Such was the discovery of a group of manuscripts which were a
thousand years older than the then-oldest-known Hebrew texts of the
Bible (manuscripts, many of which were written more than 100 years
before the birth of Jesus). These manuscripts would excite the
archaeological world and provide a team of translators with a gigantic
task that even to this day has not been completed.
As soon as the announcement of the scrolls' discovery was made, the
scholarly debates about their origin and significance began. The
debates increased when the amazing contents of the scrolls were
The seven original scrolls, from what came to be called “Cave One,”
comprised the following:
1. A well-preserved copy of the entire prophecy of Isaiah—the
oldest copy of an Old Testament book ever to be discovered.
2. Another fragmentary scroll of Isaiah.
3. A commentary on the first two chapters of Habakkuk—the
commentator explained the book allegorically interms of the
4. The “Manual of Discipline” or “Community Rule”—the most
important source of information about the religious sect at
Qumran—it described the requirements for those aspiring to join
5. The “Thanksgiving Hymns,” a collection of devotional “psalms”
of thanksgiving and praise to God.
6. An Aramaic paraphrase of the Book of Genesis.
7. The “Rule of War” which dealt with the battle between the “Sons
of Light” (the men of Qumran) and the “Sons of Darkness” (the
Romans?) yet to take place in the “last days,” which days the men
of Qumran believed were about to arrive.
Those seven original scrolls were just the beginning. Over six
hundred scrolls and thousands of fragments have been discovered in
the 11 caves of the Qumran area. Fragments of every Biblical book
except Esther have been found, as well as many other non-Biblical
One of the most fascinating of the finds was a copper scroll which
had to be cut in strips to be opened and which contained a list of 60
treasures located in various parts of Judea (none of which have been
found)! Another scroll, which Israeli archaeologists recovered in 1967
underneath the floor of a Bethlehem antiquities dealer, describes in
detail the community's view of an elaborate Temple ritual. This has
been appropriately called the “Temple Scroll.”
The contents of the Dead Sea Scrolls indicate that their authors were
a group of priests and laymen pursuing a communal life of strict
dedication to God. Their leader was called the “Righteous Teacher.”
They viewed themselves as the only true elect of Israel—they alone
were faithful to the Law.
They opposed the “Wicked Priest”—the Jewish High Priest in
Jerusalem who represented the establishment, and who had
persecuted them in some way. This wicked priest was probably one
of the Maccabean rulers who had illegitimately assumed the high
priesthood between 150-140 BC. Most scholars have identified the
Qumran brotherhood with the Essenes, a Jewish sect of Jesus' day
described by Josephus and Philo.
Whoever the men of Qumran were, their writings provide us with a
marvelous background picture of one aspect of the religious world
into which Jesus came. Some have sought to draw parallels between
figures in the scrolls and John the Baptist or Jesus, but an objective
examination of such parallels reveals that the differences are greater
than the similarities. Any contact of Jesus with Qumran is entirely
speculative and most improbable. The suggestion that John the
Baptist may have spent some time with the Qumran community is
possible, since the Gospels tell us that he spent considerable time in
the wilderness near the area where the Qumran community is located
(Mt. 3:1-3; Mk. 1:4; Lk. 1:80; 3:2-3). John's message, however,
differed markedly from that of the Qumran brotherhood. The only
real common point was that they both taught that the "kingdom of
God" was coming.
One of the most important contributions of the Dead Sea Scrolls is
the numerous Biblical manuscripts which have been discovered. Until
those discoveries at Qumran, the oldest manuscripts of the Hebrew
Scriptures were copies from the 9th and 10th centuries AD by a
group of Jewish scribes called the Massoretes. Now we have
manuscripts around a thousand years older than those. The amazing
truth is that these manuscripts are almost identical! Here is a strong
example of the tender care which the Jewish scribes down through
the centuries took in an effort to accurately copy the sacred
Scriptures. We can have confidence that our Old Testament
Scriptures faithfully represent the words given to Moses, David and
Doctrine of the Scrolls
The men of Qumran fervently believed in a doctrine of “last things.”
They had fled to the desert and were readying themselves for the
imminent judgment, when their enemies would be vanquished and
they, God's elect, would be given final victory in accordance with the
predictions of the prophets. It was in connection with these end-time
events that one of the most fascinating teachings of the sect emerges.
The messianic hope loomed large in the thought of the brotherhood.
As a matter of fact, evidence shows that they actually believed in
three messiahs—one a prophet, another a priest and the third a king
In the document mentioned earlier called the “Manual of Discipline”
or the "Rule of the Community," it is laid down that the faithful
should continue to live under the rule "until the coming of a prophet
and the anointed ones [messiahs] of Aaron and Israel" (column 9, line
11). These three figures would appear to usher in the age for which
the community was making preparation.
In another document found in Cave Four and referred to as the
“Testimonia,” a number of Old Testament passages are brought
together which formed the basis for their messianic expectations. The
first is the citation from Deuteronomy 18:18-19 where God says to
Moses: "I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren,
like unto thee." Next comes a quotation from Numbers 24:15-17,
where Balaam foresees the rise of a princely conqueror: "a Scepter
shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite the corners of Moab," etc. The
third passage is the blessing pronounced by Moses upon the tribe of
Levi (the priestly tribe) in Deuteronomy 33:8-11. The way in which
these three quotations are brought together suggests that the writer
looked forward to the advent of a great prophet, a great prince and a
There were three individuals in the Old Testament writings that were
referred to as "my anointed ones"—the prophet, the priest and the
king (refer to Ex. 29:29; 1 Sam. 16:13, 24:6; 1 Kg. 19:16; Ps. 105:
15). Each of these was consecrated to his work by an anointing with
oil. The Hebrew word for "anointed" is meshiach, from which we get
the word Messiah.
The marvelous truth of the New Testament doctrine of the Messiah
is that each of these three offices found fulfillment in the person and
work of Jesus of Nazareth! The people were amazed at His feeding
of the multitude and said, "This is of a truth that prophet that should
come into the world" (Jn. 6:14; also Jn. 7:40; Acts 3:22, 7:37). Jesus
also was a priest, not from the order of Levi but from the order of
Melchizedek (Ps. 110:4; Heb. 7), who offered Himself as a sacrifice
and appears for us in the presence of His Father (Heb. 9:24-26; 10:
11-12). Also, Jesus was announced as the One who will receive "the
throne of his father, David. And he shall reign over the house of
Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end" (Lk. 1:32-
33). He will be acclaimed "KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF
LORDS" (Rev. 19:16).
Thus, we have found an interesting point of contact between Qumran
and Christianity—a point of contact which is also a point of cleavage.
The Qumran community and the early Christians agreed that in the
days of the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies there would arise
a great prophet, a great priest and a great king. But these three figures
remained distinct in Qumran expectation, whereas the New
Testament saw them unified in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.
One more manuscript that has come to light in recent years provides
a fascinating background to the New Testament messianic hope. It
has been reconstructed from twelve small fragments, furnishing less
than two columns of writing; but this much can be ascertained from
its brief contents. It is a prediction of the birth of a Wonderful Child,
possibly drawing on Isaiah 9:6-7: "For unto us a child is born, unto us
a son is given... and his name shall be called Wonderful." This child
will bear special marks on His body and will be distinguished by
wisdom and intelligence. He will be able to probe the secrets of all
living creatures, and He will inaugurate the new age for which the
faithful fervently awaited.
Is it not striking that soon after this manuscript was composed, a
child wa sborn who fulfilled the hopes of Israel and inaugurated a
new age? Although the men of Qumran were mistaken in the details
of their messiah, they did expect one whose general characteristics
were strikingly illustrated by Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God and
Messiah. It is not known if some early Christian brought the message
of Jesus to this wilderness community. We are left only to speculate
on how they would have responded to the Wonderful Child born in
Bethlehem who was the Prophet, Priest and King of Israel.
|Discovery Of The Dead Sea Scrolls