Palestine containing fabulous treasures, with instructions for reaching them. Whether these were real treasures of the Temple or the sect or purely imaginary is still a matter of dispute. In any case, attempts to locate some of the treasures listed have ended in complete failure. Nor is it known whether this scroll originally belonged to the Dead Sea sect or whether it dates from one or two generations later.
In addition to the foregoing, numerous small fragments of many other sectarian writings were discovered. That the sources have not yet been exhausted is proved by two new finds, of a complete phylactery which differs in some details from those now in use, and of the ‘Temple Scroll’, which is perhaps one of the most exciting so far revealed.
The Temple Scroll. This scroll appeared on the antiquities market in 1960 and was acquired in 1968. Apart from being one of the most important documents found in the Dead Sea Caves, it is also the largest; its overall length is about 26.5 feet and it is 9.5–10in high. It deals with the following subjects: a) the festivals; b) offerings and holy gifts; c) the Temple and its courts; d) the Temple City and the laws of uncleanness and purity; e) the statutes of the king; f) miscellaneous laws. The ordinances on all these matters are known only in part from halakhic sources; many are unique to the Dead Sea sect and are meant to clarify the halakhic meaning of the commands. The festivals begin with the First day of the month of Nissan, the days of ordination, and the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread—in each case the number and quality of sacrifices are specified, as is the case with the other festivals. This is followed by the feasts of First Fruits. Many of these festivals and the ritual connected with them are unknown from other sources. The festivals include: the Feast of First Fruits of Barley—the Day of Waving the Sheaf (celebrated on Sunday, the 26th of the 1st month of the sectarian calendar); the Feast of First Fruits of Wheat (Sunday, the 15th of the 3rd month); The Feast of First Fruits of Wine (Sunday, the 3rd of the 5th month); the Feast of First Fruits of Oil (Sunday, the 22nd of the 6th month). Next comes the Feast of Wood Offering (beginning on Monday, the 23rd of the 6th month), for which there is only scanty evidence from other sources. This cycle of festivals terminates with the Day of Memorial (Wednesday, the 1st of the 7th month), the Day of Atonement (Friday, the 10th of the 7th month), the Feast of Booths (Wednesday, the 15th of the 7th month), and the Eight Days of Assembly (Wednesday, the 22nd of the 7th month). The section on offerings and holy gifts deals with Sin Offerings, the Cereal and the Drink Offerings, dues from the Peace Offering and Profane Slaughtering, Levitical tithes, the Holy Fruit Offering of Praise and the Tribute Offering. The most detailed sections deal with the Temple. They begin with a detailed plan of the Temple, its dependencies, courts and furniture and clarify hitherto obscure points. This is followed by ordinances concerning uncleanness and purity in conjunction with entry into the Temple, the Temple City and other cities and laws concerning uncleanness contracted from the dead and from carcasses. Next are given the statutes of the king, dealing with matters such as the organization of the army, the royal guard, the judicial court, the wife of the king and the laws of marriage and divorce, and the laws of war and booty. The scroll terminates with miscellaneous laws dealing with the beautiful woman captive, the “seduced” woman and the “seized” woman, laws of incest, laws concerning hanging on a tree, laws concerning evidence, capital offences, matters of property and the death penalty for one who takes a bribe or perverts righteous judgement. The Temple Scroll is tentatively dated to the beginning of the 2nd century BC.
the bar-kochba period In addition to the manuscripts found in the vicinity of Khirbet Qumran, documents of the Roman, Byzantine and Arab periods were discovered in the locality. Many of the caves in which these were found are still known only to the Bedouins who discovered them. The most important date from the time of the Bar-Kochba rebellion (ad 132–5) and the period immediately preceding it. They belonged to fugitives who found shelter in the caves of the wadis running down to the Dead Sea (Judean Desert Caves), mainly in Wadi Murabbaat, Wadi Khabra and Wadi Seiyal. Among them were fragments of biblical literature, in Hebrew and in Greek translations, phylacteries, legal and administrative documents (including copies of lists of taxpayers) and a scroll on which copies of contracts were written, according to
which the people of the town of Irnahash leased land from ‘Simon Bar Koseba Nasi of Israel’. There were also letters written by Bar-Kochba himself, or on his instructions, to his subordinates. Some of these documents were found by the Bedouins in caves in Israeli territory and were subsequently published by foreign scholars as documents ‘of unknown provenance’. This group of documents is most important for the study of a period in Jewish history of which very little is known. They offer a glimpse into Bar-Kochba’s administration, the military and police organization, the system of supplies for his soldiers, leases of public lands, marriage contracts, the Roman administration in the years preceding the revolt and relations between the Jews and their Nabatean neighbors. Of great importance also are the fragments of biblical texts (Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Isaiah, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah and Micah), which are very close to the Masoretic text now in use. This means that the editing of the books of the Bible must have been done by the generations following the destruction of the Second Temple.