Dead Sea scrolls factsheet.

The what, who, where, when, and why of the Dead Sea scrolls.


On January 11, 2005, on his weblog, Ed Cook linked to a helpful summary of basic facts about the Dead Sea scrolls, written as neutrally as possible for such a potentially charged topic. In his own words:

Anyway, now I'm putting it online for any of you to use. Feel free to download it, distribute it, or modify it as you see fit, either with or without attribution to me. It's just a little something that I've found helpful; my hope is that others will as well.

As good as done. What follows is my reprint of his factsheet, with my thanks for his general permission to reproduce it.

What are the Dead Sea scrolls?

The remains of an ancient Jewish library, written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek on scrolls of leather and papyrus. Most of them date from late in the second century BCE to the first century CE. About one-fourth of them are Hebrew Bible manuscripts.

Who discovered the scrolls?

Two Bedouin shepherds discovered the first batch of scrolls in a cave near the Dead Sea in the winter of 1946-1947.

Who wrote the scrolls?

The scrolls themselves do not say. Many scholars today believe that the beliefs and practices described in the scrolls point to an ancient sect known as the Essenes.

Where were the scrolls discovered?

After the first discovery, scholars and native Bedouin began searching for more texts. By 1956, eleven caves containing scrolls had been found, all in the general vicinity of the Wadi Qumran on the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea. Caves 4-10 are near an ancient ruin called Khirbet Qumran (ruins of Qumran). Many researchers today believe that the site was inhabited by the Essenes.

When were the scrolls written?

The scrolls contain no dates. By using the science of paleography (the comparative study of ancient writing), carbon-14 dating, the archaeology of Khirbet Qumran, and certain historical references in the texts, scholars have succeeded in dating the period in which the scrolls were written to sometime in the second century BCE to sometime in the first century CE.

When were the scrolls published?

Most of the early discoveries were published within a few years of discovery. The thousands of fragments found in cave 4 (the richest site of all) required longer to reconstruct and translate. The tiny cave 4 team of scholars bogged down in this work but possessively refused others access until 1991. All the scrolls are now available to the public.

Why are the scrolls important?

The Hebrew Bible texts are the oldest biblical manuscripts known. They generally verify the biblical text used in modern translations. The other religious works give invaluable background information on the beliefs and practices of Judaism prior to the birth of Christianity.