The Dead Sea Scrolls
by Veronica J. Treanor
photos by Leon V. Kofod
On a Spring day in 1947, as he was pursuing a lost sheep, Muhammed ed Dib absent-mindly tossed stones into openings on the steep cliff face a mile from the western shore of the Dead Sea. One stone found a mark, and the young shepherd turned at the sound of something breaking. Upon investigating, he discovered that the opening formed an entrance to a hollow in the rock. Today that hollow is known as the cave where the famous Dead Sea scrolls were found. Subsequently it was named Cave I of Qumran.
Upon entering the cave, Muhammed noticed a number of earthenware jars lying on the floor. Some jars were intact and others shattered, one most likely by his stone. Near the fragments the boy saw rolls of leather wrapped in cloth which later proved to be manuscripts of sacred Hebrew writings which had been painstakenly recorded in an incredibly durable black ink.
Muhammed gathered some of the scrolls and ran excitedly back to his tribe. A long discussion took place among the tribesmen, who came to the conclusion that the scrolls might be worth something. They brought them to a Syrian dealer in Bethlehem who later mentioned the sale to his colleagues in Jerusalem. The news quickly reached the ears of Mar Athanasius Samuel, the Syrian Metropolitan of St. Mark in Jerusalem who then purchased the four best-preserved of the scrolls. Since the Metropolitan could not read Hebrew he was unsure of the scrolls meaning and sought an interpreter. In the Fall of the same year, Professor E.L. Sukenik of Hebrew University was informed of the find at the Dead Sea, but because of the partition of Palestine and increased Arab-Jewish tension, he was not able to meet with the Metropolitan or anyone else from St. Marks until January of 1948. At that time he was handed three scrolls to translate, and immediately recognized one of them as the biblical book of Isaiah, and another as the Rule of an old Jewish monastic sect.
Meanwhile, members of Muhammeds tribe, now aware that the scrolls could yield income, continued their plundering of many of the caves around the initial discovery site. By January of 1951 the Department of Antiquities took over the administration of the excavations and hired the Bedouins to assist in the work.
Since 1951, almost all the caves in the area, more than 267, have been explored. A full library of scrolls has been discovered containing almost all the books of the Bible, many apocryphal works, and the writings of an early sect which proved to be the Essenes (the Greek word for pious or holy).
Before the time of Christ there were a number of movements and sects among the Jews, the Sadducees and Pharisees were two of the larger ones. Sectarianism had been a problem in Judaism for centuries ever since the split between the northern and southern kingdoms. Some of these sects were monastic or semi-monastic in character, and their purpose seemed to be to return to the simple life of the ancient desert Israelites in protest against the modern Judaic practices in the cities. The Essenes had their own calendar, a set of laws, and many sacred writings. They were hostile to the practices of the Pharisees in the Temple at Jerusalem.
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Tags: Jerusalem Monastery Bedouin Manuscripts