Bible Think

The Dead Sea Scrolls

The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Bible

In 1947 two bedouin shepherds found a cache of scrolls in a cave close to the Dead Sea. The scrolls were dated to before the time of Jesus. Further searches by archaeologists and by local people brought the number of caves in which scrolls were found to eleven and the number of manuscripts to over 800. Some of the scrolls were complete, but the majority were in small fragments which had to be pieced together, a process which took some decades to complete. In the end almost 820 separate documents were found, nearly 200 of which were portions of the Old Testament.


Near the caves are a set of ruins known today as Khirbet Qumran. An investigation of the ruins by archaeologists showed that a community of several hundred had lived around them for an extended period of time and that the copying of documents had been carried out within the buildings. They were shown to be the centre of an eccentric Jewish sect founded in the second century BC. Some of the scrolls gave the history of the sect and showed it to have been founded long before the time of Jesus by a person known as the “Teacher of Righteousness”.

The picture shows cave 4, the cave in which the largest proportion of documents in the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. This cave contained 589 documents or 72% of the total; most of them were in fragments. Some scholars believe that this cave was the community Geniza (repository for old Scrolls).


Analysis of the handwriting and DNA analysis of the parchment indicates that scrolls were often copied far from Qumran, although a significant portion could have been made locally. In the ancient world it was common for books to be traded between libraries, and this could account for some of the variety of sources for the books.


The size of the community can be estimated from the number of graves in the burial ground next to the ruins. It is clear that a substantial number of people lived in the area.





























Table showing the contents of the Dead Sea Scrolls Manuscripts

Sectarian scrolls are documents used to maintain the distinctive beliefs and practices of the Qumran sect. These differed considerably from classical Judaism; the sectarians had a different calendar and schedule of feasts. Nevertheless they were Jewish and many standard Jewish documents were also found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. Some of the documents (24%) were Old Testament books and 4% were commentaries on the Old Testament. 71 of the documents were fictional stories based on characters in the Bible; these are called Apocrypha


The Old Testament Scrolls

The Old Testament scrolls were written before the time of Jesus; a few are very early indeed and come from close to 200BC. The text in the scrolls is very little different from other scrolls of the Old Testament; At least part of every book in the Old Testament apart from the book of Esther, although some of the biblical manuscripts are only fragmentary. The existence of these manuscripts is evidence that no significant change has been made to the Old Testament since before the time of Jesus.


The Dead Sea Scrolls and the New Testament

No New Testament books were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. However, the scrolls give a good picture of the linguistic background to the New Testament and help to show that the Gospel records are typical of documents produced in the area at around the time of Jesus.


The Dead Sea Scrolls

Watch this space

for a pdf document giving a summary of findings from the Dead Sea Scrolls.


Archaeology and the Bible

The finds of Archaeology are consistent with an accurate Bible. Click here to go to the main page on Archaeology

The Text of the Old Testament

Arguably the most important result from the Dead Sea Scrolls is their witness to the text of the Old Testament. Click here to link to a page about the text of the Old Testament and the other witnesses to it.


Dating the Bible

The Dead Sea Scrolls were written after the end of the Old Testatment period but well before the ministry of Jesus. Click here to go to the page on dating the books of the Bible.


Archaeology and the Gospels

The Gospels describe events right at the end of the period of the Dead Sea Scrolls. This page discussed the archaeology of the Gospels.

4QpaleoExa. - This is a fragment of the Book of Exodus found in Cave 4. This cave contained thousands of fragments like this and many decades were needed to piece them together into whole manuscripts.