Dead Sea Scrolls: The Untold Storyby Kenneth Hanson
Hebrew scholar Dr. Kenneth Hanson tells the of enthralling story the Dead Sea Scrolls for the first time. Hanson describes the astounding discovery itself, the half-century of intrigue that followed and the mysterious sect which wrote, preserved and died defending these treasured works, which for them and countless others contained the word of God. See more details below
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Hebrew scholar Dr. Kenneth Hanson tells the of enthralling story the Dead Sea Scrolls for the first time. Hanson describes the astounding discovery itself, the half-century of intrigue that followed and the mysterious sect which wrote, preserved and died defending these treasured works, which for them and countless others contained the word of God.
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The world changes silently and without fanfare on a particular day in 1947. Not an unusual day, in and of itself. Except that a certain goat belonging to a Bedouin flock wanders off among the multiple caves which dot the desert hillsides. Young Muhammed Adh-Dhib is a Bedouin lad, responsible for tending these goats, and it should come as no surprise that he becomes more than a little agitated over the fate of this wayward animal. Just as the ancient sage (Jesus) had spoken of leaving the ninety-nine and searching for the missing animal, so Mohammed Adh-Dhib, the Bedouin goatherder, runs off to search among the rocky crags and crevices of the Judean wilderness. Since he doesn't want to search physically through all of the caves in the vicinity, Mohammed takes to hurling stones into the cave entrances, hoping to frighten any wayward beast out into the open. This technique is especially helpful when he comes upon a cave entrance so small and so high up the rocky cliff that climbing up to it seems out of the question.
Suddenly, it happens. Young Mohammed lets loose a stone that will alter the world. Instead of a dull thud, another sound is heard the sound of shattering earthenware. The stone has found its mark, breaking open a large clay vessel that rests along the cave wall. His curiosity piqued, the Bedouin lad pulls himself up the cliff just far enough to peer into the tiny cave entrance. He is confronted by the strange sight of several tall earthen jars standing along the cave wall, with broken pottery fragments lying all about. As he looks intently, he is overcome, not with wonder, but with fear, since he can't imagine who might inhabit such a remote cave with an entrance so small. His first thought is that this might be the lair of ghosts and desert demons! He darts away from the cave, forgetting entirely about his missing goat and returning to his Bedouin camp. The next day, Mohammed and a friend go back to the cave. They summon up their courage, and make their way through the small opening. Hoping perhaps to find some long-buried treasure, they begin opening the jars, only to find that most are empty. But in one, their eyes are met by three odd-looking bundles of cloth protecting tar-covered, rolled leather parchments.
It is with real disappointment that they head back to their tents, where they unroll their dubious find. They notice immediately some unusual writing "chicken scratch" which they can't read, covering the inner surface of the leather. Puzzled, they decide to carry the bundles around with them for a number of days. When they show the leather with the strange writing to their family and friends, all are equally mystified. Perhaps they might have some value? During the weeks that follow, the scrolls are kept in a bag dangling from a tent pole! Finally, the decision is made to follow the soundest of Bedouin advice when discovering an object of dubious value: Take it to the open market the souk. After all, these desert nomads are shrewd businessmen as well as consummate wanderers. And so, these sadly crumbling curiosities make their way up the dusty trails, to Bethlehem, where they are brought to a local shopkeeper, nicknamed Kando. With his tall, round hat, his black coat, his scraggly mustache, upturned eyebrows, and long face, he is the perfect stereotype of the Middle Eastern merchant and profiteer.
THE COBBLER OF BETHLEHEM
Aside from being a part-time dealer in antiquities, Kando runs a small general store and cobbler shop. In other words, he's a Middle Eastern Jack-of-all-trades. But unfortunately, Kando's native tongue is Arabic, and he can't read the chicken-scratch letters which are in fact Hebrew any better than his Bedouin friends. For a while, as he ponders to himself, he wonders whether the leather might at least be cut into strips and put to use in making sandal straps. Imagine the Dead Sea Scrolls being worn on the feet of the citizens of Bethlehem! But on examining the letters again, he decides that they just might be worth something. So, he launches a plan. Kando and an accomplice now return to the cave where Muhammed had found the scroll and start searching through other caves in the vicinity. Sure enough, they discover several other jumbled wads of leather, which they now recognize as scrolls. Next, Kando makes the fateful decision to take four of his scrolls to the Old City of Jerusalem, to show them to the Christian elders of the Syrian Orthodox Church, to which he belongs. His destination is St. Mark's Monastery, in the Armenian Quarter of the city, just south of King David Street.
The head of the monastery, the venerable Archbishop Samuel, is a proud Syrian Orthodox cleric who looks almost regal. He is fully bearded and attired in floor-length robes of intricate design, bearing a long row of embroidered crosses down the center. Samuel the cleric and Kando the shopkeeper make an odd couple, but the Archbishop is clearly intrigued by the strange documents. However, he is equally unable to read the Hebrew chicken scratch, and his hunch is that the writing might be an ancient language called Syriac. In any case, he eagerly buys them for the grand sum of twenty-four Jordanian pounds or about one hundred dollars. It is, in hindsight, the deal of the century. But in this way Kando quickly becomes the middleman in an incredible intrigue.
THE ANTIQUITIES DEALER
AND THE PROFESSOR
In the meantime, Kando visits a certain antiquities dealer of Turkish-Armenian ancestry, whose shop is located in the crooked streets of Jerusalem's Old City. Ever eager to make a profit, Kando sells him a few more of his parchment fragments. On the very next day, November 23, 1947, the Armenian phones the famed archaeologist of the Hebrew University, E. L. Sukenik, and arranges a secret meeting on the following morning, at the barbed wire which divides Arab East Jerusalem from Jewish West Jerusalem. It is an ugly no-man's land, a scar that courses through the holy city and turns it into a Middle Eastern version of Belfast disjointed and alienated by a protracted internal conflict. Sukenik is the very epitome of an erudite scholar, with his necktie, his studious look, receding hairline, and thick, black-rimmed spectacles. Incredibly, this Hebrew-speaking modern Israeli can actually read and understand the ancient Hebrew writing with little difficulty. Gazing for the first time at a single scrap of parchment, he is stunned and amazed. He writes in his journal:
Today I met the antiquities dealer. A Hebrew book has been discovered in a jar. He showed me a fragment written on parchment. The script seems very ancient to me. Is it possible?
Sukenik decides that he needs to see more of these parchments, and he wants to go right to the source Kando's shop in Bethlehem. There is only one problem. Bethlehem is located in Arab territory, in what will later become part of the Kingdom of Jordan, while Sukenik lives in Jewish Jerusalem, in what is in a matter of months to be reborn, amid war and bloodshed, as the new capital of the State of Israel. Needless to say, travel between the two areas is risky business, but Sukenik finds it necessary to make the clandestine journey risking his own life to what is in effect hostile, enemy territory. His sole purpose: to see the scrolls for himself. What Sukenik discovers there in Kando's shop far exceeds his expectations. His journal entry that day declares that he feels "... privileged by destiny to gaze upon a Hebrew scroll that had not been read for more than two thousand years."
Excerpted from The Dead Sea Scrolls by Kenneth Hanson. Copyright © 1997 by Kenneth Hanson. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Meet the Author
Kenneth Hanson, PhD, is an associate professor in the University of Central Florida Judaic studies program. He is the author of Blood Kin of Jesus, Kabbalah: Three Thousand Years of Mystic Tradition, Secrets from the Lost Bible, and Words of Light: Spiritual Wisdom from the Dead Sea Scrolls.
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