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Dead sea scrolls

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The Dead Sea scrolls consist of roughly 900 documents, including texts from the Hebrew Bible, discovered between 1947 and 1956 in eleven caves in and around the Wadi Qumran near the ruins of the ancient settlement of Khirbet Qumran, on the northwest shore of the Dead Sea. The texts are of great religious and historical significance, as they include some of the only known surviving copies of Biblical documents made before 100 C.E., and preserve evidence of considerable diversity of belief and practice within late Second Temple Judaism. They are written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek, mostly on parchment, but with some written on papyrus. These manuscripts generally date between 150 BCE to 70 CE.[2]. The scrolls are most commonly identified with the ancient Jewish sect called the Essenes, but recent scholarship has challenged their association with the scrolls, and some scholars argue that there was no specific sect and the scrolls came from existing people from nearby villages.

The Dead Sea Scrolls are traditionally divided into three groups: "Biblical" manuscripts (copies of texts from the Hebrew Bible), which comprise roughly 40% of the identified scrolls; "Apocryphal" or "Pseudepigraphical" manuscripts (known documents from the Second Temple Period like Enoch, Jubilees, Tobit, Sirach, non-canonical psalms, etc., that were not ultimately canonized in the Hebrew Bible), which comprise roughly 30% of the identified scrolls; and "Sectarian" manuscripts (previously unknown documents that speak to the rules and beliefs of a particular group or groups within greater Judaism) like the Community Rule, War Scroll, Pesher (Hebrew pesher פשר = "Commentary") on Habakkuk, and the Rule of the Blessing, which comprise roughly 30% of the identified scrolls.

Publication of the scrolls has taken many decades, and the delay has been a source of academic controversy. As of 2007 two volumes remain to be completed, with the whole series, Discoveries in the Judean Desert, running to thirty-nine volumes in total. Many of the scrolls are now housed in the Shrine of the Book in Jerusalem. According to The Oxford Companion to Archeology, "The biblical manuscripts from Qumran, which include at least fragments from every book of the Old Testament, except perhaps for the Book of Esther, provide a far older cross section of scriptural tradition than that available to scholars before. While some of the Qumran biblical manuscripts are nearly identical to the Masoretic, or traditional, Hebrew text of the Old Testament, some manuscripts of the books of Exodus and Samuel found in Cave Four exhibit dramatic differences in both language and content. In their astonishing range of textual variants, the Qumran biblical discoveries have prompted scholars to reconsider the once-accepted theories of the development of the modern biblical text from only three manuscript families: of the Masoretic text, of the Hebrew original of the Septuagint, and of the Samaritan Pentateuch. It is now becoming increasingly clear that the Old Testament scripture was extremely fluid until its canonization around 100 A.D."

The scrolls amount to around 900 documents, but they are currently found in tens of thousands of fragments. The process of compiling and interpreting these fragments has been slow and loaded with controversy. The scrolls appear to be entirely Jewish, with little direct relevance to Christianity.

Of the documents that have been identified, about a third are copies of the OT books we have now, though there are variations in the text. Another third are apocryphal books that were already known but did not make the cut for canonization. The last third are “sectarian” documents that were not previously known, but speak of the rules and beliefs of a sect or sects within Judaism.


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