In 1947 Bedouin shepherds discovered the caves where thousands of Old Testament manuscripts were stored. There is no price you could put on the value of this archaeological find. It is, without comparison, the most important discovery in biblical studies. At first, the Bedouins kept a couple of texts in their tents, unaware of their potential value. When news got out of their existence, the curator of the Jerusalem University, Mar Samuel, purchased four of them. He bought the Isaiah Scroll, the Community Rule, the Habakkuk Peshar (Commentary on Habakkuk), and the Genesis Apocryphon. He checked them for their veracity, and found them genuine.
The Dead Sea Scrolls are now located in the “Shrine of the Book” in Jerusalem. They originally belonged to the Essenes, an aesthetic Jewish movement that believed mainstream Judaism had sold out to secular interests.
There are thousands of manuscripts, and they have not all been transcribed. They were stored in clay pots, their lids secured with burlap and bees’ wax. Many of them were formatted like a modern journaling Bible, with the text of Scripture on column and the commentary of a rabbi on the other.
The theory is that the Essenes hid their sacred books in the caves overlooking the Dead Sea during the Roman invasion of Palestine in 68-70 A.D. When their settlement (named Qumran) was destroyed, the scrolls survived.
It’s interesting to observe the sometimes hysterical claims made about what the scrolls tell us. I saw an internet headline that screamed: “Dead Sea Scrolls Prove That Jesus Did Not Exist.” How the scrolls could prove such a thing is beyond fathoming. What if the Dead Sea Scrolls declared (which of course they do not): “Jesus of Nazareth did not exist.” That would prove no such thing. Many of the scrolls are dated well before Jesus anyway.
What is the importance of the Dead Sea Scrolls?
First, we discovered the professionalism and accuracy of ancient scribes when copying biblical documents. Over 95% of the variations was a matter of a word repeated: “He was wounded for our transgressions,” for instance, or a word left out: “He was wounded for transgressions.” These are typical mistakes given the nature of dictation.
Second, it confirms the truth of Old Testament prophecy. Many scrolls predate Christ (up to 200 B.C.), including the famous Isaiah scroll (150 B.C.). The prophetic nature of the Old Testament was demonstrated to be true.
Third, it tells us a great deal about 1st century Judaism, the century in which Jesus lived and preached. Josephus tells us a great deal about Jewish thinking but the Dead Sea Scrolls have given us a vivid image of Jewish belief in Jesus’ day too.
Make no mistake, this priceless discovery confirms the testimony of God’s word.
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