The Dead Sea Scrolls
and Christian Origins:
General Methodological Considerations
More than fifty years have passed since scrolls and fragments were first discovered by a Bedouin in 1947 in a cave close to the northwest shore of the Dead Sea, in what was then the British Mandate of Palestine. Since that time, especially during the course of the subsequent decade (1947–1956), ten other caves of the same area of the Jordanian-controlled West Bank near the Wadi Qumran yielded written materials of incredible value dating from the end of the third century B.C. up to the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.
In a way that no one would have expected, these discoveries have shed light on four different areas of the ancient history of Judaism. They have given us firsthand knowledge about the form of the languages, Aramaic, Greek, and Hebrew, that Jews spoke and wrote at that time in ancient Judea. They have borne eloquent testimony to the shape of the text of the Old Testament or the Hebrew Scriptures that those Jews were reading. They have shed new light on diverse forms of ancient Palestinian Judaism itself in that period. And they have provided much information about the Palestinian Jewish matrix from which early Christianity emerged.
This chapter and the next one will concentrate on the last mentioned of these areas in order to bring out in a brief way the contribution that such discoveries have made to the beginnings of Christianity. First of all, however, some general methodological considerations have to be made. They are important because of the way the Dead Sea Scrolls have been presented at times