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Qumran, the Essenes and the Dead Sea Scrolls

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Qumran, The Essenes and the Dead Sea Scrolls


"The grass withers and the flowers fall but the word of our God stands forever" Isaiah 40.8

"Mohammed Dib, a Bedouin shepherd of the T'Amireh tribe" (Keller, 1957, 401) could not have known that he would be the person who, in 1947, would bring to bear the words of Isaiah 40.8

This shepherd boy had been clambering around the clefts and gullies of a rock face on Wadi Qumran, north of the Dead Sea hoping to find one of his lost lambs. Thinking that it could have taken refuge in a cave he threw stones at the opening. He heard a jar break, became fearful and ran to fetch his fellow tribesmen. What they discovered were written scrolls of ancient papyrus, stuffed in jars and wrapped in linen. The Bedouins thought that they could make money on the black market in Bethlehem so sold them for a few shekels. A bundle of four of these scrolls was purchased by "the Orthodox Archbishop of Jerusalem, Yeshue Samuel who then stored them in St. Marks Monastery". (Albright, 1954, 403)

From this point in time interest in the scrolls escalated and in "1949 the Oriental Institute in Chicago invited Yeshue Samuel to submit the scrolls for examination. The Dead Sea Scrolls were given extensive and exhaustive examinations including carbon testing which indicated that " because

the linen they were wrapped in was made from flax which had been harvested in the time of Christ that the scrolls were seen to have been copied around 100 B.C." (Albright, 1954, 404).

From the time of the initial discovery there was also an upsurge in archeological expeditions to the area. One such expedition was in 1949 when Father Roland de Vaux, Dominican Director of the French Ecole Biblique et Archeologique at Jerusalem and Professor Lankester Harding the British Director of the Department of Antiquities in Amran arrived in Qumran. After the initial disappointment of finding no complete scrolls or jars they " literally examined the floor of the cave with their fingernails. What they found allowed them to come to some astonishing conclusions" ("they found fragments and potsherds relating to Graeco-Roman times, dating from 30 B.C. to A.D. 70. Six hundred tiny scraps of leather and papyrus made it possible to recognize Hebrew transcriptions from Genesis, Deuteronomy, and the book of Judges, pieces of linen fabric which had served to wrap up the scrolls completed the meager spoils." (Keller,406-407)

Professor Lankester Harding stated in a journal article for the Society of Oriental Research in 1956 that

These unexpected discoveries are perhaps the most sensational archeological event

of our time. There have been 400 manuscripts including 100 Biblical manuscripts

discovered. These include every book in the Old Testament with the exception of

Esther. The best known is the complete book of Isaiah. The scrolls and fragments

Which come from Qumran date from 200 B.C. to A.D. 68. Those from Wadi Murabba'at

go up to A.D. 132-135. In the Khirbet Qumran near the cave where the first discoveries

were made there has been found the ruins of a cemetery and a settlement which had been

the nucleus of a Jewish community which Father de Vaux views as possibly being

the wilderness retreat of the Essenes. It will take a whole generation of Biblical scholars to

assess the value of these manuscripts" (Harding, 1956)


Indeed, some 50 years have elapsed and many Biblical scholars have assessed the manuscripts.

It will not be the purposes of this paper to debate the validity of the documents nor enter into archeological debate, this paper however will in Section 1, provide further historical evidence in support of the Essenes sect dwelling at Qumran. The writer will present an outline of the monastic lifestyle of the Essenes, their closed community, their laws and beliefs.

The hypothesis of this paper will be to attest that the Essenes were a separatist Jewish sect who formed an ascetic monastic community at Qumran. The writer will also attest as a second point that it is possible from the accounts of various writers studied for this research paper (Lohse,1974 to formulate a theory supporting the Essenes copying or collecting the scrolls at Qumran and depositing them in the caves of the adjacent hills for safe keeping.

The next section of this paper will focus on providing an outline of the contents of the scrolls and the identification system of the Dead Sea Scrolls and fragments of the manuscripts. The emphasis will be placed on those scrolls, which are seen to relate to the Essene community and those scrolls, which are books of the Bible.

The writer will expand on the theory that the Essenes may have believed they were living their last days and may have interpreted writings by the prophets in the Old Testament as relating to the end of the world as they knew it. A further point, which is only a notion of the writer and certainly only conjecture, will be that because the Dead Sea Scrolls are the oldest known copies of Jewish scripture in existence, that the study of the community who lived at Qumran may provide us with further evidence in the scrolls of the coming of Jesus Christ. Because of the time the Essenes dwelt at Qumran there may even be links to the Essenes having met with Jesus and studied Jesus words as well as the words of the Old Testament which were preserved in the scrolls although this is not within the scope of this

paper to enter into such an advances theological and historical debate, These points will be raised as points of interest only.

This paper will rely upon the first hand reports of three writers of the historical period to provide a glimpse into the lifestyle of the Essenes. These writers being the Jewish philosopher of Egyptian dispersion



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