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FOUND TEXT: The Book of Jubilees The Dead Sea Scrolls Editor's Note—The Keepers of the Scrolls In 1947, in the Judaean desert east of Palestine, a Bedouin shepherd looking for a lost goat threw a rock into a cave and, to his surprise, heard the sound of pottery breaking. Inside the cave, he and his friends found several scrolls in ceramic pots. Suspecting that they might be able to sell them, they took them to Bethlehem to a part-time antiquities dealer named Khalil Iskander, called Kando. Kando bought them from the shepherds and sold them to Athanasius Yeshue Samuel, Archbishop of the Syrian Orthodox Christian Church, for sixty-odd dinars, or about $250, which the archbishop describes as the entirety of his savings at the time. These events were happening literally at the moment of the partition of Palestine by the United Nations and the subsequent outbreak of war. The archbishop was transferred to the United States, where for five years he unsuccessfully tried to sell the scrolls to an educational institution. Yale considered buying them but decided that their major efforts at the time should remain with the Boswell papers—this despite the fact that scholars had already established that the scrolls included the oldest extant biblical commentary (on Habakkuk), The Manual of Discipline that described the beliefs and rites of an order that had retired to the wilderness to wait for the Messianic age, and a complete Book of Isaiah dating from before the time of Christ, a thousand years older than any previously known Hebrew version. In a sense, the Dead Sea Scrolls were too amazing to believe. Their existence contradicted the long accepted notion that no manuscript written on any form of organic matter could survive the weather and other hazards of Palestine for anywhere near that length of time. After years of trying to place the scrolls with a responsible institution, Archbishop Samuel finally resorted to placing a want ad in the Wall Street Journal between ads for "Summer Homes Available" and "Established Manufacturer." By extraordinary chance the ad happened to be seen by one of the few men in the world who was both savvy enough to know the scrolls' inestimable value and powerful enough to effect their purchase. Yigael Yadin was an archaeologist, the son of an archaeologist, and also one of Israel's military heroes from the time of the partition. His father, Professor E. L. Sukenik of the Hebrew University, had also been approached to buy three other scrolls from the first cave. These manuscripts included The War of the Sons of Light Against the Sons of Darkness, the Thanksgiving Scroll, and a second, less well preserved copy of Isaiah. Schooled in the underground methods of the Haganah, General Yadin quickly bought the scrolls from Archbishop Samuel through an intermediary, donated them to the state of Israel, and later he helped create what became a permanent museum for them in Jerusalem, the Shrine of the Book. The original scrolls turned out to be only a beginning. Bedouins continued to scour the caves on the western edge of the Dead Sea, and six years after the first discovery, they began to find more. The fourth cave was the most dramatic, because it included fragments of seven to eight hundred manuscripts, approximately eighty thousand fragments in all, many of them tiny pieces in the dirt, blackened and partly decomposed. Within the Judeo-Christian tradition, the Dead Sea Scrolls are certainly the most important manuscript discovery of the twentieth century, and they are one of the most important such discoveries of all time, for they include manuscripts or fragments of every book of the Old Testament except Esther, far closer to the original time of composition than any scholar believed could possibly exist. Previously, for example, the earliest known Hebrew manuscript of Exodus had been more than a millennium and a half from its original date of composition, and no one could know how many changes had occurred through recopying and "standardization." Cave 4 contained a major fragment of Exodus—one of the oldest fragments in the library—that was copied circa 250 B.C. Equally importantly, the scattered remains of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9930
Print ISSN
0191-1961
Pages
pp. 51-56
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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