Nancy and I have been truly blessed in 1998, especially late in the
year when our kids helped us celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary
by arranging a long-desired trip to Israel. We toured churches marking
the nativity of Jesus in Bethlehem and the annunciation of his birth
to Mary in their hometown of Nazareth, Masada, the Dead Sea area,
Jericho, Megiddo, the Temple Mount area of Jerusalem, Lake Galilee
and many other famous Biblical sites.
One of the most dramatic encounters was viewing famous Dead Sea scrolls,
a rich cache of original, ancient scripture writing found in obscure
caves in Israel a half-century ago. This was deeply affecting and
we want to tell you about it.
The collection of more than 30,000 scrolls and fragments, some of
them dating back two centuries before the time of Christ, is described
as the greatest archeological discovery of the 20th Century and represents
a powerful instrument of the Christian and Jewish faiths. Every Old
Testament book is represented except the Book of Esther
Two of the fragile manuscripts--sections of the "Great Scroll
of Isaiah" and the Book of Psalms--are on public view at the
Israel Museum in Jerusalem. They are exhibited in a special building,
the "Shrine of the Book." The roof of the shrine--domelike,
rising to a point--resembles the lids of the clay jars which contained
the scrolls. The first five scrolls were were found by Bedouin Arab
shepherd boys in caves at Qumran, located near the northwest shore
of the Dead Sea, less than 20 miles from Jerusalem.
Pages of the scrolls are stitched together at margins and are stretched
over a few feet behind protective glass. Fascinating to observe, the
dark script reads right to left as Hebrew and Arabic writing does
today. The parchment is mostly sheepskin and papyrus, but non-biblical
texts are inscribed on the hides of other animals, such as ibex (goats),
which still wander in the Judean wilds.
Scholars agree on many details concerning the hermitic Essenes, largely
men, who are generally considered to have been responsible for the
scrolls. There were professional scribes who copied the scrolls, and
apparently some women and children at Qumran. Only males were allowed
to compose these intricate writings sometime between 167 BC and 70
AD. They did their work in a scriptorium, using pens of sharpened
reeds and applying ink blackened with soot, resin, oil and water.
Most are in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek languages in an ancient Jewish
It's believed that the community hid the scrolls in sealed clay jars
in the caves, fled their primitive quarters and vanished after the
Roman annihilation of the Jerusalem Temple and the Jewish people.
They evidently intended to return and recover the scrolls but were
wiped out by the troops.
The common view of historians is that the monastic residents of Qumran
had chosen the remote Judean desert locale beginning two centuries
before the Roman incursion. Known as the "Sons of Light,"
their objective was a life of purity, study and worship, separated
from the temple priests in Jerusalem, for whom they had lost respect.
Perhaps the most exciting find so far has been an entire Book of Isaiah,
which language scholars have identified as matching in every important
detail the translated texts we read in modern bibles. That and writings
on the other books are regarded as a stupendous achievement because
these scrolls have been dated more than a thousand years beyond the
oldest literature supporting scripture, the Aleppo, Syria Codex of
970 AD. Some of the oldest scrolls from Qumran are copies of the Book
of Jeremiah of 250 BC and Psalms from 100 BC.
Our group leader, Lon Solomon, is pastor of a megachurch: McLean Bible
Church, Virginia, which numbers thousands of Christians. A Messianic
Jew, he has arranged and accompanied tours to Israel for many years
and has had considerable contact with scroll scholars and experts
there and at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Lon explained
how the authenticity of these old manuscripts corroborates the validity
Skeptics had claimed the Bible was unproven and had been "retrofitted"
concerning Old Testament prophecies. In other words, after Christ's
birth, ministry, crucifixion and resurrection, His followers could
have back-dated New Testament events of His life into Old Testament
books to support claims of prophecy fulfillment.
Justification for such suspicion has been trumped by the scrolls,
which have been meticulously dated by language scholars and scientists,
using computers and other contemporary technology. Their conclusion:
the scrolls were written well before the time of Christ and were not
altered in any significant way. Therefore Old Testament prophecies
concerning the Messiah have been borne out in the life of Jesus.
Pastor Lon noted that critics also had demanded proof that the Old
Testament scriptures used in Jesus' time correspond with contemporary
Bibles. That, too, has been put to rest by the Dead Sea Scrolls. The
original autographed Old Testament scriptures have not been found.
But with "absolute certainty," Pastor Lon told us, citing
an example, "at least from 200 BC on, we can say the copy of
the Bible we are reading today is the copy of the Bible that Jesus
was reading when he stood" one day in the synagogue of His hometown
of Nazareth. Jesus read the scroll on Isaiah Chapter 61.
(As related in Luke 4, it was this powerful revelation: "The
Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach
good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the
prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor
Today this scripture
is fulfilled in your hearing.")
What the scrolls have revealed, Pastor Lon said, "gives us enormous
power to argue for our faith," stressing "the importance
of this discovery in terms of defending and trustworthiness and the
veracity of Biblical texts."
The discovery of the scrolls is a story in itself. The shepherd boys,
missing an animal, threw a stone into a cave to roust it. In Lon's
words, the sound echoed back as a "clink" instead of a "thud,"
prompting further investigation by the boys' father. As a result,
five scrolls were brought out of the first cave (others came eventually
from ten other caves) and were turned over to an antiquities dealer
in Jerusalem. He sold them to the Syrian archbishop who asked an opinion
about their validity from John Trever, a U.S. scholar at the American
School of Oriental Research in Jerusalem.
Trever studied three of the scrolls and contacted American Professor
William Albright in the United States to help confirm portions of
the Isaiah Scroll. Analysis of the configurations of the Hebrew Semitic
writing and language changes over 2,000 years led to precise dating
of the scrolls as before the time of Christ.
Realizing they were priceless, Professor Albright urged Trever to
obtain the scrolls by any possible means, but he had to leave Israel
because the war for independence broke out. The scrolls disappeared
until 1949 when the New York Times published classified ads for the
sale of ancient Jewish scrolls, which turned out to be the Dead Sea
Scrolls. As a result, the Hebrew University purchased the first batch
for $250,000, they were turned over to Israel and the rest is history.
Pastor Lon differs with some scholars on the scribing role of the
Essenes. He asserts there is a "very good chance" that the
scrolls are really originals used in the temple in Jerusalem, smuggled
to Qumran for safekeeping as Roman soldiers advanced. In his opinion,
it would have been very expensive to mount such an ambitious copying
effort by paid scribes. Furthermore, each expensive parchment had
to be discarded if there was a single mistake, and it is "illogical"
to think the Essenes would have possessed sufficient wealth to sustain
such a large volume of scroll production. The Virginia minister expressed
the view that temple leaders planned to recover the scrolls but were
also killed by the Romans.
Finding the scrolls in any shape for research after 2,000 years in
their clay jar repositories is attributed to the hot, dry Dead Sea
climate. Rainfall is only two inches yearly. One Israeli archeologist
quotes good odds that more scrolls will be dug out of collapsed caves
in Qumran, which would probably have blocked access to thieves seeking
to loot their contents.
So there you have it, folks, a few of the elements of the amazing
Dead Sea Scrolls and their discovery, only one of many adventures
we had during our trip. Hope to have a chance to meet up with you
down the road sometime and tell you more about them. Meantime, have
a fun-filled holiday season, full of good cheer and thanksgiving for
what the Good Lord has provided.
Our love to all,
Nancy and Buck