The Dead Sea Scrolls


1. The Discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls

2. What do the Scrolls Contain

3. Who Wrote the Scrolls

4. How were the Scrolls Produced?

5. Publication of the Scrolls


1. The Discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls

Early in 1947 a Bedouin shepherd boy of the Ta’amireh tribe left his flock of sheep and goats to search for a stray amid the crumbling limestone cliffs that line the northwestern rim of the Dead Sea, in the area of Qumran. Spying a cave in the cleft of a steep rocky hillside, he cast a stone into the dark interior and heard something shatter. Intrigued, he later returned with a companion and found a cache of large clay jars, some of which were intact with lids in place, holding promise of hidden treasure from some bygone age.

But most of the jars were empty, and the remaining few concealed nothing but old scrolls wrapped in linen and blackened with age. So unapparent was the great value of this find that, as the story goes, the Bedouins first considered using the scrolls as fuel for fire. Yet when it came to light that the seven scrolls contained biblical texts and other ancient religious writings, this initial discovery was momentous enough to arouse immediate universal interest that continues to this day.

The 1947 discovery of ancient biblical and nonbiblical scrolls and scroll fragments opened the way for a series of similar finds in ten other nearby caves during the next nine years. Known as the Qumran collection, this vast manuscript treasury includes a number of largely complete scrolls and tens of thousands of scroll fragments, representing more than eight hundred different works written in Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic.

Additional scroll fragments were later discovered at several other sites extending south along the western shore of the Dead Sea, from the caves of Murrabba’at and Nahal Hever to the monolithic fortress of Masada. These Judean desert documents are collectively known today as the Dead Sea Scrolls.

2. What Do the Scrolls Contain?

The scrolls found at Qumran form a significant body of religious literature. Chief among them are many biblical manuscripts, along with a number of what could be called parabiblical manuscripts, texts that were circulating at the time but were not considered part of the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible). In addition, because they appear to describe the religious beliefs and practices of a specific religious community—presumably the one centered at Qumran—many of the Dead Sea Scrolls can best be described as sectarian in nature.

Scholars date most of these scrolls from the mid–Second Temple Period, around 166–164 B.C., to possibly as late as the first century of the Common Era. Some of the scrolls may be as old as the third century B.C. Most of the scrolls consist of leather parchment, some of papyrus, and the text of one scroll is engraved on copper.

The importance of the Dead Sea Scrolls becomes evident when their contents are described.

Biblical Manuscripts.

About a fourth of the scrolls are copies, in whole or in part, of every book in the Old Testament except the book of Esther (1). An example is 1QIsaa The Great Isaiah Scroll, a scroll more than twenty-four feet long containing the entire text of the book of Isaiah. Among the documents found at Qumran are several copies of the same books of scripture, some of which were copied in ancient paleo-Hebrew, not the Hebrew script of the time.

Some of the biblical texts from Qumran differ significantly from conventional wording and even among themselves. And there is evidence of additions and deletions in some texts, suggesting that in some instances scribes felt free to alter the texts they were working on. No list was found in this collection that would indicate which texts the community considered part of the Bible. Indeed, the evidence suggests that those at Qumran may not have had a clear notion of what constituted an authoritative collection of sacred books (2).

However, other biblical manuscripts are very close to the text found in the Hebrew Bible, known as the Masoretic text, which was composed by Jewish authorities centuries later, between A.D. 600 and the middle of the tenth century. This consistency is remarkable because these manuscript copies are at least a thousand years older than previously known biblical manuscripts and even predate the canonization of the Hebrew Bible!

This range of fidelity to the Hebrew Bible illustrates the fact that at this time several versions of the same biblical texts were in circulation and that views differed about which versions were more authoritative. Needless to say, it would be difficult to overestimate the value that some of these scrolls have had in present-day biblical studies.

Parabiblical Manuscripts.

This category includes copies of (1) apocryphal writings, or texts of questionable authorship or authenticity, and (2) pseudepigraphical texts, so designated because they have been determined to be spurious writings, falsely attributed to biblical figures or times.

Sectarian Manuscripts.

Writings in this category fall into three groups: those that describe what could be called the rules and regulations governing community life, those that are distinctive biblical commentaries, and those that are apocalyptic and liturgical works. The first group is represented by fragments from a work known as the Damascus Document(medieval copies of which were also discovered in Cairo in the last century and have now been identified with the Qumran community), 1QS Rule of the Community, and the Halakhic Letter (several copies of which were found, all containing, among other things, mention of twenty-two religious laws applying to this community).

The second group includes commentaries on the teachings of the biblical prophets Habakkuk, Nahum, and Hosea. These commentaries differ from modern reflections on scripture because their interpretations of scripture reveal aspects of the group’s history and future, along with its dealings with its leaders and adversaries, in a manner believed to be properly understood only by members of the community.

Apocalyptic writings foretelling the ultimate triumph of good over evil are represented by such manuscripts as the War Scroll (technically The War of the Sons of Light with the Sons of Darkness), while liturgical works, along with hymns and psalms, illustrate the central importance of prayer and worship within the community.

The Qumran collection of scrolls also includes miscellaneous material such as legal texts, contracts, and lists of names.

3. Who Wrote the Scrolls?

On the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea, two miles south of its upper rim, is an ancient ruin called Khirbet Qumran. In 1947, in one of the nearby caves, the first of what turned out to be a massive collection of ancient biblical and nonbiblical scrolls and scroll fragments was discovered.

Sometime after this first discovery, the cave was located through the efforts of Captain Philippe Lippens, a Belgian officer in the United Nations Armistice Corps. Because of the cave’s proximity to Khirbet Qumran, it seemed likely that the two sites were related. But when the ruin was initially excavated in 1949, nothing was found to establish a connection.

Nevertheless, beginning in 1951 and proceeding more systematically from 1953 to 1956, a team of archaeologists thoroughly explored the site. Harding and de Vaux directed this series of excavations with assistance from representatives of the Palestine Archaeological Museum in Jerusalem. The archaeologists uncovered several large structures that they believed to be the center of a small monastic Jewish group where the scrolls had been collected, copied, and written. They speculated that this was the group that later hid the scrolls in neighboring caves.

The theory was that the group lived in the immediate area and used the center complex of buildings for such communal activities as sharing meals and engaging in common acts of worship, prayer, and ritual purification. Several large cisterns discovered at the site may have been used for purification ordinances as well as to collect drinking water. The complex included a large assembly hall, several other facilities used for a variety of living purposes, and a large workroom understood to be a scriptorium where presumably the scrolls were copied, written, and stored.

According to archaeological evidence, Qumran was occupied late in the second century B.C., during the Maccabean era. Over time a larger area was occupied until an earthquake and fire destroyed the site sometime in the reign of Herod the Great (37-4 B.C.), probably around 31 B.C. Rebuilt early in the Common Era, the settlement was inhabited until the time of the First Jewish Revolt (A.D. 66-73), when Roman troops destroyed it before laying siege to Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Roman troops then occupied the site for another twenty years until, A.D. 90. It then became a stronghold for Jewish freedom fighters during the time of the Second Jewish Revolt (also known as the Bar Kokhba Revolt), which took place between A.D. 132 and 135. After that the area was abandoned, and it has been desolate to this day (3).

Today scholars are less inclined to view the site as a monastic center. While they agree that some inhabitants may have lived a celibate life, they point out that there simply is not sufficient evidence to support the claim that this was the case for all the inhabitants. Furthermore, as can be expected, scholarly opinion varies about which particular Jewish group might have occupied the site. Hebrew University archaeologist E. L. Sukenik, one of the first to acquire and study some of the newly discovered scrolls, claimed that Qumran was an Essene community. This is still the prevailing theory.

The Essenes were one of four distinct Jewish groups living in Palestine before and during the early part of the Common Era. Another group, the Sadducees, were relatively small in number and counted among their followers the priestly class in Jerusalem, along with the more wealthy aristocratic members of society. They were closely associated with sacrificial rites performed at the temple in Jerusalem, claiming to be direct descendants of Zadok, the high priest at the time of Solomon’s Temple.

While officially opposed to the Maccabean authorities in Jerusalem, the Sadducees more often than not allied themselves with these forces politically if not religiously. As a result of these and other factors, the Sadducees were often in opposition to the majority of common-class Jews who followed the teachings of a third group, the Pharisees. Among other things, these Jews supported the practice of ritual observance in the home and in the synagogue, further undermining the priestly authority of the Sadducees. Rabbinic Judaism emerged out of the teachings and practices of this group.

The Sadducees and Pharisees each in their own way sought to accommodate themselves to the reality of Roman rule. But not the Zealots. This small, often violent group made no effort to keep themselves apart from Judean politics. They thoroughly opposed Jews who paid tribute to Rome or who otherwise acknowledged Roman rule. They were also in opposition to any Jewish leaders or groups who sought accommodation with Rome. Not surprisingly, at the time of the First Revolt it was the Zealots who occupied Masada and, when their cause was lost, committed mass suicide rather than let themselves be taken captive by the Roman Legion.

In contrast, the Essenes (literally the “healers”), known for their piety and distinctive beliefs and practices, separated themselves from the rest of society. They were described by contemporary historians, both Jewish and Roman, as pious Jews who viewed themselves as the only true Israel. Although they paid tribute to the temple in Jerusalem, they sought to distance themselves from those who practiced sacrificial worship there and from the form of Judaism represented by the Maccabees, the priestly family who reigned in Palestine from about 142 B.C. until the time of King Herod’s rule. The Essenes formed themselves into ascetic communities, some of whose members may have been celibate.

According to contemporary historians, the Essenes lived in several cities in Judea, even possibly in an isolated section of Jerusalem, and in villages in the wilderness, some in the area of the Dead Sea. They lived a largely communal life, supporting themselves by farming and plying various trades. They adhered to a hierarchical organization led by priests, observed rules of initiation for new members, performed daily purification rituals, held all property in common, took meals together, and worked, studied the scriptures, and prayed together (4).

Certain Qumran scrolls-for example, the 1QS Rule of the Community-tell us that the inhabitants of this desert community, like the Essenes, lived in a communal and highly structured social order led by priests, required a probationary period for new members, performed daily acts of ritual purification, allowed common use of property, and ate meals together. Seeing themselves as the sole possessors of the correct means for interpreting scripture, they prepared themselves for the impending end of the world (5). Indeed, according to the War Scroll, this community believed in an imminent and final war that would pit the forces of Light against the forces of Darkness and bring about an end to evil and destruction in the world, thereby making way for the coming of the Messiah and the formation of new covenant. Some scholars even refer to this group as the “Community of the Renewed Covenant” (6).

Despite the similarities between descriptions of the Essenes and the community described in the Dead Sea Scrolls, not all scholars agree on who wrote the scrolls, exactly when they were written, or where they were composed. For instance, the word Essene has not been found anywhere in this large collection of documents. Some scholars identify the community with the Sadducees and others with the Pharisees, depending on how various writings are interpreted. Other scholars think that the rather odd assortment of scrolls found in the caves do not necessarily have anything to do with the nearby site of Qumran (which they contend was a fortress rather than a settlement) and are not necessarily linked to any one particular religious group. In this view the scrolls are the remains of libraries in and around Jerusalem, maybe even from the library at the temple in Jerusalem, and were all carried to this remote site for safekeeping when the Romans threatened the city. Still other scholars remain convinced that the scrolls are the writings of forerunners of those who became the followers of Jesus, the so-called Jewish Christians, who still observed the Jewish law.

Instead of focusing primarily on what the scrolls tell us about the identity of the Qumran community, other scholars stress that the important point is that these rare documents reveal that Judaism in the Second Temple Period reflected a range of beliefs and practices apparently centered on scripture study and the interpretation of Jewish law, the practice of ritual purity, and an expectation of the end of time and the coming of the Messiah (7). In this view the real value of the Qumran scrolls is the information they provide about the many forms of Judaism that thrived before and during the early period of the Common Era and the considerable contribution they make to our understanding of the religious world in which Jesus lived and taught and out of which Christianity emerged (8).

4. How Were the Scrolls Created?

Oh, that my words were recorded, that they were written on a scroll, that they were inscribed with an iron tool on lead, or engraved in rock forever! -Job 19:23-4 New International Version

From the beginning, Jewish scribes have sought to record important documents in a way that would endure. This was particularly true of sacred writings, which helps us understand Job’s cri de coeur, quoted above, where he lists various types of writing in an increasing order of permanence. The most important and beautiful creations of the scribes’ art were the Torah scrolls used in worship and study, such as those found at Qumran. Writing marriage contracts and other legal documents was a more secular facet of their skill. That we can still read some of these writings more than two thousand years later attests to the remarkable skill and dedication of these ancient scribes. The dry climate of the Dead Sea region also preserved writings that perished in the more humid areas of Israel.

Writing Surfaces

The largest and most costly material used for the Dead Sea Scrolls was the carefully prepared parchment made from the hide of any kosher animal, including the cow, calf, sheep, goat, and even the more exotic deer and gazelle. Surprisingly, some of the scrolls were written on papyrus imported from Egypt, but the preferred material was locally produced leather from goats and cows, which has been identified by current DNA testing (9).

Tanning, as well as the related art of making parchment, was a complicated and malodorous process performed by guild craftsmen employing many trade secrets, some of which remain a mystery. The fresh skin was washed and then soaked in water to cause it to swell. After the hair was scraped off, the skin was stretched on wooden frames and carefully shaved to make it as thin as possible and yet thick enough to withstand heavy use. Even today the finest parchment and vellum must be shaved by hand using a large, curved knife. Then the skin was soaked in a solution of salt, barley flour, gall nuts, and lime water for many days, after which it was rinsed, stretched on frames, and allowed to dry flat (10). It was then polished smooth with pumice stone, a process that also whitened the surface.

The most impressive examples of their craft are the small skins used to make the tefillin discovered at Qumran. Because they needed to be folded into tiny bundles, the parchments were also incredibly thin, perhaps made from fetal calfskin. The writing on them is the smallest script yet discovered from this period, yet it is still legible (11). It is obvious that the scribes took great pride in the creation of such miniature works of art and faith.

The process of making scrolls entailed cutting two rectangles from the hide, avoiding the spine. This left a lot of waste, but only the finest material could be used. The pieces were sewn together with heavy linen thread or thinly slices kosher animal tendons. The Great Isaiah Scrollrequired seventeen sheets (12), or the hides of at least nine animals. The thread holes were made with a wooden awl rather than a metal one to avoid touching the sacred texts with an element associated with war (13).

At Qumran enigmatic fragments were found scattered on the ground floor of one room in the main building. Because they were found on top of ceiling debris, these fragments likely fell from a second-story room. When reassembled, the fragments formed three tables approximately twenty inches high and fifteen feet long. These tables, originally made from a mud-brick frame covered with carefully smoothed plaster, are remarkable in that nothing like them has been found, nor are they mentioned in the documents of that period (14). The tables are so low that a scribe would have been forced to kneel in order to write on them, leading some scholars to believe that these tables were only used to inspect a completed scroll in its entirety. The scribes may have written on small wooden desks, of which no trace was found.


Two inkwells, one ceramic and the other bronze, were also found in the debris of this same room. The traces of ink found within match the comparison of ink used on the majority of the scrolls (15). The traditional ink was a preparation soot from olive-oil lamps. Honey, oil, vinegar, and water were added to thin it to the proper consistency. In order for the ink to bite into the writing surface and not fade, later scribes added gall nuts to the formula. Sometimes the concentration of gall nut was so strong that the ink eventually ate completely through the parchment. The scribes probably tried their best to achieve the proper balance of the ingredients, hoping that the ink would stand the test of time. Their greatest concern was to achieve a rich, lustrous black, even if it was at the expense of a flexible, translucent ink. Occasionally the thick ink would flake off the surface, and then the Torah was considered unfit for use, necessitating restoration in a prescribed manner in order to maintain the perfection of the sacred writings and to enable their continued use.


Not surprisingly, the pen was the symbol of the scribe (16). A carefully trimmed pen indicated the pride that the scribe took in his work. The minuscule size of the individual letters on the scrolls is especially impressive to anyone who has tried to write with a handmade pen, for the pen point had to be cut to a chisel shape of very narrow width. Although no pens have survived from Qumran, Jewish writings indicate that the scribes used reeds at this time (17) When repeated dipping of the pen in ink caused the reed fibers to grow soft, the scribe would have to retrim the point. The fact that no difference in stroke width is apparent among the finest scrolls testifies to the precision with which the scribes trimmed their pens.

Letter Forms

As is usual with Aramaic alphabets, Hebrew letters hang from the line rather than stand on it, as in the Greco-Roman tradition. If a top horizontal stroke is called for, it should follow this line, whereas the bottom element of the letter usually slants down to the left, further strengthening the movement of the eye to the left. The strongest element in the Hebrew letter form, today as well as anciently, is the contrast between thick and thin strokes, the result of the way the pen point is trimmed. It appears that paleo-Hebrew favored a strong contrast, while, for example, The Great Isaiah Scroll shows a more uniform balance of thick and thin elements. The letters were written slowly and carefully, in contrast to modern calligraphy’s emphasis on speed and rhythm.

Though Hebrew is read from right to left, the individual letters are written from left to right, since the pen must be pulled over the surface, never pushed (18). Today, Jewish scribes touch the letter with the pen immediately after completing a stroke, depositing a small amount of surplus ink on the wide stroke so that when it dries it will be even blacker and form a raised surface. This is a risky process, because any smudges could render the whole page unusable. This process also contributes to the problem of flaking.

The ancient scribes were willing to risk these problems to achieve the strongest contrast between ink and writing material. When we consider how tiny the letters are, we can appreciate this aesthetic. Some calligraphers accentuated the letter size by leaving a generous space between lines, allowing the reader to “breathe” as his eyes moved down to the next line. This minute script must have been written in direct sunlight by scribes with good eyesight. Since advancing age brings diminished visual acuity, most elderly scribes and readers would not have been able to read these scrolls, and this made the custom of public reading on the Sabbath even more significant. When Christ was in the synagogue at Nazareth and stood up to read the scroll of Isaiah, he was still a young man with good eyesight (19). Most of the elders in the synagogue would have already committed these scriptures to memory.

Scribes learned how to create beautiful letters by copying standard models. A potsherd, the scratch paper of the ancient world, discovered in a rubbish heap at Qumran shows what might have been the beginning of this long learning process. Presumably a student wrote a copy of the alphabet in a painstaking manner, repeating some letters twice. One can imagine him studying his teacher’s model and then trying to reproduce every curve. To ensure absolute accuracy, even competent scribes were never to write a Torah scroll without a trustworthy copy in front of them. The meticulous care required in copying documents is emphasized in the following quotation from the first-century scribe Ishmael: “My son, be careful in your work for it is the work of Heaven, lest you err either in leaving out or in adding one iota, and thereby cause the destruction of the whole world” (20).

A scribe was to purify himself before beginning his day of writing, and especially before writing the name of God (21). A shallow washbasin discovered with the remains of the tables at Qumran may have been used for this very purpose. Some scribes used the paleo-Hebrew script for the sacred name of Deity while others, such as the scribe of 4Q175Testimonia, used four dots.

So diligent were the scribes in accurately transmitting sacred texts that their work forms an unbroken chain of remarkable consistency over the centuries. The copying of a Torah scroll was the greatest opportunity for a Jewish artist to express his love of beauty, for it was believed that the art of writing itself was a gift from God. According to Jewish tradition, before the creation of the world the Torah already existed, written in “black fire on white fire” (22). Thus the alphabet predates the world, and consequently no effort was spared in transmitting the written word faithfully (23).


Because sacred scrolls were intended to be handled and used reverently, precautions were taken to ensure their longevity. One problem was that the leather scrolls could absorb moisture and oils from human skin, causing permanent stains. For example, the outside of the Isaiah scroll carries the handprint stains of those who unrolled it. Perhaps as a result of an awareness of this problem, the custom developed of not touching the written surface of a scroll.

When not being used, the scrolls were presumably kept on wooden shelves, traces of which have been found at Qumran. Synagogue floor mosaics represent the wooden cabinet built to contain the Torah scrolls as quite elaborate and evocative of temple images. It could have doors or a curtain to conceal and protect the scrolls.

When a scroll became damaged and thus could no longer be used, it was not destroyed (doing so would be irreverent) but was placed in the synagogue in a special room called a genizah, where it was safely stored along with other worn scrolls. The copious fragments found in the Cairo Genizah have survived for centuries.

Some of the Qumran scrolls were found wrapped in plain linen cloth and sealed in jars. This simple but practical form of protection is perpetuated in the cloth mantle used today to encase the Torah scrolls when they are placed in the ark. The jars that were specifically designed to store scrolls show the same efficient use of material-straight-sided, widemouthed, with a broad, flat lid. Perhaps the most prized scrolls had jars custom-made for them by Qumran potters.

Many scrolls have survived the passage of centuries because of the ancient custom of hiding sacred texts during time of war. Athanasiüs Yeshue Samuel, the man who first acquired the Isaiah scroll, experienced this firsthand. At age thirteen, he and his relatives were driven from their village in Lebanon by Turks and Kurds. Separated from his widowed mother, Samuel found refuge in a mountain monastery. When hope of survival for everyone in the monastery seemed impossible, one of the monks asked him to help them “bury our books.” While bullets whistled around them, they prayed and dug a hole in a valley outside the monastery walls. “Those who follow after us will have our books. . . . The work of God will prevail” was the hope expressed as they sealed the aperture with pitch and covered it with stones and earth (24).

Decades later, Samuel held The Great Isaiah Scroll in his hands, a scroll that had been hidden away by men with the same hope displayed by the Christian monks who had buried their books. Samuel believed the scroll to be an ancient document even though he could not read Hebrew and several experts had told him it was not of ancient origin. We can be grateful that he trusted his heart as he admired the scroll’s minute yet beautiful calligraphy and miraculous state of preservation. His efforts as well as those of others, have succeeded in bringing to light a marvelous treasure.

How remarkable it is that ancient writings from the Judean Desert have survived, even if in fragments, to our day. That they exist at all and are largely legible testifies as much to the religious devotion of the communities they originated from as to the prodigious skill and love of beauty exemplified in the scribes’ art. It is a continuing paradox that the written word can possess such great power to move us, and yet the materials used to transmit it through the corridors of time are so very fragile.

5. Publication of the Scrolls

Soon after the scrolls were discovered at Qumran, they were studied at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and at the American Schools of Oriental Research, also in Jerusalem. Eventually the effort was somewhat consolidated at the Ecole Biblique et Archéologique Française in East Jerusalem.

In 1952 G. Lankester Harding, head of the Jordanian Department of Antiquities, asked Roland de Vaux, a Dominican priest and renowned scholar associated with Ecole Biblique, to head an international team of seven Hebrew and Aramaic experts. These scholars began the task of transcribing, editing, and publishing the rapidly increasing number of manuscripts. Oxford University Press agreed to publish the material in a definitive multivolume series entitled Discoveries in the Judaean Desert.

At the outset the international team decided to impose strict rules of secrecy on the project and to limit access to the manuscripts only to team members. Unfortunately, this decision, which was to have enormous impact on subsequent scroll scholarship, fueled speculation in the media, among the general public, and even among some scholars that the scrolls must contain “revolutionary or explosive revelations about Jesus and the New Testament” (25). But this speculation proved to be incorrect.

After the 1967 war, when Israel occupied East Jerusalem, virtually all the scroll material housed in the Palestine Archaeological Museum (now the Rockefeller Museum) came under the control of the IAA. What remained in Jordanian hands was the famous Copper Scroll found in Cave 3 and a few other fragments (four of which are included in the Qumran exhibit). As a result of this political sea change and other factors, work on the scrolls slowed considerably. De Vaux died in 1971, and Pierre Benoit succeeded him as director of the international team and chief editor of the Judean desert texts. Unfortunately, in the fifteen years of Benoit’s leadership very little was published on the scrolls. The British biblical scholar John Strugnell, then at Harvard University, was appointed to head the team in 1987 but served for only a brief period.

Because of the slow pace of scholarship and for other reasons, during the 1980s the Biblical Archaeology Review began a public campaign advocating access to the scrolls. In 1990 the Israeli authorities disbanded the original team of scholars and appointed Emanuel Tov, professor of biblical studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, as the new editor-in-chief. Tov subsequently formed a new team that eventually grew to nearly sixty members (26). Since then, publication of volumes in the Discoveries in the Judaean Desert series has been more frequent. Among those scholars who form the team of editors are four professors from Brigham Young University: Donald W. Parry, Dana M. Pike, David Rolph Seely, and Andrew C. Skinner. They serve as editors for the official publication of some of the scrolls. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (also known as Mormons), these four are part of a small but productive group of Latter-day Saint scholars and specialists who are making notable contributions in the field of scrolls research.

Despite these significant changes, outside scholars who were vitally interested in the scrolls and desired access to them continued to press for more openness in the process. At about the time the new international team was assembled, two scholars from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio, reconstructed the text of several scroll fragments from Cave 4 with the help of a computer. The international team objected and threatened legal action. Meanwhile, a California philanthropist with a long-standing interest in the scrolls obtained two sets of scroll photographs from the Jerusalem Department of Antiquities. One set was given to the Ancient Biblical Manuscript Center in Claremont, California. The other set was donated, without restrictions, to the Huntington Library in San Marino, California.

In 1991 the Huntington Library announced it would open its collection of scroll photographs to all qualified scholars. The Israel Antiquities Authority and the international team protested, but before the end of the year they changed their policy and allowed all qualified scholars and researchers access to the photographic collections of the scrolls at Oxford, Cincinnati, and Claremont (27).

Since the first volume in the Discoveries in the Judean Desert series was published in 1955, thirty-four additional volumes have been published and four more are in preparation.

In an effort to increase access to these invaluable ancient documents, BYU produced the Dead Sea Scrolls Electronic Library, published by Brill Academic Publishers. The database consists of a comprehensive, fully indexed, and cross-linked computerized collection of non-biblical and biblical Dead Sea Scrolls transcriptions, a selection of digitized images (from photographs) of scrolls and scroll fragments, translations, and reference material of importance for scholarly work on the scrolls and on related literature and subjects.


1. Some scholars contend that certain scrolls may reflect an early version of the book of Esther.

2. According to David R. Seely, a member of the international team of scholars working on the Dead Sea Scrolls, “Biblical texts were found [at Qumran] that demonstrated many significant textual variants from individual books” (“The Masada Fragments, the Qumran Scrolls, and the New Testament,” BYU Studies 36/3 [1996-7]: 291). Geza Vermes makes the same point and adds that at Qumran “the concept ‘Bible’ was still a hazy and open-ended one” (“The War over the Scrolls,” New York Review of Books 41/14 [1994]: 12).

3. See Frederick F. Bruce, “Qumran,” in Encyclopaedia Judaica (Jerusalem: Keter Publishing House, 1996), 13:1429-35.

4. Lawrence H. Schiffman identifies the chief characteristics of the Essenes and compares them to what is known about the inhabitants of the Qumran community, based on what is in some of the scrolls. See his article “Essenes,” in The Encyclopedia of Religion, ed. Mircea Eliade (New York: Simon and Schuster Macmillan, 1995), 5:163-6.

5. On the eschatology of the Dead Sea Scrolls community see, John J. Collins, “The Expectation of the End in the Dead Sea Scrolls,” in Eschatology, Messianism, and the Dead Sea Scrolls, eds. Craig A. Evans and Peter W. Flint. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), 74-90.

6. Shemaryahu Talmon, “Hebrew Scroll Fragments from Masada,” in The Story of Masada: Discoveries from the Excavations, ed. Gila Hurvitz, English ed. (Provo, Utah: BYU Studies, 1997), 107.

7. This is the position of Professor Schiffman. See his “Dead Sea Scrolls,” inEncyclopedia of Religion, 4:248-50. Writing from a Latter-day Saint perspective, Hugh W. Nibley contends that the more we know about the religious teachings and practices associated with groups such as the Essenes and the Qumran community, the better we will understand the religious world out of which the Book of Mormon, as well as the distinctive characteristics of early Christianity, emerged. See “More Voices from the Dust,” in his Old Testament and Related Studies (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1986), 239-44.

8. Geza Vermes, for instance, contends that “Essenism, Rabbinic Judaism, and early Christianity all arose in Palestine during a period of profound spiritual ferment. It is no exaggeration to say that none of these movements can properly be understood independently of the others. Their fundamental similarities of language, doctrine, and attitude to Scripture clearly seem to derive from the Palestinian religious atmosphere of the period” (“War over the Scrolls,” 12-13). Hugh Nibley seems to agree. He points out similarities between beliefs and practices recorded in the Book of Mormon and beliefs associated with certain forms of apocalyptic Judaism before the Common Era, as well as beliefs and practices common to the Qumran community. See “The Dead Sea Scrolls: Some Questions and Answers,” in his Old Testament and Related Studies, 245-51. For other Latter-day Saint views on the scrolls, see Robert A. Cloward, “Dead Sea Scrolls,” in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, ed. Daniel H. Ludlow (New York: Macmillan, 1992), 1:363-4; John A. Tvedtnes, “The Dead Sea Scrolls,” in his The Church of the Old Testament, 2nd ed. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1980), 57-80; Donald W. Parry and Dana M. Pike, eds., LDS Perspectives on the Dead Sea Scrolls (Provo, Utah: FARMS, forthcoming).

9. See the research of Scott Woodward of BYU. This statement is based on personal conversations with professor Woodward.

10. See Roland de Vaux, Archaeology and the Dead Sea Scrolls (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1973), 79.

11. See Yigael Yadin, “The Tefillin Discovered at Qumran.”

12. See Frank Moore Cross, David Noel Freedman, and James A. sanders, eds.,Scrolls from Qumrân Cave 1: The Great Isaiah Scroll; The Order of the Community; The Pesher of Habakkuk (Jerusalem: Albright Institute of Archaeological Research; and The Shrine of the Book, 1972), 3.

13. See the King James Version of Exodus 20:25, “For if thou lift up thy tool upon it [an altar], thou hast polluted it.” Today the ultra-orthodox Jews use an ivory or wood pointer (yad) when reading the Torah in the synagogues, as opposed to the silver pointer in more common use.

14. See De Vaux, Archaeology and the Dead Sea Scrolls, 29.

15. See John Marco Allegro, The People of the Dead Sea Scrolls: In Text and Pictures (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1958), 43.

16. See KJV Jeremiah 17:1: “The sin of Judah is written with a pen of iron, and with the point of a diamond.” The New International Version rendering is “Judah’s sin is engraved with an iron tool, inscribed with a flint point.”

17. The Sephardic scribes (Jews descended from families originating in Spain or Portugal) continue to write exclusively with reed pens, while the Ashkenazi scribes (Jews descended from central or eastern Europe) write only with quills taken from turkey or chicken feathers.

18. Ismar David, The Hebrew Letter: Calligraphic Variations (Northvale, N>J>: Jason Aronson Inc., 1990), 2.

19. See KJV Luke 4:16-7.

20. Quoted in Natan Ausubel, “Sofer,” in The Book of Jewish Knowledge (New York: Crown, 1964), 420.

21. This custom is still observed by orthodox scribes. Muslim scribes say a prayer whenever they write the name of Allah.

22. See Hugh Nibley, “Genesis of the Written Word,” in his Temple and Cosmos (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1992), 450-90.

23. Hermon Wouk, This Is My God (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1959), 253.

24. See Athanasiüs Yeshue Samuel, Treasure of Qumran: My Story of the Dead Sea Scrolls (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1966), 56.

25. Vermes, “War over the Scrolls,” 10.

26. Four BYU faculty members were members of this team: Donald L. Parry, professor of Hebrew language and literature; Dana M. Pike, professor of ancient scripture; David R. Seely, professor of ancient scripture; and Andrew Skinner, professor of ancient scripture and recently appointed chairman of the Department of Ancient Scripture.

27. For a brief review of the controversy over access to and study of the scrolls, see Vermes, “War over the Scrolls,” 10-1, from which this account was taken.