Dead Sea Scrolls

Dead Sea Scrolls, ancient leather and papyrus scrolls first discovered in 1947 in caves on the NW shore of the Dead Sea. Most of the documents were written or copied between the 1st cent. BC and the first half of the 1st cent. AD

Scrolls of the Qumran Caves

Three types of documents have been found in the caves near Qumran: copies of books of the Hebrew Bible, e.g., Isaiah, of which two almost complete scrolls have been found; copies of books now collected in the Old Testament Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, e.g., Tobit, 1 Enoch, and Jubilees; and documents composed by an ascetic community, e.g., a book of community rules called The Manual of Discipline, an allegorical account of the community called The War of the Sons of Light with the Sons of Darkness, a group of devotional poems called The Thanksgiving Psalms, a commentary on the Book of Habakkuk, and an extensive work, known as the Temple Scroll, containing ritual law.

Documents from the third group have been identified by some scholars with the Essenes, a Jewish religious sect living an ascetic communal agricultural life in the region between the 2d cent. BC and 2d cent. AD It has also been hypothesized that the Qumran scrolls are the secreted library of a community, perhaps Essene, that lived at Qumran, and thus survived the destruction of the settlement in c.AD 68. Startling parallels in expression and thought between the Qumran materials and the New Testament have led to speculation as to their influence on early Christianity. The Temple Scroll, for instance, revealed a list of rules of conduct resembling standard Christian ethics. Some scholars have tried to establish that Jesus and John the Baptist were influenced by, or members of, a Qumran Essene community, but such interpretations are widely disputed. More recent work by other archaeologists and biblical scholars has questioned the association of the scrolls with the Qumran ruins and the Essenes.

Other Texts

Other texts, not related to the Qumran scrolls, have been found in the area around the Dead Sea. At Masada other scrolls were found, including manuscripts of Sirach and the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice. In the caves at Wadi Murabbaat, c.11 mi (18 km) S of Qumran, many documents were found concerning Bar Kokba's army, as well as more biblical manuscripts. Other documents from the Bar Kokba era were discovered in caves S of En Gedi. These findings, written in Greek, Aramaic, and Nabataean, included biblical fragments, psalms, various legal documents, and a lost Greek translation of the minor prophets. The oldest documents, found at a site 8 mi (13 km) N of Jericho, were left by Samarians massacred by Alexander the Great in 331 BC

Control and Publication of the Scrolls

Most of the originals of the scrolls are at the Rockefeller Museum in East Jerusalem; the rest are at the Israel Museum's Shrine of the Book in Jerusalem. The intact scrolls and other materials were published in the decades following their discovery, but many fragments remained unpublished and under the control of a small group of scholars, originally appointed by Jordanian officials, and their intellectual heirs. As a result of the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, control of all the scrolls passed to the Israeli Antiquities Authority. International dissatisfaction with the limited access allowed to, and the slow rate of publication of, the scrolls that remained unpublished led the Huntington Library in San Marino, Calif., to allow (1991) scholars access to its set of master negatives of the scrolls despite the objections of the Israeli Antiquities Authority. Subsequently the authority removed its restrictions on the use of the unpublished scrolls, and expedited the publication of them.


See texts published in the series Discoveries in the Judaean Desert (39 vol., 1955–2002); T. H. Gaster, The Dead Sea Scriptures (1976); M. A. Knibb, The Qumran Community (1987); L. H. Schiffman, The Eschatological Community of the Dead Sea Scrolls (1989); J. A. Fitzmyer, The Dead Sea Scrolls (rev. ed. 1990); H. Shanks et al., The Dead Sea Scrolls after 40 Years (1991); H. Shanks, ed., Understanding the Dead Sea Scrolls (1992); L. H. Schiffman, Reclaiming the Dead Sea Scrolls (1994); N. A. Silberman, The Hidden Scrolls (1994); N. Golb, Who Wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls (1995); H. Shanks, The Mystery and Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls (1998); G. Vermes, The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English (rev. ed. 2004); J. J. Collins, The Dead Sea Scrolls (2012).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2015, The Columbia University Press.

Dead Sea Scrolls: Selected full-text books and articles

The Dead Sea Scrolls: A Biography By John J. Collins Princeton University Press, 2012
The Dead Sea Scrolls Translated: The Qumran Texts in English By Florentino Garcia Martinez; Wilfred G. E. Watson W.B. Eerdmans, 1996
The Dead Sea Scrolls and Christian Origins By Joseph A. Fitzmyer W.B. Eerdmans, 2000
The Dead Sea Scrolls and the New Testament By George J. Brooke Fortress Press, 2005
Religion in the Dead Sea Scrolls By John J. Collins; Robert A. Kugler William B. Eerdmans, 2000
The Messiah before Jesus: The Suffering Servant of the Dead Sea Scrolls By Israel Knohl; David Maisel University of California Press, 2000
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