What archaeological discovery has had the all-time greatest
"Probably the Dead Sea Scrolls have had the greatest Biblical
impact. they have provided Old Testament manuscripts approximately
1,000 years older than our previous oldest manuscript. The Dead Sea
Scrolls have demonstrated that the Old Testament was accurately
transmitted during this interval. In addition, they provide a wealth
of information on the times leading up to, and during, the life of
--Dr. Bryant Wood, archaeologist, Associates for Biblical
Discovery of the Scrolls
Men of Qumran and the Messiah
beginning to get nervous. Some of his goats were climbing too high up the
cliffs. He decided to climb the face of the cliff himself to bring them
back. Little did Juma realize as he began his climb on that January day in
1947 that those straying goats would eventually involve him in "the
greatest archaeological discovery in the twentieth century." Such thoughts
were far from his mind when he saw two small openings to one of the
thousands of caves that dot those barren
cliffs overlooking the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea.
He threw a rock into one of the openings. The unexpected cracking sound
surprised him; what else could be in those remote caves but treasure? He
called to his cousins, Khalil and Muhammed, who climbed up and heard the
exciting tale. But it was getting late, and the goats had to be gathered.
Tomorrow they would return -- perhaps their days of following goats would
come to an end once the treasure was uncovered!
The youngest of the three,
Muhammed, rose the next day before his two fellow "treasure-seekers" and
made his way to the cave. The cave floor was covered with debris,
including broken pottery.
Along the wall stood a number of narrow jars, some with their bowl-shaped
covers still in place. Frantically Muhammed began to explore the inside of
each jar, but no treasure of gold was to be found... only a few bundles
wrapped in cloth and greenish with age. Returning to his cousins, he
related the sad news -- no treasure.
Cave 4 at Qumran where approximately 15,000 fragments from
some 574 manuscripts were
No treasure indeed! The scrolls those Bedouin boys removed from that
dark cave that day and the days following would come to be recognized as
the greatest manuscript treasure ever found -- the first seven manuscripts
of the Dead Sea Scrolls!
Such was the discovery of a group of manuscripts which were a thousand
years older than the then-oldest-known Hebrew texts of the Bible
(manuscripts, many of which were written more than 100 years before the
birth of Jesus). These manuscripts would excite the archaeological world
and provide a team of translators with a gigantic task that even to this
day has not been completed.
The story of how those scrolls traveled from the hands of young Bedouin
goatherders to be under the scrutinous eyes of international scholars is
stranger than fiction. Although all the details of the next few years will
probably never be known for sure, this much is clear. After hanging from a
pole in a Bedouin tent for a period of time, the seven original scrolls
were sold to two separate Arab antiquities dealers in Bethlehem.
From there, four were sold (for a small amount) to Athanasius Samuel,
Syrian Orthodox Metropolitan at St. Mark's Monastery in the Old City of
Jerusalem. Scholars at the American School of Oriental Research, who
examined them, were the first to realize their antiquity. John Trever
photographed them in detail, and the great archaeologist William F.
Albright soon announced that the scrolls were from the period between 200
BC and AD 200. The initial announcements were then made that the oldest
manuscripts ever discovered had been found in the Judean desert!
Three of the other
original scrolls found by the Bedouin boys were sold to E. L. Sukenik,
archaeologist at Hebrew University and father of Yigal Yadin (a general in
the Israeli army who later became a famous archaeologist and excavator of
Masada and Hazor). It
should be noted that the drama of these events was heightened because
these were the last days of the British Mandate period in Palestine, and
tensions between the Arab and Jewish population were great. This made
examination of the scrolls by scholars extremely dangerous.
Clay jar of the type the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in.
From Qumran, now in the Citadel Museum,
All of the scrolls finally came together at Hebrew University under
another strange set of circumstances. After touring the U.S. with his four
scrolls and not being able to find an interested buyer, Metropolitan
Samuel placed an ad in the Wall Street Journal. By coincidence (or divine
providence?) Yigal Yadin happened to be lecturing in New York and saw the
advertisement. Through intermediaries, he was able to purchase these
priceless scrolls for around $250,000. In February of 1955, the Prime
Minister of Israel announced that the State of Israel had purchased the
scrolls, and all seven (including the three purchased earlier by Professor
Sukenik) were to be housed in a special museum at Hebrew University named
the Shrine of the Book, where they can be seen today.
Needless to say, the initial announcement about the scrolls prompted
feverish searches in the area of the original discoveries. An official
archaeological expedition was begun in 1949 which eventually resulted in
the discovery of ten additional caves in the surrounding area also
containing scrolls. The archaeologists then directed their attention to a
small ruin nearby called "Khirbet (ruins of) Qumran," which had been
thought of as the remains of an old Roman fortress. After six seasons of
intensive excavation, the scholars were sure beyond any reasonable doubt
that the scrolls found their origin in this community which flourished
between 125 BC and AD 68. The scrolls had been stored in haste in the
caves as the community fled the encroaching Roman army, which was in Judea
to put down the Jewish Revolt of AD 66-70.
The ruins of Qumran, which can be visited today, revealed that a
substantial group of Jewish ascetics inhabited this community.
Storehouses, aqueducts, ritual baths and an
assembly hall were all uncovered. One of the most interesting rooms
uncovered was a scriptorium, identified by two inkwells discovered there
along with some benches for scribes. It was in this room that many, if not
all, of the discovered manuscripts were copied.
Description of the
As soon as the announcement of the scrolls'
discovery was made, the scholarly debates about their origin and
significance began. The debates increased when the amazing contents of the
scrolls were successively revealed.
The seven original scrolls, from what came to be called "Cave One,"
comprised the following: 1) a well-preserved copy of the entire prophecy
of Isaiah -- the
oldest copy of an Old Testament book ever to be discovered; 2) another
fragmentary scroll of Isaiah; 3) a
commentary on the first two chapters of Habakkuk -- the
commentator explained the book allegorically in terms of the Qumran
brotherhood; 4) the "Manual of Discipline" or "Community Rule" -- the most
important source of information about the religious sect at Qumran -- it
described the requirements for those aspiring to join the brotherhood; 5)
the "Thanksgiving Hymns," a collection of devotional "psalms" of
thanksgiving and praise to God; 6) an Aramaic paraphrase of the Book of Genesis; and 7) the
"Rule of War" which dealt with the battle between the "Sons of Light" (the
men of Qumran) and the "Sons of Darkness" (the Romans?) yet to take place
in the "last days," which days the men of Qumran believed were about to
Those seven original scrolls were just the beginning. Over six hundred
scrolls and thousands of fragments have been discovered in the 11 caves of
the Qumran area. Fragments of every Biblical book except Esther have been
found, as well as many other non-Biblical texts.
One of the most fascinating of the finds was a copper scroll which had
to be cut in strips to be opened and which contained a list of 60
treasures located in various parts of Judea (none of which have been
found)! Another scroll, which Israeli archaeologists recovered in 1967
underneath the floor of a Bethlehem
antiquities dealer, describes in detail the community's view of an
elaborate Temple ritual. This has been appropriately called the "Temple
The contents of the Dead Sea Scrolls indicate that their authors were a
group of priests and laymen pursuing a communal life of strict dedication
to God. Their leader was called the "Righteous Teacher." They viewed
themselves as the only true elect of Israel -- they alone were faithful to
They opposed the "Wicked Priest" -- the Jewish High Priest in Jerusalem
who represented the establishment and who had persecuted them in some way.
This wicked priest was probably one of the Maccabean rulers who had
illegitimately assumed the high priesthood between 150-140 BC. Most
scholars have identified the Qumran brotherhood with the Essenes, a
Jewish sect of Jesus' day described by Josephus and Philo.
Whoever the men of Qumran were, their writings provide us with a
marvelous background picture of one aspect of the religious world into
which Jesus came. Some have sought to draw parallels between figures in
the scrolls and John the Baptist or Jesus, but an objective examination of
such parallels reveals that the differences are greater than the
similarities. Any contact of Jesus with Qumran is entirely speculative and
most improbable. The suggestion that John the Baptist may have spent some
time with the Qumran community is possible since the Gospels tell us that
he spent considerable time in the wilderness near the area where the
Qumran community is located (Mt 3:1-3; Mk 1:4; Lk 1:80; 3:2-3). John's message,
however, differed markedly from that of the Qumran brotherhood. The only
real common point was that they both taught that the "kingdom of
God" was coming.
One of the most important contributions of the Dead Sea Scrolls is the
numerous Biblical manuscripts which have been discovered. Until those
discoveries at Qumran, the oldest manuscripts of the Hebrew Scriptures
were copies from the 9th and 10th centuries AD by a group of Jewish
scribes called the Massoretes. Now we have manuscripts around a thousand
years older than those. The amazing truth is that these manuscripts are
almost identical! Here is a strong example of the tender care which the
Jewish scribes down through the centuries took in an effort to accurately
copy the sacred Scriptures. We can have confidence that our Old Testament
Scriptures faithfully represent the words given to Moses, David and the
Doctrine of the
The men of Qumran fervently believed in a doctrine
of "last things." They had fled to the desert and were readying themselves
for the imminent judgment when their enemies would be vanquished and they,
God's elect, would be given final victory in accordance with the
predictions of the prophets. It was in connection with these end-time
events that one of the most fascinating teachings of the sect emerges. The
messianic hope loomed large in the thought of the brotherhood. As a matter
of fact, evidence shows that they actually believed in three messiahs --
one a prophet, another a priest and the third a king or prince.
In the document mentioned earlier called the "Manual of Discipline" or
the "Rule of the Community," it is laid down that the faithful should
continue to live under the rule "until the coming of a prophet and the anointed
ones [messiahs] of Aaron and
Israel" (column 9, line 11). These three figures would appear to usher in
the age for which the community was making preparation.
In another document found in Cave Four and referred to as the
"Testimonia," a number of Old Testament passages are brought together
which formed the basis for their messianic expectations. The first is the
citation from Deuteronomy
18:18-19 where God says to Moses: "I will raise them up a Prophet from
among their brethren, like unto thee." Next
comes a quotation from Numbers
24:15-17, where Balaam
foresees the rise of a princely conqueror: "a Scepter shall rise out of
Israel, and shall smite the corners of Moab," etc. The third passage is
the blessing pronounced by Moses upon the tribe of Levi (the priestly
tribe) in Deuteronomy
33:8-11. The way in which these three quotations are brought together
suggests that the writer looked forward to the advent of a great prophet,
a great prince and a great priest.
There were three individuals in the Old Testament writings that were
referred to as "my anointed
ones" -- the prophet, the priest and the king (refer to Ex 29:29; 1 Sam
16:13, 24:6; 1 Kg 19:16; Ps 105:15).
Each of these was consecrated to his work by an anointing
with oil. The Hebrew word for "anointed" is
meshiach, from which we get the word Messiah.
The marvelous truth of the New Testament doctrine of the Messiah is
that each of these three offices found fulfillment in the person and work
of Jesus of Nazareth! The people were amazed at His feeding of the
multitude and said, "This is of a truth that prophet that should come into
the world" (Jn
6:14; also Jn 7:40; Acts
3:22, 7:37). Jesus
also was a priest, not from the order of Levi but from the order of Melchizedek
Heb 7), who
offered Himself as a sacrifice and appears for us in the presence of His
Father (Heb 9:24-26; 10:11-12).
Also, Jesus was announced as the One who will receive "the throne of his
father, David. And he shall reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of
his kingdom there shall be no end" (Lk 1:32-33). He
will be acclaimed "KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS" (Rev 19:16).
Thus, we have found an interesting point of contact between Qumran and
Christianity -- a point of contact which is also a point of cleavage. The
Qumran community and the early Christians agreed that in the days of the
fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies there would arise a great prophet,
a great priest and a great king. But these three figures remained distinct
in Qumran expectation whereas the New Testament saw them unified in the
person of Jesus of Nazareth.
One more manuscript that has come to light in recent years provides a
fascinating background to the New Testament messianic hope. It has been
reconstructed from twelve small fragments, furnishing less than two
columns of writing; but this much can be ascertained from its brief
contents. It is a prediction of the birth of a Wonderful Child, possibly
drawing on Isaiah
9:6-7: "For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given... and his
name shall be called Wonderful." This child will bear special marks on His
body and will be distinguished by wisdom and intelligence. He will be able
to probe the secrets of all living
creatures, and He will inaugurate the new age for which the faithful
Is it not striking that soon after this manuscript was composed, a
child was born who fulfilled the hopes of Israel and inaugurated a new
age? Although the men of Qumran were mistaken in the details of their
messiah, they did expect one whose general characteristics were strikingly
illustrated by Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God and Messiah. It is not
known if some early Christian brought the message of Jesus to this
wilderness community. We are left only to speculate on how they would have
responded to the Wonderful Child born in Bethlehem
who was the Prophet, Priest and King of Israel.
this information has been helpful, please prayerfully consider a donation to help
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and your family! Donations are tax-deductible. ]ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dr. Will Varner is Professor of Old
Testament at The Master's College and Director of IBEX, the college's
campus in Israel. He previously served with the Friends of Israel Gospel
Ministry, and continues to contribute articles to their publication,
Israel My Glory. The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry. Inc. Used
Author: Will Varner, used with permission by Associates for Biblical
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