The Parish Church of St George the Martyr, Waterlooville


The story goes that three young Bedouin goatherd boys, Juma, Khalid and Mahomet were trying to retrieve some goats from the cliffs at Wadi Qumran, when they came across a large cave. Mahomet threw a stone inside and was startled to hear the sound of pottery breaking. They were afraid and ran away. They told the elders and it was discovered that the cave floor was covered with debris and a number of narrow jars stood along the wall. The scrolls inside were taken and after a while the seven original ones discovered were sold to Arab antiquarian dealers. Thus started the most significant discovery of modern times, shedding light on the politics, the religious practices and the theological underpinning of Judaism and Christian religious thought between 408BC and AD318.

It may not have happened exactly as the story goes, but nevertheless it is true that approximately 974 texts have been found in caves at Qumran and nearby, on the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea, between 1948 and 1956. Scholars have classified them in two categories - biblical and non-biblical. Most of them are in the language of Hebrew, there are some in Aramaic and others in Greek. The whole episode is regarded as the most important literary discovery of modern times.

In the original cave (designated Cave 1) some of the most important discoveries were made:

1. The entire prophecy of Isaiah, together with another fragment of this book.

2. Part of the Book of Habakkuk, called the Habakkuk Commentary.

3. Information about the religious faction - the brotherhood in Qumran. It has been suggested that the faction is the Essene sect, though this is disputed.

4. A collection of Psalms

5. A paraphrase of the Book of Genesis

6. A text which described an apocalyptic war -  a battle against Roman rule.

Cave 11 also produced manuscripts largely intact, whilst in other caves only fragments survived, written on leather or papyrus.

The scrolls demonstrate that the Old Testament was accurately transmitted. Some psalms have been uncovered which are additional to those contained in our bible. There is a wealth of information on the turbulent times before, during and after the birth of Christ.

After discovery, the early scrolls were thought to have no value and were hung on a pole in a Bedouin tent. Arab antique dealers handled them and passed them on. The progress of the whole find has been accidental and haphazard. Only now are they subject to scholarly scrutiny as they deserve, including work in monasteries, universities and museums. Great steps are being taken to ensure that they do not deteriorate further. In time all will be revealed.

Rod Dawson

Summer Edition 2014

Dead Sea Scrolls

Cave 1

Section of the Psalms Scroll