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Temple Scroll Revisited: Three New Views, Biblical Archaeology Review, Nov-Dec 1987.

Dead Sea Scrolls - test chart

The Dead Sea Scrolls
On June 8, 1967, the Six Day War was at full tilt. The Israel army had taken East Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Within hours, Yigael Yadin, Military Advisor to the Prime Minister and world-famous archaeologist, dispatched an Israeli army officer to the East Jerusalem shop of an Arab antiquities dealer who Yadin knew possessed an important ancient scroll.

For seven years Yadin had been negotiating for the scroll through an American intermediary—to no avail. According to Yadin, the dealer had capriciously made and broken agreements, wildly raising and dropping the asking price for a document he possessed illegally.

Now the dealer knew he could no longer withhold the scroll. He took the officer to his home in Bethlehem, pried up some floor tiles and pulled out a shoe box. There, wrapped in an old towel and some cellophane, lay a 1,900-year-old Dead Sea Scroll. That night, Wednesday, June 8, 1967, Yadin held the scroll in his hands for the first time. Yadin recounted this saga for BAR readers in “The Temple Scroll—The Longest and Most Recently Discovered Dead Sea Scroll,” BAR 10-05. In this issue, we bring you the story from the perspective of the American intermediary—a Virginia clergyman who was, incidentally, one of the first successful television evangelists (“Intrigue and the Scroll—Behind the Scenes of Israel’s Acquisition of the Temple Scroll”). Two other articles probing the history and the meaning of the Temple Scroll, one by Hartmut Stegemann (“Is the Temple Scroll a Sixth Book of the Torah—Lost for 2,500 Years?”) and the other by Magen Broshi (“The Gigantic Dimensions of the Visionary Temple in the Temple Scroll”), complete this special section.

On June 11, 1967, the Six Day War had ended, and the scroll was already being unrolled by Israel Museum experts. Despite its damaged condition—several inches at the top of the scroll had rotted away or been eaten by insects—restoration expert Joseph Shenhav was able to replace many of the broken pieces. At 27 feet, the Temple Scroll is the longest of all the Dead Sea Scrolls, 5 feet longer than the great Isaiah Scroll. Its script dates it to the mid-first century A.D., but, said Yadin, it was composed much earlier, about 150–125 B.C.

What’s the composition of the scroll, and who were its authors? In his BAR article, Yadin called it “nothing less than the basic torah, or law, of the Essenes … composed by the founder of the sect, the venerated Teacher of Righteousness.” Yadin contended that it is a book of laws—for the community, for the king, and above all for the Temple. Because the Temple Scroll was written so near to Jesus’ time, Yadin asserted, it sheds important new light, as do all the Dead Sea Scrolls, on the earliest stages of Christianity.

Detailed, elaborate plans for building the Temple take up nearly half the scroll—hence its name. Such plans are totally missing from the canonical Torah (the Pentateuch, or first five books of the Bible), although the existence of such plans was noted by later Biblical writers (see 1 Chronicles 28-11–19). In his article, Magen Broshi, curator of the Shrine of the Book, which houses the Dead Sea Scrolls, projects a vivid picture of the temple compound that these plans would have produced, a compound that would have encompassed nearly the entire city of Jerusalem.

One long section of laws in the scroll details the rights and duties of the king of Israel—his marriage, the judicial council, mobilizing an army, and other matters. Like the laws for building the Temple, these laws governing Israel’s king are absent from the Torah. Other sections of the scroll contain laws relating to idolatry, vows, ritual purity and testimony. Typical of the Essenes, the laws are stringent and detailed.

Dead Sea Scroll authority Hartmut Stegemann, however, in a radical departure from Yadin’s assessment, contends that the Temple Scroll is not Essene. The laws and the language in which they are composed resemble the original five books of the Torah, says Stegemann; they bear little resemblance to, or connection with, the subjects and language in the hundreds of Essene documents found in the famed Dead Sea caves.

If the Essene Teacher of Righteousness did not write the Temple Scroll, who did? Perhaps, says Stegemann, after Ezra effectively canonized the five books of the Torah in 458 B.C., a group of priest-editors compiled the additions and expansions that Ezra had rejected into a sixth book of the Torah—a book intended to have the same authority that Ezra in effect conferred on the Pentateuch. The Temple Scroll, says Stegemann, is a copy of this sixth Torah scroll, made at about the turn of the era and preserved for 2,000 years in a Dead Sea cave.

Posted in: Maccabean Period

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