The Dead Sea Scrolls are considered by many to be the most significant archaeological find of the 20th century. This year, 2022, marks the 75th anniversary of their initial discovery. To commemorate the occasion, we offer a new eBook, The Dead Sea Scrolls: Past, Present, and Future. It brings together articles and interviews with the world’s leading experts on the scrolls. Receive your free copy today!
From 1947 to 1956, thousands of scroll fragments were uncovered from the caves near Qumran, located on the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea. Over the following decades, teams of scholars pieced these scrolls together to reconstruct an amazing library of texts from the third century B.C.E. to the first century C.E.
The scrolls’ discovery is remarkable on several counts. First, it is quite unusual for ancient scrolls—usually written on parchment or papyrus—to be preserved in the archaeological record. The organic nature of such writing materials causes them to decompose quickly. Yet the arid environment of Qumran in the Judean Desert allowed these texts to survive.
Second, they illuminate the Bible’s composition. Prior to their discovery, the earliest surviving copies of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) dated to around 1000 C.E. The Dead Sea Scrolls are a millennium earlier. Scholars are able to see continuity between scrolls and later biblical manuscripts. Yet they also have found some variation. The Dead Sea Scrolls are, thus, instrumental in reconstructing biblical texts.
Third, they provide a window into the world of their authors. The scrolls did not just rewrite the history of the Hebrew Bible’s development; they rewrote the history of Judea in the late Second Temple period. These texts were written when the Second Temple still stood in Jerusalem; when Jewish sects, including the Pharisees and Sadducees, argued about the correct interpretation of the law; and when the Greeks, Hasmoneans, and then Romans—with Herod as a client king—ruled over the region. Written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, the Dead Sea Scrolls preserve both religious and sectarian texts.
There is debate about the authors’ identity, but many connect them with the Essene community, another Jewish sect, who lived at Qumran. The scrolls, then, would have been their library. The Qumran settlement was abandoned around 70 C.E., along with the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, and the library forgotten—that is, until 75 years ago.
This eBook, The Dead Sea Scrolls: Past, Present, and Future, looks back on the scrolls’ discovery, around at their contribution to biblical and historical scholarship, and forward to their conservation and future research endeavors. It pulls articles published in Biblical Archaeology Review, written over the past two decades by leading scholars and players in the field—including one by our late editor and founder, Hershel Shanks, who helped free the scrolls from the scholarly monopoly that had held them captive for decades. It also gathers new cutting-edge research on the scrolls.
We hope that you enjoy this compilation, and we look forward to another 75 years of scroll research.
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