The Truth Behind the Dead Sea Scrolls

October 13, 2017

The Truth Behind the Dead Sea Scrolls, made by National Geographic, is really well done. I have, of course, heard of these scrolls, but I really didn’t know much about them. It’s available on Netflix and it’s definitely worth your time. It’s filled with history, archealogy, expert opinions, and of course, conspiracies. 

The first scrolls were discovered in 1947 by a young boy who was out looking for a lost goat. He had no idea what he had discovered, so he put them in his bag and eventually sold them to someone else. Eventually, word got out and archaeologists looked over these scrolls and went searching for more in the area. In the end, they discovered more than 900 scrolls in 11 different caves in the area. The caves were all near a recently excavated settlement which is presumed to be an Essene settlement (a strict Jewish sect around before and after the time of Jesus) who eventually were driven out by the Romans in AD 70, never to return. 

It’s a miracle that the scrolls have survived at all. 1947, when they were first discovered, was a terrible time in the Middle East. (Not much has changed.) The United Nations had just declared Israel a state, and the Palestinians were fighting back. So, in the middle of a big war, people were trying to excavate the scrolls, while many of them were bought and sold and smuggled on the black market. Decades later, a group of them were discovered for sale in the U.S.! Worse yet, the first researchers didn’t understand just how fragile they were, nor did they care because they simply wanted to read them, and not necessarily preserve them. So, they worked in direct sunlight and often smoked cigarettes while working! 

What I found fascinating about the scrolls is what I didn’t know was included in them! I knew that all the books of the Old Testament were there, with the exception of the book of Esther. But, I never knew that there were often many multiple copies of the same books there, and that there were many additional religious texts included that do not appear in our Old Testament. Many of these books reference things that appear to correlate to a coming Christianity (ritual cleansing by water, etc.) In addition, the scroll writers, presumably from the nearby Qumran settlement, were likely Essenes and lived in a monastery-type environment, with an emphasis on communal living, and helping each other. 

Additionally found with the scrolls is the so-called “Copper Scroll” which seems to be a treasure map. This doesn’t seem to fit with the Essene way of life of poverty and an emphasis on rejecting materialism, so some scholars believe that this treasure (which has never been found) is likely from the First (or more likely Second) Temple Destruction. Fascinating to think about. Also discovered in the texts are several apocalyptic scrolls, similar in nature to that of the Book of Revelations in the current-day New Testament. 

This documentary has so piqued my interest that I already started reading a book about them. (It was very dry, so I’m still looking.) Needless to say, I recommend watching the National Geographic documentary about them. It’s fascinating and will not disappoint. 

Deuteronomy 32:7 (NRSV): Remember the days of old, consider the years long past; ask your father, and he will inform you; your elders, and they will tell you.

Serve all with love.

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