Happy 70th Birthday to the Dead Sea Scrolls! Discovered in caves near the Dead Sea in 1947, these manuscripts have stayed in the top ten of archaeological finds for 70 years. You can see God’s hand in their preservation, sheltered in clay urns, these fragile artifacts spent centuries in the driest, lowest place on earth. Protected from the deteriorating effects of humidity, light and human touch until God determined the science of archaeology was ready for their debut. As we bring them a cake and blow out the candles, below are three reasons to celebrate their 70 years.
Identical After 1000 Years
First, because of the Dead Sea Scrolls, we have the assurance that our old testament scriptures faithfully represent the words given to Moses, David and the prophets. The discovered manuscripts were a thousand years older than any other previously known Hebrew texts of the Bible. Until the discovery, the oldest manuscripts of the Hebrew Scriptures were copies from the 9th and 10th centuries AD. Amazingly, these newly discovered manuscripts were identical in every word and prophecy to the 9th and 10th century texts….a strong example of the care and accuracy of the Jewish scribes and leaders who meticulously passed down God’s word through the centuries.
Faithfully Accurate Oral Tradition
Second, the scroll’s discovery provided a revolutionary look into the transmission of Biblical texts. How did Moses know about creation and the flood? We know he brought the Israelites out of Egypt, so the events of Exodus were detailed from first-hand knowledge. But Adam and Eve? The Ark? Historical research verified how Jewish laws, traditions and accounts were carefully and faithfully passed down through the generations. By looking at a biblical timeline, we can see that Adam, who lived 930 years, was alive and well when Lamech, Noah’s dad, was born…so the story of creation is handed down to Noah. Noah lived 950 years, 350 of those years after the flood, and was around to tell Terah and his son, a small boy named Abram, about the flood and creation. These accounts and more were then faithfully passed down to Moses through Isaac, Jacob, Levi, Kohath, and Amram (Moses’ father).
Who and What of Jewish Sects
Third, the archaeological treasure gave the modern world tremendous insight into the sectarianism that dominated Judaism during the Second Temple period and the early life and ministry of Jesus. The two major sects , the Pharisees and the Sadducees, who squared off both politically and religiously, found their infant roots in the Greek influence or Hellenization that permeated culture after Alexander the Great conquered the Persian Empire. In addition, there were two more sects that played a large role in Biblical Israel, the Essenes and the Zealots. While there were numerous smaller sects, it was these four that vied with one another for the allegiance of the Jewish population over the last two centuries before Jesus was born and into the 1st century until 70 AD when the Temple and Jerusalem were destroyed by Rome.
A Few Dead Sea Scroll Facts:
- Teenage Bedouin shepherds, chasing their flocks, accidently found the first scrolls
- Some of the scrolls were advertised for sale in the Wall Street Journal
- The scrolls include fragments from every book of the Old Testament except Esther
- Eleven caves, to date, have been found that contain entire texts or fragments
- The complete Book of Isaiah, dated to the first century, was found
- The oldest fragment, from the book of Samuel, dates to the 3rd century BC
- Hebrew is not the only language of the scrolls, texts were found in Aramaic and Greek
- One scroll, called the Copper Scroll, is a guide to hidden treasure
- The scrolls contain the last words of Joseph, Judah, Levi, Napthali, and Amram
- New caves, fragments and urn pieces are still being excavated today
The Christian Connection
The Qumran Community’s diligence in copying and preserving God’s word cannot be underestimated. Within the numerous artifacts, there are additional texts about the community’s organization, scripture interpretation, their devotion to holiness and purity, and reasons for separating from the rampant sectarianism of 1st century Judaism. It is interesting to note the similarities between the Qumran/Essene community and Christianity—a point of connection which is also a point of divergence. The Essenes and the early Christians agreed that when God’s kingdom arrived, in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies, there would arise a great prophet, a great priest and a great king. But the Essenes were looking for three distinct figures, whereas Christianity knew they were unified in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.