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Dead Sea Scrolls


Last updated 12/27/2007 at Noon

This Dead Sea Scroll was penned in 30-1 BCE in Hebrew and contains a portion of Deuteronomy. It is the oldest known copy of the Ten Commandments and was found in Cave 4 in 1952.

Flown in from Israel, another set of twelve Dead Sea Scrolls made an appearance at the San Diego Natural History Museum on October 15 and will be on exhibition through December 31. Five of the scrolls in this collection have never before been exhibited.

The Dead Sea Scrolls date from 250 BCE to 68 CE and the first scrolls were discovered by a Bedouin goat-herder in 1947. The scrolls were hidden in eleven caves near the shores of Israel’s Dead Sea.

More than 100,000 fragments of text were found and scholars have pieced together approximately 900 separate Biblical and non-Biblical documents. The majority of the scrolls are made of leather parchment.

Most of the scrolls are written in Hebrew and paleo-Hebrew; however, some texts are in Aramaic and Greek.

Most scholars agree that the scrolls were written by a Jewish Essene sect, who lived a communal life in the area of Qumran. There is also a theory that some of the scrolls were written in Jerusalem and hidden in caves when the Romans became a threat to the city.

Exciting to behold is the oldest known manuscript of the Ten Commandments. It also ranks as the best preserved of all Deuteronomy manuscripts discovered at the Dead Sea. Other Biblical scrolls now on display include fragments of Psalms, Job, Habakkuk, Jonah and others.

When visitors first arrive at the exhibit they are directed toward the portion which highlights the history of the scrolls and also explains the customs of the people who lived in Qumran.

On display are large photographs of Qumran’s terrain – a dry and rocky area on the shores of the Dead Sea. With a little bit of imagination, as well as assistance from the museum’s clever sound effects, one can begin to feel what it was like to be a member of the Jewish Essene sect living in this barren area of the world.

Echoing through the display room is the whiny sound of bleating sheep. Then, the sound of a howling wind begins to make your skin feel dry, and you begin wishing you could seek shelter somewhere.

A preserved hair net found in the Qumran region reminds you that your hair wouldn’t necessarily be whipping around in the harsh wind but instead be tightly packed to your head.

Amazingly intact leather sandals are a reminder that your feet would probably get dry and, at times, maybe even cold. Dust blown by the wind would settle on your skin, but you wouldn’t have to be concerned for long because you take at least two ritual baths a day in the rainwater-filled compound pool.

Communal meals were the norm, as evidenced by the large amount of crockery found in a single storage area. You would feast on olives, dates, barley and lentils, then drink a mix of wine and water. In the evening you would rest your head on a mat, as there were no beds found in the ruins.

God, or “YHWH” (Yahweh), as it is written on some of the Dead Sea Scrolls, is of vital interest and importance to you as a member of the Jewish Essene sect. Copying the Word of God is so important that ink was developed (some say with cinnabar) that would last 2,000 years.

What you don’t know is that 2,000 years after your sacred scrolls were penned, many would be reading those same words from other written works and would comforted by “YHWH,” as you were comforted.

As an Essene member you read a fragile golden-brown scroll on which is inscribed Psalm 121:1-2 – “I turn my eyes to the mountains; from where will [my help] come? My help comes from the LORD, maker of heaven and earth.”

Two thousand years later the New International Version (NIV) of Psalm 121:1-2 reads: “I lift up my eyes to the hills – where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.”

The two texts are virtually the same.

After the museum’s Essene sect experience, the exhibit moves forward in time to 1947, showcasing photographs of the Bedouin goat-herder who discovered the first scrolls. A rock he threw into a cave near the Dead Sea shattered a clay jar, which contained the first discovered Dead Sea Scroll.

Tins and matchboxes were used by Bedouin tribe members to carry some of the smaller scroll fragments from the mountainside caves.

A few years after the discovery, scrolls were offered for sale in the Wall Street Journal:

The Four Dead Sea Scrolls

Biblical manuscripts dating

back to at least 200 BC are for sale.

This would be an ideal gift to an

educational or religious institution

by an individual or a group.

It is fortunate for humankind that the scrolls fell into the right hands; their discovery is a profound scientific find with spiritual ramifications that can never be measured.

Dead Sea Scrolls

San Diego

Natural History Museum

Balboa Park

(619) 232-3821

Exhibit open through Jan. 6


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