Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Another Dead Sea Scrolls Theory

The Dead Sea Scrolls have fascinated me for more than 10 years now. As you might surmise from this bookshelf:

Or this one:

Believe me, they're just the tip of the iceberg.

The Scrolls, found in 11 caves over a period of several years starting in 1947, are a fascinating, mysterious library of about 800 documents. There's a scroll made of copper, with instructions to buried treasure. There are weird things like the apocalyptic War Rule, which predicts a 40 year war between the forces of light and the forces of darkness.

About one quarter of the scrolls are copies or fragments of Jewish Bible (Old Testament) books. This was extremely exciting for Biblical scholars because -- believe it or not -- until these documents were found, the oldest copy of the Old Testament we had in Hebrew was "only" about 1,000 years old. The Dead Sea Scrolls took that back another 1,000 years. And while some will emphasize how few differences there were, and most were relatively insignificant, there were literally thousands of them. Modern Bibles now include a paragraph after 1 Samuel 10:27 that wasn't there 50 years ago, because a passage scholars long suspected had been lost was found in the Scrolls' copies of 1 Samuel.

One of the greatest mysteries of the Dead Sea Scrolls is: Who put them in those caves?

The answer accepted by most scholars is that there was a desert community of monk-like men named "Essenes," and the scrolls were the library of their "monastery." There are many good reasons for believing this, but to me they never seemed convincing.

Time Magazine has an article about a new theory: that the Scrolls were part of the library of the Temple in Jersusalem, hidden there in the first century AD, and that the Essenes never existed. I can buy the first part of that, if not the second. The Time article is a tad on the breathless side, claiming the theory has "shaken the bedrock of biblical scholarship." It has not. But it's an interesting read, nevertheless.

Of course, this is all pointless, but what isn't?


troutay said...

It is not pointless. It is fascinating! I have always wondered about who left them there. I do see reasoning in regards to the Temple in Jerusalem.

Jeannelle said...

When I was younger, the Dead Sea Scrolls scared me to death because I feared they would change the story of Jesus. But, now, I don't fear that.....I just wish for the truth to be found out.

Besides the intriguing subject of the Scrolls....your bookshelf photos are fascinating, too. Cool globe paperweight!

Sempringham said...


The fascinating thing about the Scrolls and the Qumran community is that people tend to see what they want to see. The original archeologist of the site was a priest, and he named rooms things like Scriptorium, after rooms in monasteries. A later scholar saw a fortress instead of a monastery. Same ruins; different perspective.


There's been a lot of speculation that Jesus was an Essene, but if the Essenes never existed, as the scholar in the article claims, that sort of puts an end to that. Although the scrolls appear to have come from the first century, Jesus is never mentioned. These are not Christian documents. But you weren't the only one to have those fears.

Thanks to you both for commenting.