Dead Sea Scrolls


"In 1947 Jum'a, a shepherd of the Ta'amireh tribe of the nomadic Bedouins, discovered ancient scrolls rolled up in leather and cloth in a cave to the northwest of the Dead Sea in the Qumran Valley. A remarkable archaeological find, the scrolls formed the first part of a collection of Hebrew and Aramaic manuscripts that were discovered in quick succession after Jum'a's original find. These ancient texts, which include the Book of Isaiah in its entirety and fragments from all other books of the Old Testament except for the Book of Esther, turned out to be more than 1000 years older than any other known Hebrew texts."
     - Douglas Burrows/Liaison International, Encarta Concise Encyclopedia

Ancient Discoveries

The modern Dead Sea Scroll discovery was not the first to uncover ancient non-Pharisee texts in the Judaen desert. Two significant finds of hidden scrolls in the neighborhood of Jericho (northwest of the Dead Sea) were recorded long before the famous discovery at Qumran in 1947.

"...Toward the middle of the third century A.D., the learned and prolific church father Origen had made use of a Greek translation of the Bible that, so he stated, had been found 'together with other Hebrew and Greek books in a jar near Jericho'. Origen wrote that this find had been made during the reign of Antoninus Severus (i.e., Caracalla) who ruled from A.D. 211 to 217."
     - Norman Golb, Who Wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls?, (1995) p. 101
"The dog of a hunting Arab...entered a cave and did not come out. His master followed him and found a dwelling within the rocks, in which were many books. The hunter went to Jerusalem and informed the Jews. They came in throngs and found books of the Old Testament and others in Hebrew script."
     - Nestorian Patriarch Timotheus I of Seleucia in a letter mentioning an incident 'near Jericho' (aprox. 800 C.E.)

Non-Essene Texts At Qumran

Due to the great variety of texts, diverse doctrines, and number of scribes, it seems unlikely that all the Qumran scrolls were mass produced "in house" by a sectarian group such as the Essenes. More likely the vast diversity of scrolls represent many different currents of beliefs in ancient Judaea, either brought into the community by new coverts who afterward rejected them, collected by thorough librarians wishing for complete collections, or deposited there by different groups during times of war.

"The Biblical manuscripts found in the Qumran, are distributed as follows: 60% Proto-Masoretic texts, 20% Qumran style manuscripts, 10% Nonaligned texts, 5% Proto-Samaritan texts, and 5% Septuagintal type texts. Further more, the Qumran style manuscripts have their bases in the proto-Masoretic texts. The Masoretic type texts were dominant in the time of the Hasmonean period (about 160 B.C.E.). Reclaiming the Dead Sea Scrolls by Shiffman]
"...Most of the texts that vary from the Masoretic (4 LXX manuscript fragments, for example, dating to the 1st and second century B.C.E.), come from cave 4. This is the cave where the texts were not preserved carefully in jars. It is conjectured, that cave 4 was a geniza for the depositing of texts that were damaged or had textual errors."
     - Gretchen Haas
"...According to Frank Moore Cross (another DSS scholar) there are at least 3 'families' of texts at Qumran : the MT 'family', the 'Egyptian' family, and a 'Palestinian' family . The 'Egyptian' version which, among other things, has a different version of Jeremiah, became the basis for the LXX. The 'Palestinian ' became the basis for the Samaritan version. The MT variety was the ancestor of what we use today--although even within these 'families' there was sometimes variation. We do not know which version was being used by, say, the Sadducees of the Temple sect, or even which the Essenes themselves used. The Jewish community at Alexandria evidently used the Egyptian 'family' or the LXX."
     - Randolph Parrish
"...While the scrolls consisted of works of literature, none of them [other than the Copper Scroll] seemed to show signs of an original author in the act of writing down his thoughts; none, that is, could be considered which is properly called a literaryautograph....The scrolls...were apparently all smoothly written copies of literary works, made by scribes, and -judging by the nature of the scribal errors - sometimes two or more steps removed from the original authors' texts, now vanished, upon which they were based." Text reconstructed from the fragments of a number of documents "appear to consist of accounts of grain sales, lists of witnesses, and deeds of purchase; there may also be an acknowledgment of debt from the reign of Herod (ruled 37-4 B.C.) and an act of ownership dating to the reign of Tiberius Caesar (ruled 17-37 A.D.). They reflect the private ownership of goods and property, a fact basically inconsistent with the principles of communal ownership laid down in the Manual of Discipline."
     - Norman Golb, Who Wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls?, (1995) pp. 54, 60-61
"Over fifty different handwritings were represented in this first Qumran cave alone -where, according to the notion of a sect living at Qumran and the corresponding identification of one building there as a scriptorum, one would have rather expected to find several groups of texts, each written by a much smaller number of scribes, and with a relatively large number of texts done by a single scribe. Such was the situation on the island of Elephantine, in upper Egypt, where...Aramaic manuscripts of the fifth century B.C. were discovered many years ago. Michael Wise of the University of Chicago, an incisive interpreter of the Qumran texts and their cultural milieu, has pointed out that, by any reasonable estimate, the number of inhabitants at Elephantine was perhaps fifty times the estimated number of 'sectarians' who have been claimed to live at Khirbet Qumran, and that nevertheless the Elephantine inhabitants 'relied upon only a dozen or so scribes. And this total served over a period of three or four scribes at the most could have been active there in a given generation."
In contrast, the Dead Sea Scrolls are "a cache of Hebrew manuscripts copied by at least five hundred scribes..."
"The great number of scroll remnants, exhibiting a variety of disparate doctrines, many without tangible sectarian bias, indicates their place of origin was a large cultural center in Hellenistic and Roman Judea, such as only Jerusalem was before A.D. 70."
     - Norman Golb, Who Wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls?, (1995) pp. 97-98, 332, 148

This great variety of texts, with such extensive scribal activity, warns us to be careful about accepting all the Qumran texts as authoritative and indicative of Essene beliefs. We must also be careful about drawing too firm of a conclusion about any one Essene practice based on information found in such a diverse group of writings. There are several texts, however, which have the unmistakable ring of true Essene origin and which resonate with the reports given us by ancient historians such as Josephus and Philo. Among these are the Manual of Discipline and Damascus Document, both valuable texts in the restoration of the ancient Essene-Nasarene Way.

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