Lawrence H. Schiffman on the Dead Sea Scrolls’ History

What do the Dead Sea Scrolls say?

dss-war-scroll

In the May/June 2015 issue of BAR, Lawrence H. Schiffman describes the Dead Sea Scrolls’ history, from their discovery in the Qumran caves to the state of present-day scroll research. Pictured is the War Scroll, popularly called “The Scroll of the War of the Sons of Light Against the Sons of Darkness.” The War Scroll was one of the first seven Dead Sea Scrolls discovered in the Qumran caves. Photo: Israel Museum.

The Dead Sea Scrolls are considered one of the greatest archaeological finds of all time. Discovered in 11 caves near the Dead Sea site of Khirbet Qumran, the scrolls date between 250 B.C.E. and 68 C.E. and comprise some 800 Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek texts in tens of thousands of fragments. Two types of works can be found in the Dead Sea Scrolls: books from the Hebrew Bible and religious writings that—most scholars contend—describe the beliefs and practices of a group of Jews living in a settlement at Qumran.

What do the Dead Sea Scrolls say? What can the scrolls tell us about the history of Judaism and Christianity and the people who lived at Qumran? In “A Short History of the Dead Sea Scrolls and What They Tell Us” in the May/June 2015 issue of BAR, Lawrence H. Schiffman recounts the scrolls’ journey from the Qumran caves to their publication and digitization.

Interested in the history and meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls? In the free eBook Dead Sea Scrolls, learn what the Dead Sea Scrolls are and why are they important. Find out what they tell us about the Bible, Christianity and Judaism.


qumran-caves

Tens of thousands of Dead Sea Scroll fragments were discovered in the Qumran caves near the Dead Sea. Seen here is Qumran Cave 4, where the majority of the Dead Sea Scrolls were found.

The Dead Sea Scrolls’ historyhow they were found, how they were initially available to only a select few for study, and how they were eventually freed to the wider scholarly community—spans nearly seven decades of controversy and intrigue—and includes a 1993 lawsuit against BAR editor Hershel Shanks. Now, there is an entire field of research dedicated to the Dead Sea Scrolls.

So what do the Dead Sea Scrolls say? What have we learned from the decades of scroll research? Scroll scholar Lawrence H. Schiffman, the Judge Abraham Lieberman Professor of Hebrew and Judaic Studies at New York University, provides an important example:

Disagreements about Jewish law were the main factors that separated Jewish groups and movements in Second Temple times. Yes, many theological differences also existed. These, however, were manifested most clearly in the differing opinions about Jewish practice and ritual. The impact of the scrolls on our understanding of the history of halakhah (Jewish law) has been enormous.

 


 
Purchase your copy of Freeing the Dead Sea Scrolls, author and BAR editor Hershel Shanks’s fascinating account of his scrapes with governments, nomads and scoundrels in a quest to make these vital tools of academic study available to the wider world.
 


 
Learn more about how the Dead Sea Scrolls’ history captivated the world and what we’ve learned from the scrolls by reading “A Short History of the Dead Sea Scrolls and What They Tell Us” by Lawrence H. Schiffman in the May/June 2015 issue of BAR.

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BAS Library Members: Read the full article “A Short History of the Dead Sea Scrolls and What They Tell Us” by Lawrence H. Schiffman in the May/June 2015 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

Not a BAS Library member yet? Join the BAS Library today.
 


 
This Bible History Daily feature was originally published on May 11, 2015.
 


 

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  • Rosen says

    Fascinating! Do the scrolls corroborate the resurrection of Jesus?

  • Wes says

    Gene says:
    “The word of our God endures forever.”—Isaiah 40:8

    That statement is true, even though no original Bible manuscript of the Hebrew and Aramaic Scriptures* or of the Christian Greek Scriptures has survived to our day.
    ——————————–
    Dare I say that there are differences then between the Masoretic and Septuagint
    texts? And are they themselves significant or not?

    There seems to be something paradoxical in your pronouncement. For example, if I pick up a copy of the TaNaKh, the English translation is,

    “Grass withers, flowers fade, but the word of our God is always fulfilled.”

    This chapter, a denotation not in the original documents but derived, begins with the announcement of the end of the term of service of Jerusalem. To many, this segment of Isaiah is a second part of Isaiah written near the time of the entry of Cyrus into Babylon.

    Since the Dead Sea scrolls were received in the form of ten thousand fragments – which are associated with various scrolls, then there is also the issue of how they were viewed as an entirety, if at all. For example, we are familiar with the notions of the books of law, prophets and writing – but did the people of Qumran see the same classifications in their libraries? And if so, which scrolls would they claim to be in the collection of books which we refer to as the Bible?

  • Dan says

    How do we know that the caves at Qumran are not genizot?

  • GENE says

    “The word of our God endures forever.”—Isaiah 40:8

    That statement is true, even though no original Bible manuscript of the Hebrew and Aramaic Scriptures* or of the Christian Greek Scriptures has survived to our day. Therefore, how can we be so certain that the contents of the Bible we have today truly reflect the original inspired writings?
    COPYISTS PRESERVE GOD’S WORD
    Regarding the Hebrew Scriptures, part of the answer lies in an ancient tradition that was established by God, who said that the text should be copied.* For example, Jehovah instructed the kings of Israel to make their own copies of the written Law. (Deuteronomy 17:18) Additionally, God made the Levites responsible for preserving the Law and teaching it to the people. (Deuteronomy 31:26; Nehemiah 8:7) After the exile of the Jews to Babylon, a class of copyists, or scribes (Sopherim), developed. (Ezra 7:6, footnotes) Over time, those scribes made numerous copies of the 39 books of the Hebrew Scriptures.

    Through the centuries, scribes meticulously copied these books. During the Middle Ages, a group of Jewish scribes known as the Masoretes carried on that tradition. The oldest complete Masoretic manuscript is the Leningrad Codex, which dates from 1008/1009 C.E. However, in the middle of the 20th century, some 220 Biblical manuscripts or fragments were discovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls. Those Biblical manuscripts were more than a thousand years older than the Leningrad Codex. A comparison of the Dead Sea Scrolls with the Leningrad Codex confirms a vital point: While the Dead Sea Scrolls contain some variations in wording, none of those variations affect the message itself.
    http://wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/1001061203#h=8:164-8:683


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