Today is the great day for all the history lovers and those who are interesting in Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and multiple congregations and sects, basing their religious beliefs on the concepts of Monotheism. In a joint effort by Israel's national museum and Google, the 2,000-year-old Dead Sea scrolls, previously only available to a small group of scholars, have been made available online.
Five of the most important Dead Sea Scrolls will now be available to the digital public: the biblical Book of Isaiah, the manuscript known as the Temple Scroll, and three others. Visitors are also able to search the ancient texts at the Digital Dead Sea Scrolls website.
The scrolls offer critical insight into customs and religion of ancient Israelis, including information on the birth of Christianity. The sacred texts include the oldest written record of the Old Testament ever found.
The Scrolls are for the most part, written in Hebrew, but there are many written in 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. The discovery of the Scrolls has greatly enhanced our knowledge of these two languages. In addition, there are a few texts written in Greek. The 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. In fact, in some cases, there are not even spaces between the words.
Written between the third and first centuries BCE, the Dead Sea Scrolls include the oldest known biblical manuscripts in existence, according to Google's press release. They were hidden in 11 caves in the Judean desert on the shores of the Dead Sea, around 68 BCE. The owners of the texts apparently wanted to protect the scrolls from approaching Roman armies.
"This partnership with The Israel Museum, Jerusalem is part of our larger effort to bring important cultural and historical collections online," Google's spokesperson wrote in the press release. "We are thrilled to have been able to help this project through hosting on Google Storage and App Engine, helping design the web experience and making it searchable and accessible to the world."
How they were found?
In the spring of 1947 Bedouin goat-herds, searching the cliffs along the Dead Sea for a lost goat (or for treasure, depending on who is telling the story), came upon a cave containing jars filled with manuscripts. That find caused a sensation when it was released to the world, and continues to fascinate the scholarly community and the public to this day.
The first discoveries came to the attention of scholars in 1948, when seven of the scrolls were sold by the Bedouin to a cobbler and antiquities dealer called Kando. He in turn sold three of the scrolls to Eleazar L. Sukenik of Hebrew University, and four to Metropolitan Mar Athanasius Yeshue Samuel of the Syrian Orthodox monastery of St. Mark. Mar Athanasius in turn brought his four to the American School of Oriental Research, where they came to the attention of American and European scholars.
It was not until 1949 that the site of the find was identified as the cave now known as Qumran Cave 1. It was that identification that led to further explorations and excavations of the area of Khirbet Qumran. Further search of Cave 1 revealed archaeological finds of pottery, cloth and wood, as well as a number of additional manuscript fragments. It was these discoveries that proved decisively that the scrolls were indeed ancient and authentic.
Between 1949 and 1956, in what became a race between the Bedouin and the archaeologists, ten additional caves were found in the hills around Qumran, caves that yielded several more scrolls, as well as thousands of fragments of scrolls: the remnants of more than 15,000 Dead Sea Scrolls, written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek between 150 BC and 70 AD. They are between 800-1,000 years older than previously known manuscripts.
The scrolls include the oldest known biblical manuscripts in existence, religious manuscripts not included in the Bible and documents that describe daily Jewish life in the land of Israel during the time of the Second Temple Period, and the birth of Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism.
The manuscripts span a time when the Holy Land was under Greek rule and then the Roman, whose soldiers destroyed the Jews' Second Temple in Jerusalem in 70 A.D. to quash a rebellion. All that remains of the temple today is the Western Wall.
We will just mention 12 amazing facts that make this amazing discovery a breakthrough point for historians and religious scholars:
- The Scrolls can be divided into two categories—biblical and non-biblical. Fragments of every book of the Hebrew canon (Old Testament) have been discovered except for the book of Esther.
- There are now identified among the scrolls, 19 copies of the Book of Isaiah, 25 copies of Deuteronomy and 30 copies of the Psalms.
- Prophecies by Ezekiel, Jeremiah and Daniel not found in the Bible are written in the Scrolls.
- The Isaiah Scroll, found relatively intact, is 1000 years older than any previously known copy of Isaiah. In fact, the scrolls are the oldest group of Old Testament manuscripts ever found.
- In the Scrolls are found never before seen psalms attributed to King David and Joshua.
- There are non-biblical writings along the order of commentaries on the OT, paraphrases that expand on the Law, rule books of the community, war conduct, thanksgiving psalms, hymnic compositions, benedictions, liturgical texts, and sapiential (wisdom) writings.
- The Scrolls appear to be the library of a Jewish sect - Essenes. The library was hidden away in caves around the outbreak of the First Jewish Revolt (A.D. 66-70) as the Roman army advanced against the rebel Jews. The Essenes are mentioned by Josephus and in a few other sources, but not in the New Testament. The Essenes were a strict Torah observant, Messianic, apocalyptic, baptist, wilderness, new covenant Jewish sect. They were led by a priest they called the "Teacher of Righteousness," who was opposed and possibly killed by the establishment priesthood in Jerusalem. The enemies of the Qumran community were called the "Sons of Darkness"; they called themselves the "Sons of Light," "the poor," and members of "the Way." They thought of themselves as "the holy ones," who lived in "the house of holiness," because "the Holy Spirit" dwelt with them.
- The last words of Joseph, Judah, Levi, Naphtali, and Amram (the father of Moses) are written down in the Scrolls.
- One of the most curious scrolls is the Copper Scroll. Discovered in Cave 3, this scroll records a list of 64 underground hiding places throughout the land of Israel. The deposits are to contain certain amounts of gold, silver, aromatics, and manuscripts. These are believed to be treasures from the Temple at Jerusalem, that were hidden away for safekeeping.
- The scrolls contain previously unknown stories about biblical figures such as Enoch, Abraham, and Noah. The story of Abraham includes an explanation why God asked Abraham to sacrifice his only son Isaac.
- The Scrolls have revolutionized textual criticism of the Old Testament. Interestingly, now with manuscripts predating the medieval period, we find these texts in substantial agreement with the Masoretic text as well as widely variant forms.
- The Dead Sea Scrolls enhance our knowledge of both Judaism and Christianity. They represent a non-rabbinic form of Judaism and provide a wealth of comparative material for New Testament scholars, including many important parallels to the Jesus movement. They show Christianity to be rooted in Judaism and have been called the evolutionary link between the two.
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