Where is the Dead Sea.?
The Dead Sea is located, about 15 miles east of Jerusalem. It is extremely deep (averaging about 1,000 feet), salty (some parts containing the highest amount of salts possible), and the lowest body of water in the world. The Dead Sea is supplied by a number of smaller streams, springs, and the Jordan River.
Because of its low elevation and its position in a deep basin, the climate of the Dead Sea area is unusual. Its very high evaporation does produce a haze yet its atmospheric humidity is low. Adjacent areas to it are very arid and favourable for the preservation of materials like the Dead Sea Scrolls.
The Bible's description, in Genesis 19, of a destructive earthquake near the Dead Sea area during the time of Abraham is borne out by archaeological and historic investigation. While no evidence remains of the five cities of the plain (Zeboim, Admah, Bela or Zoar, Sodom, and Gomorrah) their sites are believed to be beneath the waters at the southern end of the sea.
Where is Qumran?
It is a ruined site of a complex structure is located on a barren terrace between the cliffs where the caves were found and the Dead Sea.
Who lived in Qumran who could have been responsible for the scrolls?
It would seem to be a community who adhered to the Torah and Prophets and saw themselves as the true Israel. It would also seem they lived here from sometime in the second century B.C. until A.D. 68. The scrolls have revealed much about how this community lived. Although it is by no means certain it is most probable that the inhabitants were Essenes. A rather remote possibility is that they might be a part of the priesthood, having broken away from the Sadducees.
Who were the Essenes?
They were one of four “parties” existing in Israel at the time of Christ besides the Zealots, the Pharisees and the Sadducees.
The Essenes were probably the descendants of the pre- Hasmoneans who aligned with Judas Maccabee against Antiochus Epiphanies IV about 170 B.C. The second century A.D. historian, Josephus, indicated that the Essenes 'live in no way different from, but as much as possible like those [Sadducees] who are called 'The Many'.
The meaning of Essene is a mystery as this word does not exist in Hebrew. The Jew historian, Philo suggests that they “merited the title Essenes because of their holiness”, implying that the name may be related in some way to 'saintliness'. It thus could be that Philo plays on the similarity between the Greek words Essaioi (Essaeans), and Osioi, holy or pure.
However when one examines the contents of some of the scrolls found in the caves a picture emerges of a community living under a strict rule, not unlike a monastic society. It was hierarchical with its superior or master and committee. There was also a commune division between the priests and laity.
Like all faithful Israelites they lived according to the Covenant, the focal point in Old Testament history. However many Israelites had been unfaithful, and so these Essenes saw themselves as the faithful remnant. Members had to adhere strictly to the 613 commandments as expressed in the Torah and also to the teachings of the Prophets that was interpreted by the Teacher of Righteousness.
One became a member of the Essene community when he turned twenty and took a solemn vow to be faithful to its Rules. If these were broken in any way one was exiled if it were a severe offence or did various degrees of penance for lighter offences. Any disrespect for the Torah and Community leaders was never allowed.
The second century A.D. historian, Philo described them this way.
They do not offer animal sacrifice, judging it more fitting to render their minds truly holy. They flee the cities and live in villages where clean air and clean social life abound. They either work in the fields or in crafts that contribute to peace. They do not hoard silver and gold and do not acquire great landholdings; procuring for themselves only what is necessary for life. Thus they live without goods and without property, not by misfortune, but out of preference. They do not make armaments of any kind. They do not keep slaves and detest slavery. They avoid wholesale and retail commerce, believing that such activity excites one to cupidity. With respect to philosophy, they dismiss logic but have an extremely high regard for virtue. They honor the Sabbath with great respect over the other days of the week. They have an internal rule which all learn, together with rules on piety, holiness, justice and the knowledge of good and bad. These they make use of in the form of triple definitions, rules regarding the love of God, the love of virtue, and the love of men. They believe God causes all good but cannot be the cause of any evil. They honor virtue by foregoing all riches, glory and pleasure. Further, they are convinced they must be modest, quiet, obedient to the rule, simple, frugal and without mirth. Their life style is communal. They have a common purse. Their salaries they deposit before them all, in the midst of them, to be put to the common employment of those who wish to make use of it. They do not neglect the sick on the pretext that they can produce nothing. With the common purse there is plenty from which to treat all illnesses. They lavish great respect on the elderly. With them they are very generous and surround them with a thousand attentions. They practice virtue like a gymnastic exercise, seeing the accomplishment of praiseworthy deeds as the means by which a man ensures absolute freedom for himself.
The Essenes live in a number of towns in Judea, and also in many villages and in large groups. They do not enlist by race, but by volunteers who have a zeal for righteousness and an ardent love of men. For this reason there are no young children among the Essenes, not even adolescents or young men. Instead they are men of old or ripe years who have learned how to control their bodily passions. They possess nothing of their own, not house, field, slave nor flocks, nor anything which feeds and procures wealth. They live together in brotherhoods, and eat in common together. Everything they do is for the common good of the group. They work at many different jobs and attack their work with amazing zeal and dedication, working from before sunrise to almost sunset without complaint, but in obvious exhilaration. Their exercise is their work. Indeed, they believe their own training to be more agreeable to body and soul, and more lasting, than athletic games, since their exercises remain fitted to their age, even when the body no longer possesses its full strength. They are farmers and shepherds and beekeepers and craftsmen in diverse trades. They share the same way of life, the same table, even the same tastes; all of them loving frugality and hating luxury as a plague for both body and soul. Not only do they share a common table, but common clothes as well. What belongs to one belongs to all. Available to all of them are thick coats for winter and inexpensive light tunics for summer. Seeing it as an obstacle to communal life, they have banned marriage. They view women as selfish, excessively jealous, skillful in seduction and armed, like actors with all sorts of masks designed to flatter and ensnare men, bewitching and capturing their attention and finally leading them astray. They believe that where children are involved, women become audacious, arrogant, swollen with pride, shamelessly violent and employ attitudes dangerous to the good of the common life. The husband, bound by his wife's spells, or anxious for his children from natural necessity, is no more the same to the others, but becomes a different man; instead of a freeman, he becomes a slave
Why were the scrolls hidden in the caves?
With the invasion of Roman forces in A.D 68 it would seem that members of the community abandoned the site for the hills and hid these scrolls in the nearby caves for safety. Perhaps they hoped to return once the Romans left but this was not a reality for some time in the future.
What did the scrolls reveal?
In almost 900 scrolls, 125 represented every book of the Hebrew Bible except Esther. Of these over 70 represented the Pentateuch of which a third came from the book of Deuteronomy. The latter prophets, especially Isaiah also scored well. Indeed the only complete scroll was of this book. Psalms too scored highly.
Copies were also found of what are sometimes referred to as the Apocryphal books or those extra ones from the Hebrew Bible in the Septuagint: Ecclesiasticus and Tobit. These scrolls support the theory that there were different versions of the books of the Old Testament before Christ, and help to explain differences between the Septuagint and Hebrew Bibles. For example in the former the book of Jeremiah is considerably shorter, but the finds at Qumran revealed a shorter version as well as the longer one.
Why are these scrolls valuable?
They are the oldest manuscripts we have of the biblical books. Previously the oldest manuscripts were those preserved by early Church Fathers, especially Origen, that great biblical scholar of the third century. The Canon of the Hebrew Bible was completed by A.D.100. The previous oldest manuscript of this canon was the Masoretic, written in the 11thC. The findings at Qumran have shown that this is quite accurate and simultaneously allow serious biblical scholars to engage more authentically in their studies.
They also reveal a community that was very much awaiting for the coming of the Messiah as among the scrolls is A Messianic Horoscope in Aramaic. It foretells the appearance and the character of the future Prince of the Congregation or royal Messiah.
Counsel and prudence will be with him, and he will know the secrets of man. His wisdom will reach all the peoples, and he will know the secrets of the living. And all their designs against him will come to nothing, and [his] rule over all the living will be great. His design [will succeed] for he is the Elect of God.
Then there is the Messianic Anthology. This consists of a collection of scriptural texts considered to be the foundation of the messianic teachings of the Community. There are five Biblical quotations arranged in four groups. The first combines Deut. 5.28-9 with Deut. 18.18-9 [I will raise up a prophet like you from among their brethren …] The second gives the oracle of Balaam from Num. 24.15-7. [A star shall come out of Jacob and a sceptre shall rise out of Israel…] The third repeats the blessing of the Levites by Moses and, implicitly, of the priestly Messiah in Deut. 33.8-11 [Bless his power, O Lord and delight in the work of his hands ...] The fourth group opens with Joshua 6.26 then expounds this text [Cursed be the man who rebuild this city! …] with the help of the sectarian Psalms of Joshua as applying to the principal opponents of the Community.
Furthermore they reveal the seriousness of teaching and studying Scripture in the various commentaries (Midrash) made on biblical passages. For example on the Last Days fragments exist on excerpts from Exodus 15 [Song of Moses], Amos 9 [destruction of Israel], Psalm One [the two ways – Blessed are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked], Isaiah 8 [Is’s son a sign of invasion], Exekiel 44 [Admission to the temple] and Psalm Two [God’s promise to his anointed] to re-interpret the story of the building of the Temple by Solomon (2Sam. 7.10-14).
The Psalm Scroll preserved forty-one canonical Psalms, four apocryphal psalms previously known from Greek, Latin and Syriac translations, and in addition three new compositions and a prose supplments and a poem identical with 2 Samuel 23.1-7. Those known apocryphal psalms are Ps. 151 which has always been in the Orthodox Psalter; Ps. 154, a hymn of praise to God’s wisdom; Ps. 155, a supplication and the fourth glorifies divine Wisdom and is related to a to a song in Ecclesiasticus 51:13-19. Of the previously unknown Psalms, the first is entitled by the editor, A Plea for Deliverance.
I was destined to death because of my sins,
and my iniquities sold me to the underworld.
But YHWH, Thou hast saved me
according to Thy great mercies,
and according to the multitude
of Thy deeds of justification.
The second new Psalm celebrates Zion and is an acrostic poem, i.e. one in which the first character of each line represents the successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet (aleph, beth, gimel, etc.).
I remember thee, 0 Zion, as a blessing,
By all my might, I love thee:
may thy memory be blessed for ever.
Great is Zion's hope:
may peace and thine awaited salvation come.
The third Psalm in this category is addressed to the Creator.
Great and holy is YHWH,
the holiest for all generations.
Majesty goes before Him,
and behind Him the roar of many waters.
Grace and truth surround His face,
truth, judgement and justice support His throne.