Dead Sea Scrolls

The Dead Sea Scrolls comprise roughly 850 documents, including texts from the Hebrew Bible, discovered between 1947 and 1956 in eleven caves in and around the Wadi Qumran -- near the ruins of the ancient settlement of Khirbet Qumran, on the northwest shore of the Dead Sea. The texts are of great significance in a religious context as they contain biblical documents dating from before AD 100.



Date and contents

According to carbon dating and textual analysis, the documents were written at various times between the middle of the 2nd century BC and the 1st century AD. At least one document has a carbon date range of 21 BC - AD 61. The Nash Papyrus from Egypt, containing a copy of the Ten Commandments, is the only other Hebrew document of comparable antiquity. Similar written materials have been recovered from nearby sites, including the fortress of Masada. While some of the scrolls were written on papyrus, a good portion were written on a brownish animal skin (hide) that appears to be gevil.

The fragments include at least 800 texts that represent many diverse writings ranging from the beliefs of the Essenes to those of other sects. About 30% are fragments from the Hebrew Bible, from all the books except the Book of Esther. About 25% are traditional Jewish religious texts that are not in the canonical Hebrew Bible, such as the Book of Enoch and the Testament of Levi]. Another 30% contain biblical commentaries or other texts related to the beliefs, regulations, and membership requirements of a small Jewish sect, which is believed by many researchers to have lived in the Qumran area. The rest (about 15%) of the fragments are yet unidentified. Most of them are written in Hebrew, but also some written in Aramaic, and a few in Greek.

Important texts include the Isaiah Scroll (discovered in 1947), a Commentary on the Habakkuk (1947), the Community Rule (1QS), which gives much information on the structure and theology of the sect, and the earliest version of the Damascus Document. The so-called Copper Scroll (1952), which lists hidden caches of gold, scrolls, and weapons, is probably the most notorious.