The dead sea scrolls were discovered in caves on the arid shores of the Dead Sea. Most of them were papyri and scrolls with variations of the Gospels and other ancient sacred texts. For Bible scholars, this treasure sheds new light on the beginnings of the Christian era and opens up new interpretations of the message of Christianity.
The discovery of the manuscripts
These Hebrew and Aramaic manuscripts were discovered between 1947 and 1956 in eleven caves located at the northwestern end of the Dead Sea, in the arid Qumran region of Jordan. The first seven scrolls discovered by Bedouins in 1947 were purchased by the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and by the Syrian Saint Mark's Monastery in Jerusalem. The manuscripts held by the Syrian monastery were subsequently purchased by the Israeli government.
Originally written on leather or papyrus, the Dead Sea Scrolls number around nine hundred, more or less well preserved and attributed to members of a hitherto unknown Jewish sect. They include discipline manuals, hymn books, Bible commentaries, and apocalyptic texts - including two of the earliest known copies of the book of Isaiah, almost completely intact - and fragments from all of the books of Isaiah. the Old Testament, except that of Esther. The text in the original language of several books classified among the apocrypha and the pseudepigraphs was also found; these texts, none of which is included in the Hebrew canon of the Bible, are Tobias, Sirach, the Jubilees, passages of Enoch and the Testament of Levi, until then known in ancient Greek, Syriac, Latin versions and Ethiopians.
After this fundamental discovery, the surrounding caves were in turn explored under the auspices of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan, the Dominican Biblical and Archaeological School of Jerusalem, and the Palestine Archaeological Museum (since renamed the Rockefeller Museum). These explorations, as well as other acquisitions from the Bedouins, made it possible to find tens of thousands of additional fragments and a list of buried treasures, hallmarked in Hebrew characters on copper bands.
This vast collection, called the “Dead Sea Scrolls”, appears to have belonged to the library of the Jewish sect of what is today Kirbet Qumran, near the site of discovery. Paleographic data shows that most of the documents were written between 250 BC. AD and 68 AD. Archaeological data confirm the latest date, with excavations indicating that the site was sacked in 68 AD. An army led by the Roman general Vespasian could have robbed the community, during an expedition intended to suppress a Jewish revolt started in 66 AD. The documents were probably hidden between 66 and 68 AD. J.-C.
The historical contribution of the Dead Sea Scrolls
The Dead Sea Scrolls contain allusions to people and events corresponding to the Hellenistic period and the early Roman period of Jewish history. A commentary on the book of Nahum, for example, mentions a certain Demetrius and seems to allude to an incident recorded by Flavius Josephus which took place in 88 BC. It evokes Demetrios III, king of Syria, and Alexander Jannée Maccabée, the Asmonean king. Likewise, repeated allusions to a "master of justice" were, depending on the case, considered to refer to religious figures: the last legitimate Jewish high priest, Onias III, deposed in 175 BC. AD, the heads of the Maccabees - Matthias, the high priest, and his son the military leader Judah Maccabee, Menahem, leader of the zealots, in 66 AD. J.-C.
Attempts have also been made to relate allusions, notably those which mention a "bad priest" and "man of lies", to certain notorious figures such as the sacrilegious Jewish high priest Menelaus, King Antiochos IV of Syria, the leader of the Maccabees Jean Hyrcan and Alexandre Jannée. But all these identifications are provisional and the opinions of experts on the subject differ.
Most of the Dead Sea Scrolls are currently in the Shrine of the Book, the Rockefeller Museum in Jerusalem, and the Department of Antiquities Museum in Amman. Numerous commentaries on the manuscripts have been published since their discovery; as for the total edition of the documents, it spanned between 1955 and 2002: under the title Discoveries in the Judaean Desert, all of the transliterated texts are now available in 39 volumes.
- The Dead Sea Scrolls, by Michael Wise. Tempus, 2003.
- Qumran. The Secret of the Dead Sea Scrolls, by Laurent Hericher. BNF, 2010.