Scrolls for Sale

Scrolls for Sale


The Shrine of the Book (Wiki Commons)

The Shrine of the Book (Wiki Commons)

Some important stories don’t make the news.

Seventy years ago, November 29, 1947, headlines around the world proclaimed that the United Nations had voted to set up two separate states in Palestine, one Jewish and one Arab.

Three Bedouins

However, another event happened that day that was to influence biblical studies forever. The story begins about a year earlier, when three Bedouin teenagers—Muhammed Ahmed el-Hamed, Jum’a Muhammed Khalib, and Khalil Musa—found three scrolls covered with strange writing, while exploring a cave near the Dead Sea.

In April 1947, an uncle of one of the boys took the scrolls to Bethlehem and showed them to a Muslim sheikh who sent them to a Bethlehem shoemaker and part-time antiquities dealer, known as “Kando.”

One of the clay jars that held the Dead Sea Scrolls (Logos)

One of the clay jars that held the Dead Sea Scrolls (Logos)

Meanwhile, Khalil Musa and the other Bedouins brought George Isaiah, a Syrian Orthodox merchant from Jerusalem, to see the cave. They found four more scrolls. Isaiah told the Syrian Orthodox Metropolitan in Jerusalem about the scrolls, and he offered to buy them. In July, when Jum’a, Musa, and Isaiah tried to bring the four scrolls to the Syrian Orthodox Metropolitan, they were mistakenly turned away. Instead they sold the four scrolls to Kando, the Bethlehem merchant, who in turn sold them to the Metropolitan for $97.20. One expert the Metropolitan consulted regarding his purchase was Eleazar Sukenik, a noted professor at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

When Sukenik learned that an antiquities dealer was offering ancient scrolls for sale, he made a secret trip to Bethlehem. He purchased two of the scrolls November 29, 1947, the day the United Nations voted to create the modern Jewish state. A month later he purchased a third.

The Scrolls Stay in Israel

In 1954, the Syrian Orthodox Metropolitan placed an ad in the Wall Street Journal, offering his four scrolls for sale. Sukenik’s son, Yigael Yadin, an Israeli general and leading archaeologist, was in the United States when the ad appeared. Yadin was able to buy the scrolls for $250,000. Those four together with the three purchased by his father now reside in an exhibit in the Israel Museum called The Shrine of the Book.

The Dead Sea Scrolls, dating from 250 B.C. to A.D. 68, are considered by many to be the most important archaeological discovery of all time.

They apparently were the library of the Essenes, a Jewish sect that had lived at nearby Qumran. When the invading Roman armies reached southern Judea in AD 68, the Essenes hid their library in caves.

Great Isaiah Scroll (Wiki Commons)

Great Isaiah Scroll (Wiki Commons)

The scrolls range in length from the complete book of Isaiah to thousands of small fragments. At least one fragment from every Old Testament book except Esther has been found. Evidence shows that originally about three hundred books were hidden, a third of them portions of the Old Testament. To date, all Old Testament books except Esther have been represented in the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Nonbiblical Scrolls

Some of the scrolls found among the 11 caves of Qumran by the Dead Sea that are not copies of biblical books. These scrolls date approximately to 250 B.C.–A.D. 50.

The nonbiblical Dead Sea Scrolls have had a large impact on our understanding of the language, literature, and history of Judaism in Israel in the first centuries BC and AD. The richness and variety of the collection, despite its fragmentary nature, can hardly be overstated. They can be divided into three major categories:

  1. Previously known noncanonical texts;
  2. Previously unknown parabiblical texts;
  3. Previously unknown sectarian texts.

Previously Known Noncanonical Texts

Some of the scrolls contained the text of works from outside the Hebrew canon of Scripture that were previously known only in translation. For example, the book of Tobit, which Roman Catholics consider to be canonical and Protestants consider to be part of the Apocrypha, is attested in five manuscripts—four in Aramaic (4Q196–4Q199) and one in Hebrew (4Q200). This text had previously only been available in the Greek translation found in the Septuagint.

(Ed. Note: Each manuscript of the Dead Sea Scrolls is identified by a manuscript number. For example, the manuscript number 4Q196 designates the 196th manuscript cataloged from Qumran Cave 4.)

Likewise, the book of Ecclesiasticus (also known as Sirach or Ben Sira), which is also among the Apocrypha and part of the Roman Catholic canon, is attested in one fragmentary Hebrew manuscript (2Q18) containing part of Chapter 6.

Two of the ancient books classified as pseudepigrapha (meaning their authorship is fictionally ascribed to Old Testament figures) were found at Qumran: the book of Enoch and the book of Jubilees. Enoch is not canonical (except for the Ethiopian Orthodox Church) but was very important in early Judaism and is quoted in the New Testament (Jude 14–15; 1 Enoch 1:9); however, until the Qumran finds, it was known only in Greek and Ethiopic translation.

The Qumran scrolls (4Q201–202, 4Q204–207, 4Q212) contain about 15 percent of the original Aramaic text, as well as parts of other works from the Enoch literature—the book of Giants (1Q23–24, 2Q26, 4Q203, 4Q530–533), and the so-called Astronomical Enoch (4Q208–211), which deals with the movements of the sun and moon. Additionally, 15 Hebrew copies of the book of Jubilees, a 50-chapter retelling of the Genesis narratives from a sectarian viewpoint, were found at Qumran (1Q17–18, 2Q19–20, 3Q5, 4Q216–224, 11Q12). Like Enoch, the complete text had been known previously only in Ethiopic translation, as it is only canonical for the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

Finally, the Hebrew text of the extracanonical Psalm 151, previously known only in Greek, was found in the Cave 11 scroll of the book of Psalms.

Previously Unknown Parabiblical Texts

The term “parabiblical” refers to texts that are based on biblical stories or personages but contain expansions, extra material, or narrative reworkings that go beyond the biblical text. A prominent example of a parabiblical text is the Aramaic Genesis Apocryphon from Cave 1 (1QapGen), of which 22 mostly fragmentary columns survive. It contains pseudonymous, first-person retellings of some of the patriarchal narratives, including a long section on Abraham.

Also of major importance is the Cave 11 Temple Scroll, the longest of the Qumran scrolls (parts of 66 columns in 11Q19; 11Q20 also contains part of the work). This text is a reworking of the legal material from the Pentateuch claiming to contain first-person utterances of God to Israel.

Other Hebrew texts in this parabiblical category are:

  • The Vision of Samuel (4Q160);
  • The Pseudo-Ezekiel texts (4Q385–386, 4Q385b, 4Q388);
  • The Apocryphon of Joshua (4Q378–79);
  • The Apocryphon of Joseph (4Q371–373) and a related fragment tentatively titled the Apocryphon of David (2Q22).

Other Aramaic texts in the genre include:

  • The Pseudo-Daniel text (4Q243–245);
  • The so-called Birth of Noah texts (4Q534–536; also known as the Elect of God texts);
  • The Testament of Jacob (4Q537);
  • The Testament of Joseph (4Q539);
  • The Visions of Amram (4Q543–549);
  • The Testament of Kohath (4Q542);
  • The Apocryphon of Judah (4Q538).

The label “vision” denotes a vision that purports to come from an Old Testament personage. The label “testament” denotes the last words and instructions purporting to come from an Old Testament personage. Besides those listed above, a lengthy text that belongs to the testament genre is known as the Aramaic Levi Document (4Q213–213ab–214–214ab, 1Q21). This text deals with the patriarch Levi and is apparently a source of the later Greek Testament of Levi.

There are also a couple manuscripts of targums (Aramaic translations) of the book of Job; these are more closely related to the Hebrew biblical text than the other parabiblical texts are. They are distinct from the Rabbinic targums of Job.

Previously Unknown Texts, Mainly Sectarian

The majority of the nonbiblical texts were religious documents composed or collected by a Jewish sect. The identity of the sect is disputed, but the most common guess is that they were Essenes. These sectarian documents are of various types.

Rules and Religious Law

Several texts are “rules” (Hebrew serek) that present the sectarian view of Jewish law and ritual and describe the community’s organizational regulations. The most important texts in this category are:

  • The Rule of the Community (1QS[erek], 4Q255–264, 5Q11; also known as the Manual of Discipline);
  • The Rule of the Congregation (1QSa);
  • The Damascus Document (4Q266–273, 5Q12, 6Q15), a medieval copy of which (referred to as CD, the Covenant of Damascus) had been discovered in the Cairo Geniza in 1895;
  • The Rule of War (1Q33), usually known as the War Scroll which describes the regulations for the order of battle between the “sons of light” and the forces of evil, the “sons of darkness,” in the last days.

The Rule of the Community has received considerable attention because some of the community practices it describes are similar to Essene practices described by Josephus. It also contains details of the sect’s dualistic deterministic theology, describing how the “sons of light” are ruled by the “Prince of Light” and the “sons of darkness” by the “Angel of Darkness.” The Damascus Document contains many of the same laws as the Rule of the Community but specifies that it is for members of “the new covenant in the land of Damascus,” possibly a separate group. The Rule of the Congregation which was an appendix to the Rule of the Community, provides rules for the membership of the community in the “last days” (1QSa 1:1) and describes an eschatological banquet over which the High Priest and the Messiah of Israel are to preside.

Biblical Interpretation

The Qumran sect found prophecies of themselves and figures of their times within the Scriptures of Israel. Many of their biblical commentaries introduce these interpretations using the phrase pesher ha-davar ( “the meaning of the matter”) or pishro ( “its meaning”). For this reason, their approach is known as the pesher method, and their commentaries are known as pesharim (plural of pesher). The pesharim can be thematic (i.e., dealing with different passages of Scripture) or continuous (i.e., dealing with a complete book in order). The most notable continuous pesharim are:

All of these mention various historical figures under code names such as the “Teacher of Righteousness,” possibly referring to the founder of the sect (also known from the Damascus Document), and “Flattery-Seekers,” referring to an opposing group. Other code names include the “Wicked Priest,” the “Man of the Lie,” and the “Lion of Wrath.” In its comments on Nahum 2:11, the Nahum Pesher names a Gentile ruler—Demetrius III Eukairos, who invaded the land in 88 BC. This has enabled us to pinpoint more exactly the historical era of the scrolls. There are also pesharim on Genesis (4Q252–254a) and other books.

Included among the thematic pesharim are:

  • 4QFlorilegium (4Q174), interpreting various texts from Deuteronomy, 2 Samuel, and Psalms as referring to the last days;
  • 4QCatena (4Q177, 4Q182), which provides eschatological keys to passages from the Psalms and Prophets;
  • 11QMelchizedek (11Q13), a fragmentary pesher that interprets Scripture passages about the Jubilee as eschatological in intent, with an exalted Melchizedek (Gen 14:18) as angelic messenger.

Calendrical Texts

The Qumran sect favored a 364-day solar calendar instead of the lunar calendar used by other Jews (which is still in use). A large number of Qumran texts deal with efforts to synchronize this calendar with various other ways of dividing time. For instance, the Hebrew text 4QSigns (4Q319) tries to synchronize the solar and lunar calendars with the periodic Jubilee years. The Hebrew Mishmarot texts (4Q320–326, 4Q328–329) synchronize the solar and lunar calendars with the 24 priestly courses (Hebrew mishmarot) serving in the temple (1 Chr 24:7–18), and also mention festivals or major events. Another Hebrew text, 4Q317, deals with phases of the moon. The Aramaic text 4QBrontologion (4Q318) gives a method for divination based on the connection between thunder, the moon phases, and the signs of the zodiac. The book of Enoch and book of Jubilees (mentioned above) also prescribe the solar calendar.

Wisdom Texts

Some of the texts are of the same genre as Wisdom books such as Proverbs or Ecclesiasticus (Ben Sira). An important one is known as the Instruction (or Mûsar le-Mēvîn, “Instruction for the Understanding”), which appears in six copies (4Q415–418, 4Q423). Like Proverbs, it contains wise sayings addressed by an ideal teacher to an ideal pupil concerning the right way to live. Another work, the book of Mysteries (1Q27, 4Q299–300), stresses the hiddenness of true wisdom and the necessity of God’s revelation. The scroll called Wiles of the Wicked Woman (4Q184) takes its inspiration from Prov 7:1–27 and presents Folly, the opposite of Wisdom, as a seductress who seeks to lure people into deception. 4QBeatitudes (4Q525) presents a series of beatitudes, not unlike those of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:3–11), proclaiming the blessedness of those who follow wisdom. The untitled scroll 4Q424 is more prosaic in its advice, and its maxims could sit comfortably next to the biblical proverbs. All of these texts are written in classical Hebrew.


Many of the scrolls contain original poetic compositions, continuing in the scriptural traditions of Hebrew poetry. The most notable is the collection called the Thanksgiving Scroll (Hebrew Hodayot), which exists in several copies (1QHa, 1Q35, 4Q427–432); originally it contained at least 34 psalms, many of which are introduced with the phrase “I thank thee, O Lord.” The personal and intimate tone of these hymns and prayers, as well as various sectarian allusions, suggest that they may have been written by the Teacher of Righteousness himself. Another group of psalms, less personal in nature, are the Barkhi Nafshi ( “Bless, O my soul”) texts (4Q434–438). Lamentations in the biblical style (Lam 1–5) are found in 4Q179 (mourning the destruction of Jerusalem) and 4Q445.


Closely allied to the poetic hymns are works containing prayers and hymns apparently for use in public ceremonies. Very striking are the Songs for the Sabbath Sacrifice (4Q400–407, 11Q17), which are 13 psalms and blessings for the weekly sacrifice that invoke the presence of angels (under the name “gods”) and describe the heavenly temple and the throne of God. Another collection of prayers, the Words of the Heavenly Lights (4Q504–506), may have been recited throughout the week. The work called Festival Prayers (1Q34, 1Q34bis, 4Q507–509) has prayers to be recited on the Day of Atonement and other festivals. Other texts contain psalms that imitate biblical styles by celebrating God’s creative power and His choice of Zion (so-called “noncanonical psalms,” 4Q380–381). Some of the Qumran copies of the biblical Psalter (11Q5, 11Q6, 4Q88) contain otherwise unknown psalms that the sect included with the canonical psalms.


The Scrolls are deficient in narrative genres. There are no historical texts besides the biblical ones, but there are a few Aramaic stories about nonscriptural figures. The fragmentary Prayer of Nabonidus (4Q242) tells how God healed Nabonidus, the last king of Babylon, from a “severe inflammation” through a Jewish diviner whose name is not preserved. Some scholars believe this story was part of the Daniel cycle and influenced the story of Nebuchadnezzar’s healing in Dan 4. Another Aramaic story, sometimes called “Proto-Esther” (4Q550), is set in the Persian court and relates how a certain Bagasrava—probably a Jew—rose to success and was rewarded by the king. It has some distant parallels to the canonical book of Esther. A fragmentary Hebrew text (4Q332–333) related to the* Mishmarot* calendar texts is not a narrative, but it mentions historical figures of the first century BC, such as Queen Salome (Shelamzion), King Hyrcanus II, and the Roman general Aemilius Scaurus. This is as close as the Scrolls came to writing straightforward history.

Apocalyptic and Demonology

The Scrolls include a rich variety of eschatological texts in the apocalyptic mode. The War Scroll (mentioned above) is a rule for the “faithful” during the final war against evil at the end of days. There are also several copies of the Aramaic Description of the New Jerusalem (1Q32, 2Q24, 4Q554–555, 5Q15, 11Q18), wherein an angel relates in a vision the dimensions and layout of the Jerusalem to come. This text is similar in some ways to Ezekiel’s vision in Ezek 40–48. Another Aramaic visionary text is the Four Kingdoms (4Q552–553), in which a seer sees the successive ruling powers symbolized by four trees. The so-called Son of God text in Aramaic (4Q246) is a fragmentary vision of an unnamed seer (possibly Daniel) who sees the coming of a figure who many will call the “son of God,” followed by the final war in which the people of God shall prevail. Other texts are unknown Hebrew pseudepigrapha with heavy eschatological content, such as the Apocryphon of Jeremiah (4Q383) and Pseudo-Moses (4Q385a, 4Q387, 4Q387a, 4Q388a, 4Q389–390). The Hebrew poem 4Q521 (Messianic Apocalypse) describes the coming age of the Messiah.

Almost all the scrolls presuppose that the powers of evil include demonic forces and hostile supernatural beings. Some minor texts deal directly with the world of evil spirits. The Hebrew Incantation of the Sage (4Q444) and the Aramaic Exorcism (4Q560) were intended to protect against or expel demons. A collection of noncanonical Hebrew psalms (11Q11) has the overall theme of resisting demonic attack.

Nonliterary Texts

Some of the texts are not literary. For example, 4Q477 (or Rebukes of the Overseer) is a fragment recording the punishment of some sect members. Also among the scrolls are several scribal exercises (4Q234, 4Q360, 4Q341) and lists or accounts (4Q346, 4Q348, 4Q351–358; some of these may have been discovered elsewhere). The most notable of such texts is the Copper Scroll (3Q15), a lengthy scroll describing caches of buried treasure. Instead of being written on parchment with ink, this document is composed of Hebrew text punched into the surface of a long copper sheet. It was written in a dialect resembling later rabbinic Hebrew rather than classical Hebrew.

Archaeology Confirms the Bible

In his article “Is the Bible True?,” Jeffery L. Sheler reports how archaeological finds confirm the Bible: During the past four decades, spectacular discoveries have produced data corroborating the historical backdrop of the Gospels. In 1968, for example, the skeletal remains of a crucified man were found in a burial cave in northern Jerusalem… There was evidence that his wrists may have been pierced with nails. The knees had been doubled up and turned sideways and an iron nail (still lodged in the heel bone of one foot) driven through both heels. The shinbones appeared to have been broken, perhaps corroborating the Gospel of John.

A hidden burial chamber, dating to the first century, was discovered in 1990 two miles from the Temple Mount. One bore the bones of a man in his 60s, with the inscription “Yehosef bar Qayafa”—meaning “Joseph, son of Caiaphas.” Experts believe this was Caiaphas, the high priest of Jerusalem, who was involved in the arrest of Jesus, interrogated Him, and handed Him over to Pontius Pilate for execution.

A few decades earlier, excavations at Caesarea Maritima, the ancient seat of Roman government in Judea, uncovered a stone slab whose complete inscription may have read: “Pontius Pilate, the prefect of Judea, has dedicated to the people of Caesarea a temple in honor of Tiberius.”

The discovery is significant, establishing that the man depicted in the Gospels as Judea’s Roman governor had the authority ascribed to him by the Gospel writers. Sheler writes, “In extraordinary ways, modern archeology is affirming the historical core of the Old and New Testaments, supporting key portions of crucial biblical stories.”

Following the 1993 discovery in Israel of a stone containing the inscriptions “House of David” and “King of Israel,” Time magazine reported:

The writing—dated to the 9th century B.C., only a century after David’s reign—described a victory by a neighboring King over the Israelites. Some minimalists tried to argue that the inscription might have been misread, but most experts believe Biran and Naveh got it right. The skeptics’ claim that King David never existed is now hard to defend.

According to Dr. Nelson Glueck:

It may be stated categorically that no archaeological discovery has ever controverted a Biblical reference. Scores of archaeological findings have been made which confirm in clear outline or exact detail historical statements in the Bible. And, by the same token, proper evaluation of Biblical descriptions has often led to amazing discoveries.

For example, the Scriptures make more than 40 references to the great Hittite Empire. However, until one hundred years ago there was no archaeological evidence to substantiate the biblical claim that the Hittites existed. Skeptics claimed that the Bible was in error, until 1906 when Hugo Winckler uncovered a huge library of 10,000 clay tablets, which documented the lost Hittite Empire. We now know that at its height, the Hittite civilization rivaled Egypt and Assyria in its glory and power.

Dr. Joseph P. Free stated:

Archaeology has confirmed countless passages which have been rejected by critics as unhistorical or contradictory to known facts… Yet archaeological discoveries have shown that these critical charges… are wrong and that the Bible is trustworthy in the very statements which have been set aside as untrustworthy… We do not know of any cases where the Bible has been proved wrong.

The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in the caves in Qumran have given us new insights into the Old Testament and shows, once again, that the Bible is an actual accounting of God’s plan for us that was fulfilled by Jesus Christ.

Further Reading

– FROM: KHouse.Org

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