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Dead Sea Scrolls

Holman Bible Dictionary

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The Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered between 1947,1960 in a cave on the western Dead Sea shore near a ruin called khirbet Qumran . Eleven caves from the Qumran area have since yielded manuscripts, mostly in small fragments. About sixty percent of the scrolls have so far been published. These were composed or copied between 200 B.C. and A.D. 70, mostly around the lifetime of Jesus, by a small community living at Qumran.

Contents They comprise three main kinds of literature: (1) copies of Old Testament books, the oldest we now possess; (2) some non-biblical Jewish books known from elsewhere (such as 1Enoch and Jubilees), probably written by the Essenes; (3) the community's own compositions, including: biblical commentaries (for example, on Habakkuk and Nahum), which interpret biblical prophecies as applying to the community and its times; rules of community conduct; and liturgical writings such as prayers and hymns.

The Essenes The Qumran community belonged to the Essenes, one of four major Jewish religious movements described by the first century A.D. historian Josephus, but, strangely, unmentioned in the New Testament. The origins of the Essenes are uncertain: one major view is that they descended from the “Pious,” who had fought for religious independence with the Maccabees; on another view they originated in Exile in Babylonia, returning to Palestine sometime in the third or second century B.C. They opposed the cultic laws operating at the Temple, rejecting its priesthood, and following a different calendar. They lived apart from other Jews in strictly-disciplined groups. One such rather special group lived at Qumran. Unlike many Essene groups, they were celibates, and they traced their origin to a “Teacher of Righteousness,” a messianic figure of whom little is known except that he was a priest, possibly a high priest. The Qumran biblical commentaries speak of his confrontation with a “Wicked Priest,” possibly a Maccabean high priest of about 150 B.C.

Beliefs and Practices The Scrolls show a surprising variety of beliefs, accounted for by two hundred years of community history, beginning with a belief in an eminent “end of days” which faded as the fulfilment did not materialize. Like other Essenes, they believed that by observing their own interpretation of the Jewish law and by frequent ritual bathing they preserved a faithful remnant. Thus they were ready for the restoration of the land by God, who would punish the wicked through two messiahs—one priestly, one lay. They had an interest in angels, astrology, and prophetic prediction. Peculiar to Qumran was a dualistic view of the world in which God had appointed an angel of light (one of his names being Melchizedek; see Genesis 14:1; Hebrews 7:1 ) and an angel of darkness to govern the world, all persons being assigned to the realm of one or the other. They also avoided the Temple and developed distinctive liturgical beliefs and practices based on a communion between earthly and angelic worship.

Philip R. Davies

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Dead Sea Scrolls'. Holman Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hbd/​d/dead-sea-scrolls.html. 1991.
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