19 / 18 Days Till Israel! - QUMRAN and DEAD SEA SCROLLS - How Do These Illustrate the Faithful Transmission of the Bible and the World of John the Baptist and Jesus?

19-18 DAYS UNTIL FILMING IN ISRAEL! - You may or may not have hear of Qumran (in picture above), which is beside the Dead Sea, but you have probably heard of the "Dead Sea Scrolls." In 1947 a Beduoin shepherd boy name Muhammed was watching his folks, and some of the goats were climbing too high in these cliffs. So he climbed the cliff to chase them down, and while he was doing this, he threw a rock into one of the many caves in this cliff. When he did this, he heard a "crack," which was the sound of pottery breaking. And within this pottery and in these caves were the Dead Sea Scrolls, which contained, among other things, the oldest copies of the Hebrew Bible, or Old Testament that had ever been found--pre-dating the oldest texts by nearly one thousand years.

The shepherd boy and the Bedouin community that he was a part of initially had no idea the value of what he had found. They were planning to take the scrolls, which were written on leather, and make some shoes out of it. Various parts of the scrolls were sold to different dealers, and eventually their value came to be recognized and a systematic search to recover the scrolls that had been sold and to explore the caves from which they came was made, and from 1947-1956 nearly 1000 manuscripts (600 scrolls and hundreds of fragments), or copies, of ancient texts were found in 11 caves.

So who was this Qumran community, and why were all of these scrolls put here, hidden in caves? Well, there were three major sects of Judaism  that were outlined by Josephus, a first century Jewish historian--the Pharisees, the Sadduccess, and the Essenes. The Pharisees accepted all of the books of the Old Testament as Scripture, and believed that the "oral tradition"--which was the teachings of rabbis throughout the ages from the time of Moses that was passed down--was authoritative as well. These oral traditions ended up being rules upon rules, creating burdens for people--just as, unfortunately, happens today. But many people looked up to them and respected them for their dedication to the Law and knowledge of Scripture. They were the conservatives of the day and the "everyday" spiritual leaders for many of the Jews.

The Sadducees accepted only the first five books of the Old Testament, the Torah, as authoritative, and thus did not believe in things such as the resurrection, which was not contained in the first five books. They were in charge of the temple, adopted many Greek/ Hellenistic customs, and were viewed to be the liberals of the time.

The Essenes stood apart and lived apart from both of these groups and everyone else,.protesting what was "going on in Washington," so to speak. They protested the fact that there was an Edomite, not a descendant of David, on the throne, and the fact that the priesthood was passed around from person to person by the Romans and the acquiescing Sadduccess, rather than serving for life and being from the proper lineage (the line of Aaron, the brother of Moses, and the sons of Zadok, high priest during King David's reign). They lived out in the desert as a type of monastic community, scattered across parts of Judea. They had a strict diet, shared everything amongst themselves and kept no personal property. They took daily immersions for ritual cleansing, copied the Scriptures faithfully, and were awaiting the "End of Days." They were looking for apparently two different types of Messiah--one being a priestly Messiah to restore the corrupted priesthood, and one being a kingly Messiah to restore the corrupted kingship.

It is thought by most scholars that the Qumran community was a type of offshoot of the Essenes, and the manuscripts at Qumran point to this connection. The Dead Sea Scroll manuscripts contained:

  • Fragments from every book of the Old Testament except the book of Esther
  • An copy of the entire book of Isaiah, which contains many prophecies
  • A commentary on Habbakuk, a collection of hymns, an Aramaric version of Genesis
  • The "Manual of Discipline" or "Community Rule" for those who were a part of the Qumran community (thought by most scholars to be Essenes)
  • A Copper Scroll which appears to contain a type of treasure map!
  • A Temple Scroll which described a temple sacrifice.
  • The "Rule of War," which described a coming, "End of Days" type of battle between the "Sons of Light" (the Qumran community) and the Sons of Darkness

The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls has been called the greatest manuscript discovery of all time. And though there are no New Testament manuscripts in the Dead Sea Scrolls, they shed many insights onto the Bible and the world of the New Testament.

  1. The Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) point to the incredibly faithful transmission of the biblical text by the Jews over the centuries. Indeed, when the manuscripts of the DSS are compared to manuscripts a thousand years later, they are almost identical. At Qumran is a "Scriptorium," where the Jews faithfully copied the biblical text over and over, using strict standards (also see How Accurate is the Bible) in copying the Scriptures. The DSS scrolls show that while one can still choose whether or not to believe the truths found within the Bible, we can have great confidence that the biblical text that has been passed down is incredibly accurate and incredibly close to the original biblical text. Indeed, we have far, far more manuscripts of the Bible than other significant ancient documents, such as Homer or the Illiad.

  2. The DSS show that there was a powerful countercultural movement within Judaism--a movement which John the Baptist (and Jesus after him) at least reflected and/or tapped into. Indeed, there are some striking similarities between the lifestyle, language, location, and message of John the Baptist and the Qumran community. He preached out in the desert of Judea with a strict diet, and he called people to repentance to prepare for the coming "kingdom of God." He baptized at the river Jordan, just 7 miles away from the Qumran community. (For parallels, see John the Baptizer and Qumran and Nazarenes Qumran and the Essenes). Some in fact think that John the Baptist was raised in Qumran (they had a practice of taking in children) or spent significant time there. While there is no direct evidence of this and a number of marked differences between John the Baptist's message, approach (he reached out in a missionary type of way rather than retreated in a monastic community) and baptism (his baptism was for forgiveness of sins, and was different than any other immersion, as it was done by a person to another), and that of the Qumran community, it is important to note that John the Baptist tapped into the growing countercultural movement against lack of faithfulness to God's ways as well as the Jewish longing for a Messiah as he began his preaching ministry.

  3. All of the striking similarities between the DSS and themes in the New Testament are yet more evidence that the New Testament was written in a way that was consistent with the language and religious concepts of first century Judaism; and yet, it was unique as well. Both of these are important and consistent with what the New Testament claims for itself--that the message of Jesus and Christianity is rooted in the Hebrew Scriptures, but was fulfilled in ways that were surprising and challenging to the Jews of that time.

How do you think the Dead Sea Scrolls can be helpful in building faith?

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