It was a January evening in 1947 when a few boys were looking after sheep in the area of the Dead Sea. One boy, Juma, decided to throw a rock into one of the thousands of caves in the cliffs, and to his surprise heard a crack of something breaking. The boys had to leave, but Muhammad, Juma’s cousin, the next morning returned to explore what they hoped was a vast treasure of money.
To his disappointment, the “only” things discovered were seven old manuscripts contained in many jars within that cave. Four of these scrolls ended up in Jerusalem’s St. Mark’s Monastery where scholars from the American School of Oriental Research examined them in great detail. The other three were sold to an archaeologist at the Hebrew University.
The word spread, and in 1949 many expeditions to the area were formed to search for more scrolls. This led to the discovery of 10 more caves, all containing scrolls. Scholars at that time (though additional research continues) studied the ruins of Qumran and those who lived there ––– possibly a sect called “Essenes” – establishing the origin of the scrolls at roughly 125 B.C. to A.D. 68 (though some are dated into the later second century).
The manuscripts appear to have been hastily stored in jars, probably because of the coming Roman army which stopped the Jewish revolts between A.D. 66-70. Archaeologists also discovered much about the lifestyle of these Jewish ascetics (those who separated themselves from society), along with a scriptorium where most of the scrolls were copied. There are two types of scrolls – Biblical and non-Biblical, or “sectarian,” which describe the lives of those who lived there.
In February 1955, the seven original scrolls were placed into the Shrine of the Book – a special museum created to house these magnificent discoveries in Israel – at the Hebrew University. These include: a full copy of Isaiah; a partial copy of Isaiah; commentary on the first two chapters of Habakkuk; the Manual of Discipline; Thanksgiving Hymns; an Aramaic paraphrase of Genesis; and the Rule of War. This discovery is known today as the Dead Sea Scrolls.
The impact of this find cannot be overstated. Before this discovery, the manuscripts used to translate the Bible were called the Masoretic Texts, which date to roughly around A.D. 900. With the Dead Sea Scrolls, scholars could compare the manuscripts to see how accurately they were transmitted more than 1,000 years prior to the Masoretic Texts. Thousands of fragments and more than 600 scrolls have been found in these 11 Qumran caves. Every book of the Old Testament, with the exception of Esther, has been found, with additional scrolls as well. Much to the scholars’ surprise, the similarity of these two sets of manuscripts was astonishing, with only minor variations such as style and spelling. This is just one of the evidences that God has preserved His word down through the centuries. We can trust His word and we can trust Him!