02.02.06 Dead Sea Scrolls. This is a collection of scrolls and scroll fragments that were written between the second century B.C. and A.D. 70, by the Essenes who lived in the village of Qumran along the northwestern side of the Dead Sea. While scholars have questioned whether the Essenes wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls, technological evidence has revealed that they were the authors. These writings were hidden in caves when the Roman army was descending upon Qumran after the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. From the time Judaea ceased being a semi-autonomous political state, these scrolls remained hidden until 1947, a year prior to the creation of the state of Israel. After much negotiation, on the day of Israel’s independence, the fledgling state purchased the first scroll discovered which, incidentally, was the book of Isaiah. This may have been by divine appointment since this book has two significant themes:
- The return of Jews to Israel and
- The coming of the Messiah.
02.02.06.Q1 Why is the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls so significant?
The Dead Sea Scrolls were written by the Essenes in the desert village of Qumran, located northwest of the Dead Sea. The Scrolls contain hundreds of complete books and fragments of many others – biblical and extra-biblical books. Every book of the Hebrew Bible is represented with the exception of the book of Esther. In some cases, entire books have been discovered on a single Scroll (i.e., two copies of Isaiah). These Scrolls are critical in the field of apologetics, because they negate the argument by critics who say that copyists had changed the Bible over the centuries. Until these Scrolls were discovered, the oldest biblical texts were from the ninth century A.D., but these are a thousand years older and provide overwhelming evidence that the Old Testament was copied and transmitted throughout the centuries with a high degree of accuracy.
02.02.06.A. YOUNG SCHOLARS EXAMINE AN “ANCIENT JAR.” The author’s grand-daughters Maggie (left) and Carlie Jo examine a certified reproduction of a clay jar identical to the ones in which some of the Dead Sea Scrolls were hidden for 2,000 years. Photograph by a very proud grandpa.
Another contribution is that they help scholars understand the Hebrew and Aramaic languages of the first century. Religious books were written in Hebrew only – what was considered a sacred language. One out of every six extra-biblical scrolls was written in Aramaic, the common language in the time of Jesus. Of the scrolls discovered at Masada, Hebrew writings were more common than Aramaic by a ratio of nine to one.
Jesus spoke Aramaic, but His words and deeds written in the gospels eventually were translated into Greek (i.e. Book of Matthew), or written in Greek (i.e. Books of Mark, Luke, John). Because of the scrolls, scholars now have better understanding of the translation of words and phrases which previously were questionable. The Essene commentaries reveal how this group of ultra-orthodox Jews interpreted their Hebrew Bible. While certainly not all Jewish people interpreted Scripture in the same manner, the scrolls present topics that were under serious consideration and debate at the time of Jesus.
There is no question that their discovery was the greatest archaeological find since biblical times. They provide understanding of Scripture and matters of daily Jewish life. The following are several interesting examples:
- Critics have long said that certain words and phrases were inserted in the New Testament by church fathers in the second to fourth centuries, and therefore, these could not have been original with Jesus. Phrases such as “sons of light,” “sons of darkness,” “the elect,” “lake (river) of fire,” and “light and darkness,” were among those supposedly written centuries after Jesus. However, the Scrolls put that argument to rest, especially the scroll known as The Manual of Discipline in which many of these terms appear.
- The Scrolls and New Testament indicate that the rite of induction into the church or Essene community by immersion (baptism) had no saving benefits; repentance and faith were essential. Yes, the Essenes baptized new members.
- The communal fellowship that was encouraged for believers by Luke (Acts 4:32-37) was also required by the Essenes.
- The Scrolls confirm the criticism written in the Talmud and Mishnah concerning the corruption of the temple priesthood. Jesus also criticized the same leading Pharisees and Sadducees.
- The Scrolls provide information and details that the Hebrew Bible does not have. As a result, some vague passages such as Psalm 145:13 and 1 Samuel 10-11 are now clarified.
- The Scrolls also preserved a picture of first century daily life without the influence of Christian thought or beliefs. Yet there is some evidence to suggest that, prior to the Roman destruction, accounts of the gospel of Jesus had arrived at the Essene community. Two or three small papyri fragments were found which some scholars believe are from the gospels. The discovery suggests that Jesus was very popular and His reputation penetrated every segment of Jewish society as indicated in the gospels, including the isolationistic Essenes.
Video Insert >
02.02.06.V The Significance of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Dr. Bryant Wood discusses the significance of the Dead Sea Scrolls in terms of understanding the life and times of Jesus, AND that these scrolls are overwhelming evidence that the Scriptures have been faithfully translated and transmitted for the past 2,000 years.
- The Scrolls repeatedly state that the Essenes believed in a coming messiah who would deliver them from Roman oppression and the corrupt temple aristocrats. Two examples of their messianic hope are:
- The term “prepare the way” is found in 1QS 8:12b-14 (cf. Mt. 3)
- The messianic work described in 4Q521 frag. 2, col 2:1-13 (cf. Mt. 11)
. For example, in 2010 a team of Italian physicists used a new scientific device known as a “XPIXE,” which is an acronym for “X-ray and Particle Induced X-ray Emission” It tested the chlorine and bromide residue found on the leather parchment on which the Temple Scroll was written. The physicists found that the ratio of the two elements to be the same as in Dead Sea water which is many times higher than in fresh water or sea water. The conclusion is that leather was tanned by the Essenes, and not elsewhere by others, who some say, may have written this document. See “Temple Scroll Produced at Qumran.” Artifax. 25:4 (Autmun, 2010). 10; Discovery News. July 20, 2010.
. Bivin and Blizzard, Understanding the Difficult Words. 37.
. Bruce, “Dead Sea Scrolls.” 1:372.