What do the Dead Sea Scrolls say?
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.
The Dead Sea Scrolls’ history—how 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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This Bible History Daily feature was originally published on May 11, 2015.
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