In the spring of 1947 a Bedouin goat-herder stumbled upon a cave full of jars filled with mysterious ancient manuscripts. Little did he know that he had just made the greatest archeological discovery of modern times, the Dead Sea Scrolls. Between 1947 and 1956, excavations would uncover manuscripts from eleven different caves on the northwestern shores of the Dead Sea and shedding considerable light on the history of Jewish people in ancient times. Today, these Dead Sea Scrolls are on display at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. Here are 10 fascinating facts about this revolutionary discovery:
1) The Dead Sea Scrolls were likely written from about 200 B.C. to 68 C.E., making them the oldest group of Biblical manuscripts ever found.
2) The vast majority of the Dead Sea Scrolls survived as fragments. Nevertheless, scholars have managed to reconstruct from these fragments approximately 850 different manuscripts of various lengths, including from every book of the Hebrew canon except for the book of Esther.
3) The Dead Sea also include also various non-Biblical writings, including commentaries on the Oral Torah, rules regarding communal living, war conduct, songs, prayers, and wisdom writings.
4) The Dead Sea Scrolls are mostly written in Hebrew and Aramaic. Aramaic was the common language of the Jews of Palestine for the last two centuries B.C. and of the first two centuries A.D. In addition, there are a few texts written in Greek.
5) The Dead Sea Scrolls appear to be the library of an ascetic Jewish sect, the Essenes, a strict Torah observant, Messianic, apocalyptic, wilderness Jewish sect. They were led by a priest they called the “Teacher of Righteousness and” They apparently hid these scrolls in the caves around the outbreak of the Jewish Revolt (A.D. 66-70) as the Roman army got closer to their hideout.
6) The “Copper Scroll” records a list of 64 underground hiding places throughout the land of Israel. They are supposed to contain certain amounts of gold, silver, incense and other manuscripts, which were believed to be treasures from the Holy Temple in Jerusalem that were hidden away for safekeeping.
7) The longest scroll is the “Temple Scroll”, with a present total length is 26.7 feet (8.148 meters).
8) The Dead Sea Scrolls contain previously unknown stories about Biblical figures such as Enoch, Abraham, and Noah.
9) The Dead Sea Scrolls are most commonly made of animal skins, but also papyrus and one of copper. They are written with a carbon-based ink, from right to left, using no punctuation except for an occasional paragraph indentation.
10) Some of the Dead Sea Scrolls actually appeared for sale on June 1, 1954 in the Wall Street Journal. The advertisement read: “The Four Dead Sea Scrolls: Biblical manuscripts dating back to at least 200 BC are for sale.