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Holman QuickSource Guide to the Dead Sea Scrolls
By Craig A. Evans, Jeremy R. Howard
B&H Publishing GroupCopyright © 2010 Craig Evans
All rights reserved.
"The able-bodied fled, the feeble perished, and everything left was consigned to the flames."
— Josephus, War 4.489, in reference to the Roman capture of Gerasa in AD 68
Date: AD 73
Place: Qumran, on the northwest shore of the Sea of Salt (or Dead Sea)
It was early morning. There was a haze over the blue waters of the Sea of Salt to the southeast. Inside the compound Eleazar, the chief scribe, looked wistfully upon the rows of neatly organized scrolls. Hunched over their writing boards, his younger colleagues Yehudah and Yehohanan labored away making fresh copies of Scripture. Dipping into the inkwells and scratching away on the smooth leather skins. Another Isaiah scroll and another copy of Genesis. But these faithful scribes would not complete their task. They did not know this yet, but Eleazar did.
He had learned from the overseer what everyone had feared: the Romans were approaching. It was to be expected. The last rebel stronghold was atop Masada, Herod's mountain fortress and palace. To reach it the Romans would have to march south, right past the compound at Qumran. Nothing in their path would be safe. Eleazar loved the community, and now he feared for it. The Romans had showed no pity when they took Gerasa and nearby Jericho five years ago. Why would they now? The Romans had fought a long and bitter war and now were filled with thoughts of final revenge.
Eleazar believed with all his heart that someday God would raise up his Messiah, who with the community's faithful high priest would defeat the Romans and subdue the ungodly of Israel. Israel would once again be exalted among the nations. There had been talk of this among the rebels, of course. The riots in Jerusalem over debt had given the rebels and zealots the opportunity that they had longed for. They gained control of Jerusalem, and soon all of Israel was seething in revolt. They restruck coins so that they now declared "year one of the liberation of Israel." Eleazar had seen some of these coins. But after "year two" and the Roman advance south, no more of these coins found their way to the community.
Eleazar had had no confidence in the integrity and righteousness of the rebels. From the beginning they were divided, at each other's throats, and their armed followers were scarcely more than disorganized mobs. No, the salvation of God would not come through these men. And indeed it had not. In short order the Romans had subdued Galilee, Samaria, and parts of Judea. The enemy had established camps in nearby Jericho to the east and Haditheh to the west. Jerusalem had been hemmed in, awaiting the inevitable siege. Rome's great general Vespasian was ready to march against the Holy City.
The death of Rome's wicked emperor had delayed the final advance. One emperor after another seized power. Even the faithful at Qumran, so mindful of the shortcomings and worldliness of the rebels, could not help but wonder at times if the rebellion was truly of God after all. Would the wicked empire crumble? Alas, no. When Vespasian became the new emperor, the war was quickly and decisively resumed. Within a few months Jerusalem had been surrounded, and in the summer of "year five" of the self-proclaimed Jewish liberation, Jerusalem had been captured, her temple destroyed, and her people enslaved or put to the sword. The few stragglers who evacuated to the Qumran compound reported these things.
As Eleazar stepped outside, he was met by the overseer. "Eleazar, we have little time. Elisha has just returned and tells me the Roman dogs are almost within sight. Gather up our books and hide them, some here and others farther away."
Eleazar did as he was instructed. He had Yehudah and Yehohanan gather as many scrolls as they could carry and take them over to the storage room that had been carved out of the sandstone many years ago. He had others take up holy Scripture and some of the community's precious books of interpretation and rules and take them to caves far away from the compound, caves that could not be easily seen from the road.
The young men readily complied but looked worried and perplexed. "Don't grieve, my friends," Eleazar assured them. "We shall return when the danger passes. We shall collect our books and continue our study. Wrap the books in linen and place them in the jars. This will make your work all the heavier, but it is important to protect our library." They did as instructed.
The overseer and some of the community evacuated; others remained behind, including Eleazar and Yehudah, willing to show the Romans a measure of hospitality, hoping to keep the theft and vandalism to a minimum. In the afternoon a mounted Roman patrol approached. When they saw a few unarmed men milling around in the compound, they signaled to the main body behind them.
The skirmish was brief. The brothers stood before the Romans, some calling on God to send fire from heaven to consume them and others simply standing in silence. The ones who called for God's wrath were felled by arrows. The Romans also hacked to death anyone who attempted to flee or offer any hint of resistance. Eleazar and the dozen others who stood still and unflinching were spared. It seems even Roman soldiers found cold-blooded murder distasteful.
The travel-weary Romans took possession of the compound, making free with the food and drawing water from the pools and reservoirs. Eleazar was disgusted at this defilement but said nothing. The soldiers were speaking Greek, that much he knew, but exactly what he was not sure. In peacetime the Romans had shown the Jews some respect, not flaunting their most offensive, pagan standards and images but taking some care with respect to their behavior. Not this time. Not after years of bloody, costly war. Feeling for the leather strap wound around his arm, Eleazar softly recited the Shema, "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one...."
The Romans relieved themselves wherever they wished. Stripped naked, they flung themselves into the water, laughing and making obscene gestures. They freely ransacked and pilfered the community's goods. Unclean lips tasted pure food. One book that Eleazar's men had overlooked was picked up, held upside down, stared at with mock interest, and then with a laugh was torn and thrown into the fire. Yehudah jumped up and tried to save the book, but a soldier rushed forward and pierced the young Jew's body with a sword. Nearby one of the other soldiers discovered one of the storage caves. Eleazar groaned when he saw him dragging books out from the cave, tearing them to pieces and casting them to the wind. He uttered a prayer that the other caves and the books within them would remain hidden.
Once they were refreshed, the Romans forced a few survivors of the community to carry whatever plunder had been gathered for the army's use. And so Eleazar and his colleagues began their march, a march that they knew would end either in slavery or death. Looking back, he saw the flames and smoke. The despoiled and defiled compound would soon be rubble. A soldier roughly shoved Eleazar and warned him of the consequences if he continued to look back at the sacked compound. Eleazar barely heard the threat; he was lost in questions about the future. Would he ever return here? Would the community ever reassemble? He doubted it. And what of Israel? Another exile for God's people? As they marched, he noticed that some of the others who earlier had fled were being rounded up. Eleazar was not surprised. It was easy to hide in the wilderness but not so easy to survive in it. "But God willing the books will survive," he said to himself. "The books will survive."CHAPTER 2
Date: AD 1947
Place: The marl terrace along the northwest shore of the Dead Sea
Seized with curiosity, Muhammed edh-Dhib Hasan, known to friends as "the Wolf," lowered himself into the cave. He wondered if he was the first man ever to enter this obscure hole in the ground. He hoped not. The ancients sometimes hid treasures in such places. Might this be his lucky day? As his eyes adjusted to the dim light, he noticed several clay jars sitting along the wall. Expectation surged through him as he began opening them. Here, locked away for untold years, he found dust, dirt, and a few ragged bundles that contained rolls of ancient leather. Oh well. No riches here. Perhaps he would have better luck some other time.
Though most people probably have no idea when the first of the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) was discovered, a common reply is shortly after World War II. In reality the DSS were discovered at least four times: twice long ago and twice again in modern times.
We cannot be certain, but the first discovery evidently took place in the early third century. Church historian Eusebius (AD 263–339) reports the following story concerning research conducted by the great Christian Bible scholar Origen (185–254):
So accurate was the examination that Origen brought to bear upon the divine books, that he made a thorough study of the Hebrew tongue, and got into his own possession the original writings in the actual Hebrew characters, which were extant among the Jews. ... He discovered certain other (manuscripts) in turn, which, after lying hidden for a long time, he traced and brought to light, I know not from what recesses.(Ecclesiastical History 6.16.1–2)
Eusebius goes on to mention Origen's production of a six-columned, multiversion edition of the Bible known as the Hexapla, in which the Hebrew text of the OT was compared with various Greek translations. Eusebius states that "in the case of one of these [manuscripts] he indicated again that it was found at Jericho in a jar in the time of Antoninus the son of Severus."
Aurelius Antoninus was the elder son of Septimius Severus, and he reigned as Roman emperor from 198 to 217. Thus it was sometime in this 19-year period that Origen came to possess at least one manuscript which had long lain hidden. The fact that one or more manuscripts was discovered "in a jar" is quite interesting in light of the fact that some of the DSS were discovered in jars, as for instance in Cave 1 at Qumran. The practice of storing important documents in jars is mentioned in Scripture: "'This is what the LORD of Hosts, the God of Israel, says: Take these scrolls — this purchase agreement with the sealed copy and this open copy — and put them in an earthen storage jar so they will last a long time'" (Jer 32:14).
Further adding to the intrigue, Eusebius said Origen found a manuscript in a jar at Jericho. Jericho is on the outskirts of the very region in which the DSS were found. Two possibilities suggest that Qumran may have been the ultimate origin of this manuscript. First, it is possible that Eusebius was geographically imprecise when he named Jericho as the place of the manuscript's discovery. Writers often name the largest known town in a region where an event or discovery has taken place. Thus "at Jericho" may be equivalent to "somewhere near Jericho." Second, it may be that the jar and scroll were indeed found in Jericho itself, but they could very easily have been found closer to Qumran in the first place and then taken to nearby Jericho, where they eventually came into Origen's possession. Given these plausible scenarios, it is certainly possible that Origen possessed a manuscript that belonged to the original group of DSS.
The second discovery of DSS may have taken place in the late eighth or early ninth century. In a letter to Sergius, the Bishop of Elam, Timotheus I, the Nestorian patriarch of Seleucia, mentioned manuscripts found in a cave near Jericho. Again this may be a geographical vagary. Jericho was certainly more widely known than the defunct Qumran community, and so Timotheus may have chosen to mention Jericho in order to give Sergius a general idea of where the discovery had taken place. The cave in question could have been at Qumran, but the only nearby city of note was Jericho.
Finally, some medieval Arab writers and others referred to a "cave sect" in the vicinity of Jericho that possessed Scriptures. The Qumran community fits this description very well, and if it was known that this sect possessed Scriptures, then it only makes sense to conclude that some of the writings had been recovered from the caves at Qumran.
From the above considerations we see that the DSS were possibly known, in part, many centuries before Muhammed edh-Dhib Hasan lowered himself into a cave in search of treasure in 1947.
In modern times the first scroll was discovered in the late nineteenth century not in the region of the Dead Sea but in a synagogue in Cairo, Egypt. The document in question was found among thousands of mostly medieval texts, stored away in a long-forgotten synagogue storage room called a genizah, a place where worn-out sacred books were retired. By custom the Jews refused to burn or destroy documents that contained the name of God, and so they were typically stored away and either forgotten or eventually buried in a reverent burial ceremony. More on this genizah in chapter 12.
The scroll discovered in the Cairo genizah became known as the Damascus Document. We will examine it more closely later. It provided scholars with much data, but it proved to be only the barest beginning of a new era in the study of ancient Jewish writings.
In contrast to the first modern discovery of the DSS, which involved only the Damascus Document, the second modern discovery involved hundreds of documents and dozens of caves in almost as many locations. Furthermore, the discoveries have continued on and off for about a half century.
We think the discovery of the first cave in the region of the Dead Sea came in the spring of 1947, though it was another six months or so before scholars laid eyes on the scrolls extracted from this cave. I say "we think" because some local Bedouin (desert-dwelling nomads) claim that a few of the scrolls were actually discovered a year or more before the spring of 1947. The story of the discovery and eventual sale of the first scrolls recovered from Qumran could hardly be more convoluted and confusing. Here are the basic events in chronological order:
November 1946 to February 1947
Sometime during this period three Bedouin (Muhammed edh-Dhib Hasan, Jum'a Muhammed, and Khalil Musa) discovered the first cave near Qumran while tending their flocks. Eventually called Cave 1, this cave is about one mile north of the Qumran community ruins adjacent to Wadi Qumran. A wadi is a gulch or small canyon. The ruins of the Qumran community itself lie about 20 miles north of En Gedi, an oasis west of the Dead Sea.
Jum'a and Khalil offered to sell three scrolls to Ibrahim 'Ijha, an antiquities dealer in Bethlehem. The dealer declined, fearing the scrolls were stolen property. Shortly thereafter Jum'a showed the scrolls to George Isha'ya, another Bethlehem antiquities dealer, and Sheikh 'Ali Subh, chief of the Ta'amireh tribe. 'Ali Subh suggested that Jum'a show the scrolls to Khalil Iskander (a.k.a. Kando Shahin). Kando was a Syrian Orthodox merchant, shoemaker, and later became an antiquities dealer. The scrolls Jum'a possessed were:
1QIsaiah (the Great Isaiah Scroll)
1QpHab (the pesher, or commentary, on the biblical book of Habakkuk)
1QS (Serek Yahad, or the Rule of the Community, at one time called the Manual of Discipline)
George Isha'ya mentioned the scrolls to the Syrian Orthodox metropolitan Mar Athanasius Samuel at Saint Mark's Monastery in Jerusalem's Old City. Kando and Isha'ya later showed one of the scrolls to Mar Samuel. Recognizing that the scroll was written in Hebrew and was probably ancient, Mar Samuel expressed interest in purchasing it and any other scrolls Kando and Isha'ya possessed.
May or June 1947
Jum'a returned to Cave 1 and recovered four more scrolls.
Kando, acting on behalf of the Bedouin, sold 1QIsaiaha, 1QpHab, and 1QS to Mar Samuel for about $100. Later that month Mar Samuel showed the scrolls to J. P. M. van der Ploeg, professor of Old Testament at the University of Nijmegen, the Netherlands. The professor mistakenly believed that the scrolls dated to the medieval era. He was the first scholar to lay eyes on the DSS, but he failed to recognize their great value.
Late August 1947
William Brownlee and John Trever, postdoctoral students and fellows of the American Schools of Oriental Research, arrived in Palestine.
Excerpted from Holman QuickSource Guide to the Dead Sea Scrolls by Craig A. Evans, Jeremy R. Howard. Copyright © 2010 Craig Evans. Excerpted by permission of B&H Publishing Group.
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