The Discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls
The famous Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1947 in Qumran by a group of Bedouin goat herders. Qumran is located just a kilometer from the Dead Sea. While looking for a stray goat there, the herders wandered into a cave. They found a set of jars containing old manuscripts. Recognizing some value in this strange find, the Bedouin sold them to a shoemaker named Kando. Kando specialized in the buying and selling of antiquities. Of the seven jars that he’d bought, he sold three of them to Eleazar Sukenik of the Hebrew University. He then sold the other four to Mar Athansius, a member of the Syrian Orthodox monastery. Athansius later brought his scrolls to American School of Oriental Research. Not long adter that, western scholars gathered around the Dead Sea Scrolls like fireflies around light.
Scholars gave the name Qumran Cave to the cave where the scrolls had been found. In 1949 a new search yielded some more manuscript fragments as well as pottery, wood and cloth. By this time both the scholars and the Bedouins realized the whole area may have more of these prized items. In the years between 1949 and 1956, they rushed to excavate ten more caves in the area. Their search uncovered more scrolls and a total of some 800 fragments dating from 150 BC to 70 AD.
The Contents of the Dead Sea Scrolls
The Dead Sea Scrolls consisted of various ancient Jewish writings in the Aramaic and Hebrew languages. These included biblical texts, hymns, prayers and non-canonical works that became known as the Pseudepigrapha. Most interesting of all, perhaps, were manuscripts attributed to a Jewish sect that possibly lived in the Qumran caves. This sect was probably the Essenes.
The contents of the Dead Sea Scrolls are generally divided into three groups: biblical or canonical books from the Jewish scriptures, pseudepigraphical or books ascribed to a biblical character, and sectarian texts believed to be written by a sect within Judaism.
The Dead Sea Scrolls is one of the most significant archeological finds in modern times. Although mostly fragmentary, they have added much to scholars’ understanding of religious practices and beliefs of the time. These fragments are available online in English translations. Scans of the original writings may be purchased as well.
Today much of the Dead Sea Scrolls are kept in the Shrine of the Book, in Jerusalem; the Chicago University; Azusa Pacific University; and the Theological Seminary at Princeton.