Copyright © Kate Kelsen 2020. All Rights Reserved
Six Years Later -1986
‘The Dead Sea Scrolls, also known as the Qumran Caves Scrolls, are ancient religious manuscripts that were found in the Qumran Caves in the Judean Desert, near Ein Feshkha on the northern shore of the Dead Sea, in the West Bank of Israel. These scrolls date from the last three centuries BC and the first century AD. The texts have great historical, religious, and linguistic significance because they include the second-oldest known surviving manuscripts of works later included in the Hebrew Bible, along with deuterocanonical and extra-biblical manuscripts which preserve evidence of the diversity of religious thought in late Second Temple Judaism. Almost all of the Dead Sea Scrolls are held by the state of Israel in the Shrine of the Book on the grounds of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, but ownership of the scrolls is disputed by Jordan and Palestine.’
Mr. Norris, Jasem’s history teacher, paced along in front of the blackboard, holding a wooden stick in his hand which he used to point to the paragraphs written in chalk.
The First Seven Scrolls
1948: The first three works under the care of St. Mark’s Monastery (a complete manuscript of the book of Isaiah, a sectarian work called the Community Rule, and a commentary on the book of Habakkuk) are photographed by John C. Trever, then director of Jerusalem’s American Schools of Oriental Research.
Sukenik acquires and publishes selections of three Scrolls: The War Scroll, the Thanksgiving Scroll (Hodayot), and a second copy of Isaiah.
1949: Regional turmoil leads Syrian Archbishop Samuel to smuggle his precious four Scrolls out of the country, relocating them to a Syrian Church in New Jersey.
1954: Samuel places the same four Scrolls up for sale in a Wall Street Journal advertisement. Yigael Yadin, son of Professor Sukenik, purchases the four Scrolls through an American middleman, on behalf of the State of Israel.
1955: Yadin joins the four Scrolls with the three already located at the Hebrew University
1965: The “Shrine of the Book” is built to house these seven Scrolls.
‘When word spread that these seven Scrolls contained biblical texts and other ancient religious writings, it opened the way for a series of similar finds in ten other nearby caves over the next nine years,’ Mr. Norris continued. ‘This vast manuscript treasury, known as the “Dead Sea Scrolls”, includes a small number of near-complete Scrolls and tens of thousands of Scroll fragments, representing over nine hundred different texts written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. Excavation over the years has extended outside the Qumran area, south along the western shore of the Dead Sea, from the caves of Wadi Murabba’at and Nahal Hever to Masada. Additional Scroll fragments have been discovered at numerous sites. Today, all of these Judean Desert manuscripts are collectively known as the Dead Sea Scrolls.
News of the discovery sent archaeologists, as well as Bedouin treasure hunters, racing to excavate the area where the first Scrolls were found. Overall, they discovered thousands of Scroll fragments within ten additional caves—in total the remains of over nine hundred manuscripts. Yet it was the Bedouin who discovered the majority bounty, the richest treasures of the caves. In Cave Four alone, dug out of the sheer face of an escarpment, thousands of fragments from about five hundred different Scrolls were found. De Vaux and Harding negotiated with the Bedouin to purchase the Scrolls they had found. In 1953, Harding and De Vaux appointed an international team of scholars to begin the publication of the Scrolls. As the team began their work at the Rockefeller Museum in Jerusalem, piecing together the fragments of over nine hundred manuscripts, a complex historical puzzle emerged.
For the first 40 years after their discovery, the study of the thousands of text fragments was monopolized by fewer than a dozen international scholars, all great experts in their respective fields. This limited team size prevented the speedy publication of the texts. In the early 1990s, the Israel Antiquities Authority, or IAA, took major steps to advance the publication of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Hebrew University Professor Emanuel Tov was nominated as chief editor and the publication was divided among about 100 international scholars; by 2001, the majority of the official editions had been published and were located in academic libraries. At the same time, concern for the Scrolls’ physical condition led the IAA to establish a conservation lab dedicated solely to the conservation and preservation of the Scrolls.
Mrs. Martin slid the casserole dish into the oven and closed the door.
‘What are you working on there?’ she asked, looking at Jasem who had his school books spread across the kitchen table.
‘My written assessment on the Dead Sea Scrolls.’
‘That sounds interesting.’
‘They were discovered in 1940 in caves in the Judean Desert.’ Jasem turned to look up at Mrs. Martin. ‘That’s close to where I am from.’
When Omid arrived home later that evening, he stopped by Mrs. Martin’s apartment to collect Jasem.
‘Thanks again,’ said Omid.
‘Oh, no trouble at all.’ Mrs. Martin looked past Omid to Jasem walking toward their apartment down the hall. ‘You know, Omid, I have a friend, Ellen, who I think would be able to help Jasem. Let me get you her number.’
Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for another excerpt tomorrow!