Multimedia • Reference • Religion • Travel
The Dead Sea Scrolls Rediscovered: An Updated Look at One of Archaeology's Greatest Mysteries
Excerpt from The Dead Sea Scrolls Rediscovered
Chapter 1: Discovery
It is curious how many great discoveries in all areas of human endeavour are made by chance - no more so than in the field of archaeology. In late 1946 or early 1947, a Bedouin shepherd called Jum'a Muhammed stumbled on something extraordinary while scrambling among the rocky cliffs that rise just behind a terrace of land on which stand a group of ancient ruins, known as Khirbet Qumran, by the shores of the Dead Sea.
As the story goes, he was looking for a stray goat when he noticed a couple of openings in the rocks. He peered down into the darkness but could see nothing, so he threw in some stones. Then, as they crashed down inside, he heard the sound of breaking pottery. As the day was coming to an end, Jum'a Muhammed and his two cousins herded the rest of the flock down from the escarpment, intending to return for a closer look at the cave to discover whether they had found anything valuable.
A day or so later one of the cousins, the nimble Muhammad edh-Dhib, nicknamed the Wolf, woke early and climbed back up to the site. He cleared some rocks away and wriggled down into the cave. Inside he found a number of ancient pottery jars, most of which were empty although a few contained musty old scrollsof parchment wrapped in cloth which he and his companions removed over the next few days. Being poor illiterate shepherds, he and his companions must have been disappointed for they had not found anything that they could recognize as valuable.
Apparently the scrolls were taken back to the shepherds' camp and left dangling from a tent pole, of no great interest to anybody. It has even been rumored that some of the parchment was used for kindling cooking fires - every archaeologist's nightmare. Such was the fate of several of the less well-known papyrus Gnostic manuscripts that were found around the same time at the Nag Hammadi in Egypt. Whether that happened by the Dead Sea or not, by the time the Bedouin shepherds thought about selling them they had just seven crumbling scrolls.
Sold for Five Pounds
Winter over, the two older cousins, Juma and Khalil, took the scrolls into nearby Bethlehem. Nobody they spoke to had any idea what these battered bits of parchment could be and probably cared even less. Somebody suggested taking them to a local cobbler, who might give the men a few pence and use the scrolls for shoe repairs. So off they went to the shop of Khalil Eskander Shahin, better known to his friends as Kando, who also happened to be a part-time antiques dealer. A little more sophisticated than his Bedouin clients, Kando realized the scrolls might be worth something: he paid the two Bedouin five pounds and agreed to share any profits from the eventual sale of the scrolls. Crucially for the saga that was about to unfold, he also agreed to become thair agent for any subsequent finds.
As it happened, both Kando and a friend of his, George Shamoun, were Syrian Orthodox Christians. Acting on a hunch, during Holy Week of 1947 Shamoun mentioned the scrolls to Metropolitan Athanasius Yeshue Samuel of St Mark's Syrian Orthodox church in Jerusalem. After various delays, amid fears for the authenticity of the items on offer, Metropolitan Samuel eventually bought four scrolls for a mere 24 pounds. Meanwhile, the well-respected archaeologist Eleazar Sukenik (father of the better-known Yigael Yadin), who worked at the new Hebrew University in Jerusalem, had been offered two fairly complete ancient scrolls and some fragments by another antiques dealer, Feidi Salah. He immediately realized with astonishment that the scrolls were not only authentic but truly ancient, dating from the Second Temple period, judging by the similarity of the their script to to that on grave inscriptions he had studied. This was a discovery of immense importance, for nothing similar had ever been found before - indeed, in the harsh dry climate it was assumed that manuscripts from this period could not possibly have survived. One can well imagine his hand-trembling excitement as he examined the two scrolls. he immediately purchased them and the fragments on behalf of the Hebrew University and then, a few months later, in December 1947, he obtained a further scroll from the same source.
A Glimpse of Another World
We now know that what he had bought were the Book of Isaiah, the Thanksgiving Hymns, and the Scroll of the War of the Sons of Light Against the Sons of Darkness or War Scroll. Though Sukenik had no idea that a huge quantity of material still lay undiscovered, these three scrolls were to give the world a glimpse of the strange world of sectarian Jewish life during the turbulent last centuries btween the Old and New Testaments. Of course, he was very familiar with the Book of Isaiah, though this newly acquired copy offered a slightly different version of the text in the Bible. We shall return to the significance of this in Chapter 6. The two other scrolls, however, were totally new and attracted considerable attention from biblical scholars.
The Thanksgiving Hymns were a collection of hymns full of striking images and beauty, obviously meant to be used as a part of religious worship. Despite their superficial similarities in tone to some of the Psalms, they spoke from a very different perspective from anything known from other sources. the question was: who had written them? Were they for use in the daily rituals carried out in the great Temple that stood in Jerusalem, or were they composed by some fringe group? As more material gradually came to light from Qumran some of these questions were answered, although the answers themselves often lead to still more questions.
But the most extraordinary document was the so-called War Scroll, which spoke in great detail of the preparations that were to be made by the faithful for an imminent apocalyptic struggle between the forces of good and evil. This war, it said, would result in the utter destruction of the evil ones and the establishment of God's rule over the world under the stewardship of his holy representative - a scenario strikingly similar to the beliefs attributed in early Christian writings to the Galilean rabbi Yeshua and his followers, who also taught that 'the Kingdom of God was at hand'.
Copyright ©1996-2005 CenturyOne Bookstore. All Rights Reserved.
All prices subject to change and given in U.S. dollars.
Your purchase from CenturyOne.com will assist the CenturyOne Foundation in providing funding for various archaeological and research projects which seek to provide more information about the period of the First Century C.E., the origins of Christianity and the world of the Bible in general.
All materials contained in http://www.centuryone.com are protected by copyright and trademark laws and may not be used for any purpose whatsoever other than private, non-commercial viewing purposes. Derivative works and other unauthorized copying or use of stills, video footage, text or graphics is expressly prohibited.