with M. Maxine George
In 1947 a wandering Bedouin herdsman found the scrolls in a cave near the Dead Sea, while looking for a missing goat . He dropped a stone into a hole in a rock outcropping, and heard a clink as it hit one of the jars that contained the scrolls. With the help of a fellow tribesman, the herdsman climbed down into the cave and there found pottery fragments and jars containing seven large parchment scrolls. Little did he know he had made what is arguably the greatest archeological discovery of this half of the twentieth century. Not only do these documents tell of life in those times, they also contain several books of the Bible, which gives validity to those books also. The Manual of Discipline and the Damascus Document give us a glimpse of the life of the Jewish sect, believed to have been the Essene sect, who produced these scrolls. The Isaiah scroll , which is exhibited in the Shrine of the Book, was written during the time of Jesus. It is mentioned in the Gospel of Luke (16-22:4) in the Bible. Many of the Scrolls, some written in Ancient Hebrew, can still be read today. Although they were written approximately two thousand years ago, the Hebrew has remained much the same. (If you would like to try, some are mounted and can be read. As I viewed them a man was reading a scroll to his companions.)
Leaving Jerusalem after breakfast, a drive through the Judean Desert brought my four companions, our guide and myself to Qumran before ten a.m.. Situated 1,300 feet below sea level, between the Dead Sea and the desert's steep rocky cliffs, Qumran is the place where the first Scrolls were found in the cave. We were shown a brief video which explained some of the history of Qumran and the scrolls. Since their discovery much archeological attention has been centered on the area. First other caves were searched to find any evidence of human habitation or further hoards of jars with their parchment treasures. In all nearly forty caves were excavated containing shards of pottery, fragments of scrolls or complete scrolls. Of those eleven were found with scrolls still secreted inside after so many years. Some were found by careful researchers, while others were found by local tribesmen searching for treasure that might be sold for profit. The later did not always exhibit care in the handling of their discoveries.
Archeological teams, delving into the immediate vicinity of the original cave, unearthed the site of the community believed to have produced the historical documents. It was the archeological site of this community that we had come to see. Even their scriptorium has been uncovered, as evidenced by two ink pots and the large writing tables unearthed in that particular room. A system of cisterns and water channels explained how the sect obtained scarce rainwater from the nearby hills and kept it in a reservoir, then channeled it into water cisterns and ritual baths for their use throughout the year. Habitation of the site has been accurately dated through the pottery and coins found on the site. It was founded around the second half of the second century B.C. The settlement was deserted around 31 B.C. after an earthquake and fire. Our guide pointed out the crack in the steps caused by the quake, which can still be seen today. Around 4 B.C. it appears Qumran was inhabited again. It is believed that John the Baptist may have lived in the Essene community for several years. There is a theory that Jesus may also have spent time with them too. The settlement was abandoned during the Jewish Wars against the Romans around 67-74 A.D. Archeologists found that when the sect left the site, they left everything in good order. Their earthenware pottery was still neatly piled on the shelves. This suggested to the researchers, that the sect probably left with the intention of returning at some time in the future.
As it turned out The Essenean's library, so laboriously produced at the beginning of this Millennium, stayed hidden for nearly two thousand years before coming to light again. Their discovery is truly one of the miracles of our time. No trip to the Holy Land is complete without a visit to the Shrine of the Book in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem and a trip out into the Judean Desert to Qumran, beside the Dead Sea. The scrolls provide validity to much of the early Hebrew Bible and ongoing studies suggest that some parchment fragments appear to be parts of the New Testament.
Story and pictures by M. Maxine George
For further information about Qumran or the Dead Sea Scrolls contact:
The Israel Museum, Hakirya, 91710 Jerusalem
Israel Government Tourist Office
180 Bloor St., Suite 700, Toronto, Ont. Canada
Telephone: (416) 964-3784
Fax: (416) 964-2420
Return to Magic Carpet Journals Return to Israel