For Jews and Christians alike, the Dead Sea Scrolls are some of the most important ancient manuscripts ever discovered. They cast new light on the emergence of these religions. Now, a new discovery has enlightened us even more.
The Dead Sea Scrolls are ancient manuscripts that were first discovered between 1947 in 1956 on the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea in caves at Qumran in the Judean Desert, in the West Bank. At least 981 different manuscripts were discovered in 11 caves.
One of the most important aspects of the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls is that it solidifies the idea that the content of the Bible has not changed in 2,000 years. What is extremely remarkable, is the fact that the Dead Sea Scrolls are over a thousand years older than all the previously identified biblical manuscripts, and yet, with the exception of the book of Esther, every manuscript that came to become the “canon” of sacred writings for the Old Testament were present in the Qumran caves.
The ancient manuscripts that make up the so-called Dead Sea Scrolls can be divided into three categories: Biblical, apocryphal and sectarian.
Over 230 manuscripts in the collection are considered to be “biblical scrolls.” Meaning, they are copies of works that are now part of the Old Testament. The manuscripts found in the caves contain partial or complete copies of every book that is found in the Hebrew Bible, with the exception of the book of Esther.
The nearly one thousand Dead Sea Scrolls were written in a variety of languages. The majority of the manuscripts are written mostly in standard Hebrew (square, Jewish script) that is similar to today’s Modern Hebrew. However, some are written in first Temple period Paleo-Hebrew, while many are written in Aramaic and Greek texts, as well as some in Arabic texts and a very few fragments are in Latin.
The oldest intact manuscript from the Old Testament ever found as part of the Dead Sea Scrolls. It is called the Great Isaiah Scroll. It contains all 66 chapters of the Hebrew version of the book of Isaiah and is written on 17 sheets of parchment. It stretches to a length of 24 feet! Experts date the scroll to roughly 125 BC, making it about 1000 years older than any of the manuscripts belonging to the Hebrew Bible found in modern times.
Scholars and archaeologists have concluded that the Dead Sea Scrolls are roughly 2000 years old. The carbon dating of the writing of fragments found suggests they were written sometime between 225 BC and 50 A.D.
In mid-March, 2021, archaeologists from the Israeli government announced that they had discovered tiny fragments of an ancient biblical scroll near the Dead Sea by professional excavators, NPR reported. It was the first time new manuscripts had been found in over 60 years.
The tiny fragments are written in Greek. However, the researchers say that while the most famous Greek translation of the Bible as the Septuagint, the new fragments that were found aren’t an exact match for it. There are little differences, which translators say are a reworking of the text. For example, the name of God is written in ancient Hebrew script, while the remaining text is written in Greek. Translators say this emphasizes the importance of God.
In addition, the archaeologists also discovered the remains of a mummified child they dated to about 6,000 years. Further, they also unearthed the world’s oldest fully intact basket, which they say dates back roughly 10,500 years.