The Jewish Bible, as accepted today, was the product of a lengthy evolution; the scrolls offered important new insights into the process by which the text was edited during its formation. The scrolls also set forth a series of detailed regulations that challenge the religious laws practiced by the priests in Jerusalem and espoused by other Jewish sects such as the Pharisees. Consequently, scholars of Judaism consider the scrolls to be a missing link between the period when religious laws were passed down orally and the Rabbinic era, beginning circa A. For Christians as well, the scrolls are a source of profound insight.
But the appearance of the phrase in the scrolls indicates the term was already in use when Jesus was preaching his gospel. Whoever hid the scrolls from the Romans did a superb job. The texts at Qumran remained undiscovered for nearly two millennia. A few 19th-century European travelers examined what they assumed was an ancient fortress of no particular interest.
Then, near it in , a goat strayed into a cave, a Bedouin shepherd flung a stone into the dark cavern and the resulting clink against a pot prompted him to investigate. He emerged with the first of what would be about 15, fragments of some scrolls secreted in the many caves that pock the cliffs rising above the Dead Sea. The Arab-Israeli War prevented a close examination of the Qumran ruins. But after a fragile peace set in, a bearded and bespectacled Dominican monk named Roland de Vaux started excavations of the site and nearby caves in His findings of spacious rooms, ritual baths and the remains of gardens stunned scholars and the public alike.
He also unearthed scores of cylindrical jars, hundreds of ceramic plates and three inkwells in or near a room that he concluded had once contained high tables used by scribes. Much of his Qumran material remains locked up in private collections in Jerusalem and Paris, out of reach of most scholars. By the s, however, new data from other sites began casting doubt on his theory. For example, we now know that Qumran was not the remote place it is today. Two millennia ago, there was a thriving commercial trade in the region; numerous settlements dotted the shore, while ships plied the sea.
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Springs and runoff from the steep hills were carefully engineered to provide water for drinking and agriculture, and date palms and plants produced valuable resins used in perfume. And while the heavily salinated sea lacked fish, it provided salt and bitumen, the substance used in ancient times to seal boats and mortar bricks. He uncovered more than 1, coins—nearly half of which were silver—as well as evidence of hewn stone columns, glass vessels, glass beads and other fine goods.
Some of it likely comes from later Roman occupation, but Belgian husband-and-wife archaeologists Robert Donceel and Pauline Donceel-Voute believe that most of the accumulated wealth indicates that Qumran was an estate—perhaps owned by a rich Jerusalem patrician—that produced perfume. The massive fortified tower, they say, was a common feature of villas during a conflict-prone era in Judea. And they note that Jericho and Ein Gedi a settlement nearly 20 miles south of Qumran were known throughout the Roman world as producers of the balsam resin used as a perfume base.
In a cave near Qumran, Israeli researchers found in a small round bottle that, according to lab analyses, contained the remains of resin. But they might just as well have been vials of perfume. Other theories abound. Some think Qumran was a modest trading center.
British archaeologist David Stacey believes it was a tannery and that the jars found by de Vaux were for the collection of urine necessary for scouring skins.
The Bible and the Dead Sea Scrolls
For his part, Peleg believes Qumran went through several distinct stages. As the morning heat mounts, he leads me up a steep ridge above the site, where a channel hewn into the rock brought water into the settlement. This was a period when the Nabateans—the eastern rivals of Rome—threatened Judea. But Peleg says that once the Romans conquered the region, in 63 B. He believes out-of-work Judean soldiers and local families may have turned the military encampment to peaceful purposes, building a modest aqueduct that emptied into deep rectangular pools so that fine clay for making pots could settle.
He thinks the former soldiers built eight kilns to produce pottery for the markets of Ein Gedi and Jericho, grew dates and possibly made perfume—until the Romans leveled the place during the Jewish insurrection. She says that some archaeologists—by refusing to acknowledge evidence that residents of Qumran hid the scrolls—are inclined to leap to conclusions since their research relies solely on the ambiguous, physical remains at the site. Even jurisdiction over Qumran is a source of contention.
Salt study unravels ancient mystery around well-preserved Dead Sea Scroll
For his part, Raphael Golb entered a plea of not guilty on July 8, The case has been adjourned until January About the only thing that the adversaries seem to agree on is that money is at the root of the problem. Popular books with new theories about Qumran sell, says Schiffman. Golb notes that the traditional view of Qumran is more likely to attract tourists to the site. Some scholars seek a middle ground. Robert Cargill, an archaeologist at the University of California at Los Angeles, envisions Qumran as a fort that later sheltered a group producing not only scrolls but an income through tanning or pottery making.
Efforts at compromise have hardly quelled the conflicting theories. Perhaps, as French archaeologist Jean-Baptiste Humbert suggests, Qumran scholars are shaped by their personal experience as well as by their research. But the debate matters little to the thousands of visitors who flock to the Holy Land. Intrigued, he cast a stone into the dark interior, only to be startled by the sound of breaking pots. This sound echoed around the world. For he had stumbled on the greatest find of the century, the Dead Sea Scrolls. Trever Some of the scrolls may have been hidden in jars like these, which were found in the excavations of the caves and the site of Qumran Photo: Mariana Salzberger Khalil Eskander Shahin Kando , Bethlehem antiquities dealer Photo courtsy of: Alexander Schick collection of large clay jars.
The majority were empty and upon examining the remaining few, he found that the jars were intact, with lids still in place. However, a closer look revealed nothing but old scrolls, some wrapped in linen and blackened with age. He and several companions brought the scrolls to Kando, a Bethlehem antiquities dealer, for appraisal.
Intrigued by the findings, Kando sent the Bedouin back to the caves in search of more treasures. To his delight, they returned with a total of seven scrolls. Blind to their real value, the Bedouin sold four of the seven scrolls to Kando and three to a second antiquities dealer named Salahi.
Mark in Jerusalem. Braving Arab-Jewish tensions, he travelled to meet the Armenian dealer at the British divided military zone of the Jerusalem border. In this clandestine meeting, the dealer held up a fragment of leather for the professor to examine.
As Sukenik peered through the wire, he recognized the ancient writing. Eager to see more, Sukenik travelled with the dealer to Bethlehem to see Salahi, who was in the possession of three Scrolls. Opening the Scrolls, he was amazed to see Hebrew manuscripts, one thousand years older then any existing biblical text.
In his diary, Sukenik recollected:. The Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered more than 60 years ago in seaside caves near an ancient settlement called Qumran.
The Dead Sea Scrolls are a priceless link to the Bible's past
The conventional wisdom is that a breakaway Jewish sect called the Essenes—thought to have occupied Qumran during the first centuries B. But new research suggests many of the Dead Sea Scrolls originated elsewhere and were written by multiple Jewish groups, some fleeing the circa-A.
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It could have been groups of different Jews," said Robert Cargill , an archaeologist who appears in the documentary Writing the Dead Sea Scrolls , which airs Tuesday at 9 p. In , a French archaeologist and Catholic priest named Roland de Vaux led an international team to study the mostly Hebrew scrolls, which a Bedouin shepherd had discovered in De Vaux concluded that the scrolls' authors had lived in Qumran, because the 11 scroll caves are close to the site. Ancient Jewish historians had noted the presence of Essenes in the Dead Sea region, and de Vaux argued Qumran was one of their communities after his team uncovered numerous remains of pools that he believed to be Jewish ritual baths.
His theory appeared to be supported by the Dead Sea Scrolls themselves, some of which contained guidelines for communal living that matched ancient descriptions of Essene customs. Recent findings by Yuval Peleg, an archaeologist who has excavated Qumran for 16 years, are challenging long-held notions of who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls. Artifacts discovered by Peleg's team during their excavations suggest Qumran once served as an ancient pottery factory. The supposed baths may have actually been pools to capture and separate clay.
And on Jerusalem's Mount Zion, archaeologists recently discovered and deciphered a two-thousand-year-old cup with the phrase "Lord, I have returned" inscribed on its sides in a cryptic code similar to one used in some of the Dead Sea Scrolls. To some experts, the code suggests that religious leaders from Jerusalem authored at least some of the scrolls. According to an emerging theory, the Essenes may have actually been Jerusalem Temple priests who went into self-imposed exile in the second century B.
This group of rebel priests may have escaped to Qumran to worship God in their own way.
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