Thursday, July 10, 2008

Light from the Past: The Dead Sea Scrolls

History still speaks and hopefully we listen to its voice. Those who probe ancient texts find themselves ensconced in worlds that are distant and removed from the present. Biblical scholars study ancient texts in the hopes that by doing so, light will dawn and knowledge of the past will become realized. Untold volumes have been penned by explorers of the past, seeking to uncover historical kernels and nuggets that help understand why and how people wrote and lived in the past. Really, in a way, we seek to discover how these ancient people constructed their identity, whether group or individual, and understand what they faced and how they coped with their reality. What spawned from this pressing reality became the foundation of religious movements, for example Judaism and Christianity. The writings of what are called either the Old and New Testament or the First and Second Testaments or the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Bible, indelibly make their mark on the present world. The way to understand these Scriptures comes in various forms- linguistic analysis, social scientific studies, archaeology and the like. There are numerous texts involved, as mentioned above, but also a litany of other texts including the Apocrypha and Pseupigrapha, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Targums and Rabbinic texts, the New Testament Apocrypha, the Church Fathers and many others.

I would like to spend some time investigating, rather introducing might be the better word, the world of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Sometime between the winter of 1946 and the spring of 1947, the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in caves near the Dead Sea. Harry Thomas Frank aptly notes, "The most sensational archaeological discovery of the century was made entirely by accident." What I find entertaining about the scrolls discovery (this would make a great movie by the way, a story filled with suspense and intrigue) is that they were found by three Bedouin shepherds who were watching their goats near the northwest shore of the Dead Sea. The three shepherds found some caves, but they did not enter them. One of the shepherds enjoyed finding caves and was throwing rocks into them when something shattered inside one of the caves. What they thought I am not sure, but they did not investigate the cave at the time. Two days later, though, one shepherd returned, found the cave and squeezed into it. He found ten jars, approximately two feet high, but all but two of them were empty. One of the jars had dirt in it, while the other had three scrolls wrapped in linen. The shepherd found a copy of the biblical book of Isaiah, what would be called the Manual of Discipline or Community Rule and some commentary on the biblical book of Habakkuk. Later, other scrolls were found in the cave, but that is for another time.

The history of finding the caves is fascinating and maybe I will explore it more later. I end with a snapshot of the Dead Sea Scrolls. They are classified according to the cave they were found in and a number of caves in the area yielded scrolls. For instance, those found in cave one were designated 1Q and then either a number and a name, and so on. I will detail this more to come as well. They also contain biblical texts and what are called parabiblical texts. I will give a greater overview in the future. I know that is a very small snapshot, but my space is ending. So, until next time when we dig a little deeper into the discovery found in the Dead Sea area.

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