You Are At: AllSands Home > History > Objects > The dead sea scrolls
Like many ancient artifacts, the Dead Sea scrolls were found by accident. In 1947, young Bedouin shepherds, searching for a stray goat in the desert, entered long abandoned caves. Inside, they found jars filled with seven ancient scrolls. The initial discovery of the scrolls was followed by scientific exploration of the neighboring caves near the Dead Sea. This work yielded thousands of scrolls and scroll fragments from a total of eleven caves.

The Dead Sea is located in Israel and Jordan, about 15 miles east of Jerusalem. It's an extremely deep and salty body of water. Some parts contain the highest amount of salts possible. The Dead Sea is supplied by a number of smaller streams, springs and the Jordan River. Because of its low elevation and its position in a deep basin, the climate of the Dead Sea area is unusual. Adjacent areas to it are very arid and favorable for the preservation of materials such as the scrolls.

The scrolls include manuals of discipline, biblical commentaries, hymnbooks, and apocalyptic writings. Also, included are two of the oldest known copies of the Book of Isaiah, nearly intact and fragments of every book in the Old Testament, except that of Esther. The scrolls contain previously unknown stories about biblical figures such as Enoch, Abraham and Noah.

The scrolls are primarily written in Hebrew, but there are many written in Aramaic. Aramaic was a common language of the Jews of Palestine for the last two centuries B.C. and of the firsts two centuries A.D. A few texts were written in Greek.

Carbon-14 dating established the scrolls and the Qumran ruin dated from the third century. The fragmented texts are numbered according to the cave they originated from.

The manuscripts appear to have belonged to the library of a community, which was located in what is now Khirbat Qumran, near the place of the scrolls discovery. They were believed to have been hidden at some time between AD66 and 68. The library has been called the "greatest manuscript find of the twentieth century."

Even though the Qumran community existed during the time of the ministry of Jesus, none of the scrolls refer to him, nor do they mention any of his followers described in the New Testament.

One of the most note-worthy scrolls is called the Copper Scroll, discovered in Cave number three. This document records a list of 64 underground hiding places throughout the land of Israel. The deposits are suppose to contain certain amounts of gold, silver, manuscripts and aromatics. These are believed to be treasures from the Temple at Jerusalem, which were hidden away for safekeeping.

A number of experts believe the scrolls were written by the Essenes, a Jewish sect. Other archaeologists and biblical scholars have questioned the association of the scrolls with the Qumran ruins and the Essenes.

Since their discovery, the scrolls and the identity of the nearby settlement have been the object of intense scholarly and public interest, as well as heated debate and controversy. But scholars do agree the Dead Sea Scrolls greatly enhance our knowledge of both Judaism and Christianity.