Dead Sea Scrolls

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In 1947, the "Dead Sea Scrolls" were unearthed in Qumran (Khirbet Qumran), which is located on the northernmost corner of the Dead Sea desert. “Khirbet,” in Arabic means ruin. Because of this name, this presence of this place has a significant historical meaning. Why were the "Dead Sea Scrolls" hidden in Qumran? Why are they important? Examinations by experts have found that the "Dead Sea Scrolls" are in fact the Old Testament of the Bible. They are the earliest Jewish biblical manuscripts, meaning they have an important connection with the origins of Christianity. The “Dead Sea Scrolls” take their name from the location in which they were found.

Discovery of the Scrolls

The story of the discovery of "Dead Sea Scrolls" begins with a shepherd boy who was looking for his lost sheep. By accident, he stumbled across a cave and found some jars with the scrolls inside. In the old days, it was common to sell unearthed ancient objects to antique dealers, wealthy families or scholars. Therefore, when the first 7 scrolls were found, four of them sold to the orthodox archbishop of Jerusalem, Athanasius Samuel, and other three were collected by Professor E. Y. Sukenik at Hebrew University. Now these seven scrolls are kept in the Shrine of the Book museum in Jerusalem, Israel.

The discovery of the oldest chapters of the Book of Isaiah in 1947 was announced to the media by Yale University in the United States on April 11, 1948. Although the news did not excite the majority of the world, it did pull archaeologists to do more investigation in Qumran. The continued search resulted in the finding of more scrolls in 11 nearby caves in the following nine years. The "Dead Sea Scrolls" are estimated to be more than two thousand years old (300BC-100BC), and are mainly written in three languages: ancient Hebrew, ancient Aramaic and ancient Greek. Carbon ink was used on sheepskin or papyrus, and a few writings were engraved on copper plates and stones. There are 900 scrolls in total with more than tens of thousands of fragments.

The texts of "Dead Sea Scrolls" can be categorized into two types: biblical manuscripts and non-biblical manuscripts. Biblical manuscripts include the Old Testament, the oldest manuscript of Hebrew Bible. There are 20 copies of Genesis, 17 copies of Exodus, 37 copies of Book of Songs and the most completed piece is the Book of Isaiah. The non-biblical manuscripts include psalms and hymns, laws and legal commentary, and rules for the Essene community (who produced and hid the scrolls) and its rites.

Why were these scrolls hidden in Qumran and the nearby sites? According to legend, there was a group of religious teachers and disciples who wanted to escape from Roman colonial control, an incompetent puppet government, and the corruption of the religious leaders in Jerusalem. Thus, this religious group lived in Qumran to practice their belief, compile their writing, and strictly discipline themselves like the monks of Sadhu in their monastery. The restoration of the "Dead Sea Scrolls" lasted for a long period of time because only certain people could participate in the work. Progress was slow, and in 2011, the Culture Institute of Google began a collaboration with the Museum of Israel, using infrared scanning technology to restore the tracing marks of the texts and digitalizing them for the public to read on the internet.

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