In Parts 1 & 2 of this series we touched upon everything from the rhythm method to bat poop. We even managed to discuss the Dead Sea Scrolls. Now, we continue our bipolar trip through the salty waters of Holy History in this, the last article in the series:
The Dead Sea Scrolls can be divided into three categories – biblical scrolls, non-biblical scrolls and sectarian scrolls. The biblical scrolls are 1000 years older than any other Old Testament texts, and represent all of the books of the OT except Esther. Now, keep in mind, when we say “biblical” in reference to the Dead Sea Scrolls, we’re talking about the Jewish Bible, meaning the Old Testament. None of the scrolls, other than the aforementioned questionable fragments discovered in Cave 7, represent New Testament books. Having said that, 207 out of the 930 scrolls found at Qumran are biblical scrolls. The non-biblical scrolls contain new psalms, the retelling of biblical stories, mystic tales and biblical interpretation. Sectarian scrolls, such as the Rule of the Community, were written by and about the keepers of the scrolls, the aforementioned “Sons of Light” whom most scholars presume to be the Essenes.
Science and the Dead Sea Scrolls. Now, here is where it gets interesting, from a technical point of view. The scrolls have been dated by paleography (the study of age-indicative, period-specific writing styles) and Carbon-14 analysis. From this we have learned that the biblical scrolls date from 250-150 BCE; sectarian and non-biblical scrolls date from 100 BCE-70 CE. Scroll fragments have been matched by paleography, scribe-specific writing styles, C-14 dating, and even mitochondrial DNA analysis of the parchment they are written upon. Those scrolls that are blackened beyond readability have had the text teased out by multispectral imaging. DNA analysis has determined that biblical texts were written on bovine parchment, sectarian texts on sheep parchment, and non-biblical texts on sheep or Ibex. Wow, what a worthless piece of information. But no, really it’s not, and here’s why: there is no reason to believe cows were raised at Qumran. There were no cow bones found in the communal dump, and it is the wrong terrain for them. This suggests that the biblical texts were not penned at Qumran, but were imported from other Jewish centers of learning. If the DNA of the scroll parchment can be matched to cow bones at other archeological digs, we may someday learn where these scrolls came from. In the meantime, scientists are using neutron analysis to match the chemical signature of scroll jars with kilns and pottery at other archeological sites. So far they have learned that some of the scroll jars were made at Qumran, but others not – more evidence that some of the scrolls were imported from outside the immediate community.
The original Scrolls Team of eight scholars was headed by the Dominican Priest, Roland DeVaux, the head of Ecole Biblique, a French Catholic theological seminary in East Jerusalem. DeVaux was widely criticized for withholding the scrolls from public scrutiny, by outside scholars as well as by members of his own team, and it was during his tenure that charges of academic scandal and theological bias were first leveled. Huh, imagine that – a priest allowing his religious convictions to prejudice his interpretation of scripture. Hard to imagine, cough, cough. Then, after the Six Day War in 1967, Israel expanded its borders to the Dead Sea and laid claim to the scrolls as well as to the archeological site of Khirbet Qumran. Over the next few years, the focus of the charges of academic scandal and theological bias switched from the Christian controllers to the new Jewish custodians. Roland DeVaux refused to work with the Israelis, but lost leadership over the scrolls project when he died unexpectedly (a little too unexpectedly, if you ask me) while undergoing minor surgery. The charges of obstructing full and unbiased disclosure of the scrolls’ content have remained upon Israeli shoulders to this day.
So, where does all this leave us? This leaves us with the greatest archeological find of the twentieth century – a library of scriptures with an intriguing and bloody history, which have been the subject of some of the slickest scientific analysis known to man. Paradoxically, these scrolls convey a message of such importance that the Jewish keepers of the scrolls two thousand years ago died to preserve them, yet modern Jewish custodians struggle to convolute or conceal the religiously-revolutionary, theologically-threatening secret of the scrolls. And the final step in the history of the Dead Sea Scrolls will be exactly this – exposing their secret to the world.