A Bedouin goat herder discovered the Dead Sea scrolls by accident in 1947. I imagine when the Qumran Jewish community hide them, as Jerusalem was about to be destroyed the late 60’s CE, they wondered who would one day find them. What they didn’t know—not the goat herder, nor the Essene Jews—was that God had planned it out from the beginning!
In late 1947 the United Nations was set to vote on what was called Partition. They would take the remaining 20% percent of the land that Great Britain had promised to the Jewish people in the Balfour declaration of 1917—80% had already been given to create the new Arab country of Jordan—and create another state for Arabs and one tiny state for the Jews. (By the way, if anyone tells you that there needs to be a homeland for Palestinians, you can tell them it was created in 1921 and it is called Jordan!) Anyway…the vote was set for November 29.
Getting back to the scrolls, the goat herder had no idea what he had stumbled upon. He was put in touch with an antiquities dealer in Jerusalem named Kando. When Hebrew University Professor Eliezer Sukenik heard of the discovery, he was intrigued. Risking his life because of the Jewish/Arab tensions over the U.N. vote, he arranges a meeting with Kando and after a brief inspection, he goes to Bethlehem to see the other scrolls. He is overwhelmed as he realizes what he might be reading.
“My hands shook as I started to unwrap one of them. I read a few sentences. It was written in beautiful biblical Hebrew. The language was like that of the Psalms, but the text was unknown to me. I looked and looked, and I suddenly had the feeling that I was privileged by destiny to gaze upon a Hebrew Scroll which had not been read for more than 2,000 years.”
After some negotiations he leaves with scrolls. He catches the bus back to Jerusalem. He was surrounded by Arabs and was quite nervous. Would he actually ever get home with his precious cargo? Yes, and as soon as he arrived home he poured over the scrolls only become more convinced of his historic discovery.
And here is where it gets crazy! I’ll just quote the professor:
While I was examining these precious documents in my study, the late news on the radio announced that the United Nations would be voting on the resolution that night—whether or not Israel would be allowed to become a nation—My youngest son Mati, was in the next room, twiddling radio knobs in an effort to get New York … From time to time, he would give me a brief commentary on what had been said. It was past midnight when the voting was announced. And I was engrossed in a particularly absorbing passage in one of the scrolls when my son rushed in with the shout that the vote on the Jewish State had passed. This great event in Jewish history was thus combined in my home in Jerusalem with another event, no less historic, the one political, and the other cultural.
The timing of this is clearly prophetic. The scrolls remained hidden for anyone to find for nearly 2000 years. And on the very day, the very day, that Israel’s rebirth was confirmed, a Jewish professor confirms the existence of ancient Israel. You really have to intellectually dishonest, if you are going to claim that God was not behind Israel’s dramatic rebirth.
This article originally appeared on Revive Israel, October 27, 2016, and reposted with permission.
Reference to consignment of wineskins ‘to Jerusalem’ appears on 2,700-year-old First Temple-era scrap believed plundered from Judean Desert cave
October 26, 2016
A rare, ancient papyrus dating to the First Temple Period — 2,700 years ago — has been found to bear the oldest known mention of Jerusalem in Hebrew.
The fragile text, believed plundered from a Judean Desert cave, was apparently acquired several years. Radiocarbon dating has determined it is from the 7th century BCE, making it one of just three extant Hebrew papyri from that period, and predating the Dead Sea Scrolls by centuries.
The slip of papyrus, which was being formally unveiled by the Israel Antiquities Authority on Wednesday, measures 11 centimeters by 2.5 centimeters (4.3 inches by 1 inch). Its two lines of jagged black paleo-Hebrew script appear to have been a dispatch note recording the delivery of two wineskins “to Jerusalem,” the Judean Kingdom’s capital city.
The fact that the note was written on papyrus, rather than cheaper clay ostraca, suggests the consignment of wineskins may have been sent to a person of high status.
Additional details concerning the papyrus and its significance were to be announced at a press conference in Jerusalem by Israel Prize-winning Biblical scholar Shmuel Ahituv on Wednesday.
Ahituv studied the papyrus after its acquisition by an individual who has requested anonymity. The fragment’s preservation over the millennia suggests it was stored and discovered in an arid, cool location, possibly in a cave near the Dead Sea.
While there are more than a handful of ancient Hebrew texts etched into stone and scrawled on bits of pottery from this period, the only other known Hebrew papyrus texts from before the fall of the Judean Kingdom in 586 BCE were the Marzeah Papyrus, believed to be from mid-to-late 7th century BCE trans-Jordan, and a papyrus palimpsest found at Qumran.
The Israel Antiquities Authority has moved to prevent antiquities thieves plundering the country’s archaeological heritage, with particular emphasis on the limestone caves dotting the cliffs leading down to the Dead Sea. Those remote caverns have yielded two of the most significant collections of ancient Hebrew texts: the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Bar Kochba letters.
Stings in recent years have busted treasure hunters and traders in the act in Judean Desert caverns and Jerusalem hotels, while archaeologists race to excavate the area’s remaining caves in the hopes of discovering scientific data and, possibly, more scrolls.
What do the Dead Sea Scrolls say about Jesus?
Volunteers at work in the archaeological excavation. Photographic credit: Yoli Shwartz, courtesy of the IAA.
The Israel Antiquities Authority is promoting a national plan for comprehensive archaeological excavations in the Judean Desert caves, and for rescuing the Dead Sea Scrolls, which are among the earliest texts written in the Hebrew language. The plan is carried out in cooperation with the Heritage Project in the Ministry of Jerusalem Affairs, and Minister of Culture and Sport Miri Regev (Likud).
Israel Hasson, director-general of the IAA, said in a statement, “Tor years now our most important heritage and cultural assets have been excavated illicitly and plundered in the Judean Desert caves for reasons of greed. The goal of the national plan that we are advancing is to excavate and find all of the scrolls that remain in the caves, once and for all, so that they will be rescued and preserved by the state.”
Minister of Culture and Sport Miri Regev said in a statement, “The antiquities robbers are plundering the Land of Israel’s history, which is something we cannot allow. The Dead Sea scrolls are an exciting testament of paramount importance that bear witness to the existence of Israel in the Land of Israel 2,000 years ago, and they were found close to the Return to Zion and the establishment of the State of Israel in the Land of Israel. It is our duty to protect these unique treasures, which belong to the Jewish people and the entire world. I will work to increase the punishment against those that rob our country’s antiquities.”
Last week, the IAA took a first step in the plan by commencing a complicated and extraordinary archaeological excavation in search of scrolls in Nahal Tse’elim. A team from the IAA’s Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery accompanied by researchers from the Caves Research Center of the Hebrew University and hundreds of volunteers from across the country is participating in the excavation, which is taking place with the support of the Heritage Project in the Ministry of Jerusalem Affairs. The excavation is being directed by archaeologists Dr. Eitan Klein, Dr. Uri Davidovich, Royee Porat and Amir Ganor. For many years, IAA inspectors have been proactively enforcing the law in the desert, during the course of which they have made a number of seizures and foiled bands of antiquities robbers that sought to become rich through the detrimental exposure of items of great historical importance. However, these actions are a mere drop in the ocean and the IAA stresses that only by excavating all of the scrolls in the ground and transferring them to the state, will it be possible to ensure their well-being and preservation for future generations.
In November 2014, inspectors of the IAA’s Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery apprehended a band of robbers, residents of the village of Sa‘ir near Hebron, in the act of plundering the contents of the Cave of the Skulls in Nahal Tse’elim. The suspects who were caught “red-handed” were arrested on the spot, interrogated, and later sentenced and served a prison sentence, and are required to pay the State of Israel a fine of $25,000. At the time of their arrest they were in possession of important archaeological artifacts that date to the Roman period, c. 2,000 years ago, and the Neolithic period, c. 8,000 years ago.
In 2009 an ancient papyrus that was written in Hebrew and dates to the Year Four of the Destruction of the House of Israel (139 CE) was seized. The papyrus was confiscated in a joint operation by the IAA’s Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery and the Israel Police during a meeting with antiquities dealers in which the papyrus was offered for sale for the amount of $2 million. The investigation of the robbers revealed that this papyrus had also been discovered in Nahal Tse’elim. The contents of it, which mention the towns and settlements in the area of the Hebron hill-country, suggest that the papyrus was part of an archive of documents belonging to Jews who fled to the desert from the Hebron area after the Bar Kokhba uprising. Now, the IAA hopes to find similar documents.
The Cave of Skulls, where the excavation is taking place, is located about 80 yards from the top of the cliff, and about 750 ft above the base of the canyon. Because of the difficulty in reaching the site, the IAA obtained a special permit from the Nature and Parks Authority to construct an access trail, which requires the use of rappelling equipment for the safety of the participants in the excavation. More than 500 volunteers and field personnel from Israel and abroad were required for the undertaking, and they are sleeping and living in a camp in desert field conditions. Many requests by individuals offering to participate have been denied because of the lack of infrastructure to provide for such a large group of archaeologists, volunteers and interested parties. The current excavation season will end in another two weeks, assuming this will be sufficient time in order to extract the valuable archaeological information from the cave.
According to Amir Ganor, director of the IAA’s Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery, “The excavation in Nahal Tse’elim is an operation of extraordinary complexity and scope, and one that has not occurred in the Judean Desert in the past thirty years. Despite the rigorous enforcement actions taken against the antiquities robbers, we still witness acts of severe plundering that unfortunately are possible in such large desert expanses. There are hundreds of caves in cliffs in the area, access to which is both dangerous and challenging. In almost every cave that we examined we found evidence of illicit intervention and it is simply heart-breaking. The loss of the finds is irreversible damage that cannot be tolerated.”
Israel Hasson, director-general of the IAA, added, “It is exciting to see the extraordinary work of the volunteers, who have lent a hand and participated in the excavation in complicated field conditions, out of a desire to join in an historic undertaking and discover finds that can provide priceless information about our past here. The time has come for the state to underwrite broad action so as to rescue the cultural assets of enormous historical importance while they still remain in the caves. Substantial amounts need to be allocated which will allow the IAA to embark upon a large-scale operation for studying the desert, including the caves, and excavating the artifacts. After all, the Dead Sea scrolls are of religious, political and historical importance to Jews, Christians and all of humanity.”
Saving the Dead Sea Scrolls from looters, hundreds flock to desert caves
Oldest Hebrew Bible scroll since the Dead Sea Scrolls found at Ein Gedi
A burnt ancient scroll found in 1970 has finally been deciphered thanks to advanced digital technology. Four and a half decades after its discovery, the scroll was recently revealed to contain a passage from the Book of Leviticus. Excavated from the Torah ark of a Byzantine-period synagogue at Ein Gedi in Israel, the scroll had been victim to a fire that raged through the entire village. The scroll is considered to be the oldest Hebrew Bible scroll discovered since the Dead Sea Scrolls. Furthermore, the discovery represents the first time a Torah scroll has been excavated from an ancient synagogue.
Martin Abegg, Peter Flint and Andrew Perrin reflect on the Dead Sea Scrolls’ history
With one of its long-term codirectors continuing on at the helm (Dr. Peter Flint) and the other (Dr. Martin Abegg) passing the baton to a new faculty member (Dr. Andrew Perrin), the leadership of the Trinity Western University Dead Sea Scrolls Institute—North America’s only research center dedicated to Qumran studies—provides a snapshot of both the perspectives of different generations of Dead Sea Scroll scholars and a view of the discipline’s past, present and future. In this exclusive Bible History Daily interview, these three colleagues reflect on some major moments in recent Qumran scholarship and pressing issues that lie ahead.
Megan Sauter (BAR): Along with Martin Abegg and Ben Zion Wacholder, BAR was part of the dramatic and controversial story of releasing the Dead Sea Scrolls texts to the world in the early ’90s. Looking back, how did that moment compromise or benefit the field?
Martin Abegg: Of course, I am a bit biased, but I think the results of the publication of the preliminary editions were nearly all on the benefit side of the ledger. There is an undeniable visibility factor that resulted in immense press coverage and public interest that continues even to today. Equally important was the effect on official publication in the Discoveries in the Judaean Desert (DJD) series, which saw almost three-quarters of its total volumes published between 1991 and 2009. Secondary research has also increased substantially. It is almost impossible to keep up with the number of dissertations, monographs and journal articles that are churned out year after year in Dead Sea Scrolls studies and related disciplines. In one way or another, all of this activity represents the ripple effect of the unexpected but much needed publication.Peter Flint: Marty and I came to direct the Dead Sea Scrolls Institute at a time when the events leading up to the publication of the Qumran texts were still highly controversial. More than 20 years on, I can say with some confidence that almost everyone today would be pleased with the “Scroll busters” of the early ’90s. Geza Vermes once lamented that the slow and irregular pace of official publication of these invaluable manuscript discoveries was the “academic scandal par excellence of the 20th century.” He was correct. What we needed was a catalyst to make these materials available for researchers.
Andrew Perrin: Like many scholars in the early stages of their careers today, I started serious research on the Qumran finds just prior to when the finishing touches were put on the DJD series. So in many ways I am part of a first generation of scholars who are familiar with the tale of the controversies in the early ’90s yet only know the luxury of a fully published and openly accessible corpus. This situation is hugely advantageous for research: While the Qumran evidence itself is fragmentary, at least we have a full view of what is extant. This greatly reduces the unknown variables of any research project. Without the pre-emptive strike by Abegg, Wacholder and BAR, it is entirely possible that parts of the Qumran discoveries would remain unavailable to scholars even today.