The man in charge of the reconstruction of the 2,000-year-old Dead Sea Scrolls shared his insights with 100 church leaders yesterday.
Prof Stephen Pfann, president of the University of the Holy Land, told the Birmingham conference that the origins of Christianity were in the palm of his hand.
The 100,000 fragments found in 1947 have now been pieced together into about 800 documents, including the earliest known copy of the Bible.
Prof Pfann has also unearthed texts written by a High Priest at the time when Jesus walked the earth, which explain many of the rituals which still permeate Judaism and Christianity today.
He said: 'In the scrolls we now have what the contemporaries of Jesus held in their hands, and we can examine them. We are not guessing about their contents, there are no embellishments, they are there for us to see. We can see the text of the New Testament, and see the development of Christian thought. It is an important backdrop to the Christian faith.'
The scrolls were deposited in the caves of the barren hills surrounding the Dead Sea.
The fact that they survived for twenty centuries, that they were found accidentally by Bedouin shepherds, and that they are the largest and oldest body of manuscripts relating to the Bible and to the time of Jesus of Nazareth make them a truly remarkable archaeological find.
Since their discovery, the scrolls and the identity of the nearby settlement of Qumran have been the subject of great scholarly and public interest, as well as heated debate and controversy.
Why were the scrolls hidden in the caves? Who placed them there? Who lived in Qumran? Were its inhabitants responsible for the scrolls and their presence in the caves? Of what significance are the scrolls to Judaism and Christianity? …