The Dead Sea Scrolls
Scrolls and other objects from the Second Temple period were found in several caves near Qumran, both in natural caves in the hard limestone cliffs west of the site and in caves cut into the marl cliffs near Qumran. When the Roman army approached, the inhabitants of Qumran fled to the caves and hid their documents in them. The dry climate of the Dead Sea region presethese manuscripts, written on parchment, for 2000 years.
In Cave No. 4, in the marl cliff south of the site, the excavators found only 15,000 small fragments of an estimated 600 different manuscripts. Individuals in ancient times or modern Bedouin may have removed scrolls from this cave, leaving only scraps. This cave was used by the Essenes as a geniza, a place for keeping worn-out sacred writings.
In the 1950s and 1960s, many caves in the canyons of the Judean Desert along the Dead Sea were surveyed and excavated. The documents found there, and in the caves around Qumran, include copies of all of the books of the Bible (except for the Scroll of Esther). The most famous of these is the complete scroll of Isaiah, which was written sometime between the 2nd century BCE and the destruction of the site in 68 CE. This date was recently confirmed by a radiocarbon examination of a sample of the parchment of the scroll. The books of the Qumran library are regarded as the oldest existing copies of the books of the Bible. Writings of the Essene sect, whose spiritual center was located here in the 200 years preceding the destruction of Jerusalem and of the Temple, were also found in the caves near Qumran.
Excavations in the dwelling caves north of Qumran were conducted under the direction of H. Eshel of Bar-Ilan University and M. Broshi of the Israel Museum.
Credit: Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs