Introduction: The Dead Sea Scrolls


Isaiah Scroll

Isaiah Scroll

Frequently Asked Questions about the Dead Sea Scrolls

Although they are referred to quite frequently, many of the basic details and history of the Dead Sea Scrolls are not well known. Below is a brief list of the most commonly asked questions about the Dead Sea Scrolls.

What are the Dead Sea Scrolls?

The term Dead Sea Scrolls has both a narrow and a broad definition. The narrow definition refers only to the scrolls found at Qumran. The broad definition includes all of the scrolls found near the shore of the Dead Sea. In addition to Qumran, scrolls were found at Wadi Daliyeh (fourth century BCE) and Masada (from the period of the Great Revolt). Scrolls from the Bar Kokhba period were unearthed at Wadi Murrabbaat, Nahal Hever, Nahal Seelim and Nahal Mishmar. In addition, New Testament scrolls were found at Khirbet Mird.

The focus of this site is on the scrolls found at Qumran and the sect which composed and collected them. We refer to the other scrolls only as they shed light on the Qumran scrolls.

When were the Dead Sea Scrolls copied?

According to archaeological and paleographic examination as well as carbon-14 tests, the Dead Sea Scrolls were copied between the third century BCE and the first century CE; the majority of the texts were copied in the first and second centuries CE. (Most texts discovered at Qumran were not originally composed by the Dead Sea sect. Examination and testing provide estimations of when scribes made copies of the texts; their content reveals when they were composed.)

When were the Dead Sea Scrolls written?

The texts were composed from the birth of the nation of Israel with the composition of the Bible; the dates of composition continue until the turn of the Common Era.

When were the Dead Sea Scrolls collected into a library?

The manuscripts were assembled as a library between 134 BCE and 68 CE.

What language were the Dead Sea Scrolls written in?

Most of the texts were written in Hebrew, although approximately twenty percent were written in Aramaic and several are in Greek.

What kinds of texts were found at Qumran?

The Dead Sea Scrolls can be divided into three types- biblical, apocryphal, and sectarian. Each type constitutes about one third of the corpus.

What are apocryphal texts?

Apocryphal texts are retellings or supplements of the Bible written as independent works. Copies of some of these works were found at Masada, proving that these texts circulated amongst Second Temple Jewry and were not unique to the Qumran sect.

What does sectarian literature consist of?

The sectarian works describe the Qumran community’s religious and organizational practices, its theology and halakhic views, its history, and its unique form of biblical interpretation.

Which books of the Bible were discovered at Qumran?

All of the books of the Bible were represented in the Qumran library with the exception of the Book of Esther. Scholarly opinion is divided on the reason behind the omission—some believe it is coincidental and others maintain that the book was intentionally excluded.

Is the Qumran Bible the same as a modern Bible?

A large number of the biblical manuscripts in the Qumran Bible closely resemble the Masoretic text, which became the standard Jewish biblical text. Some of the texts were written in a Hebrew dialect used by the Qumran community, and were apparently in use by the sect. A few texts represent the text type from which the Greek Septuagint was translated and a few are similar to the Samaritan Bible.

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