One of our favorite days with groups takes us to the region of the Dead Sea. We travel to Masada, En Gedi, Qumran, and culminate the days adventure with a float in the super salty, jello like water of the Dead Sea.
Qumran is located near the north-western edge of the Dead (or Salt) Sea. It is famous for the huge collection of ancient scrolls found in the vicinity. Most, but not all, were found in numerous caves surrounding the Qumran area. Many of these caves are in the hills pictured below:
The scrolls were handled with utmost care and reported immediately to the correct antiquities authority.
Unfortunately the discovery of the scrolls was not treated with such pristine care at all; primarily because the bedouin were not aware of the significance of their discovery, but were more concerned about the immediate use they could fulfill. Pieces of scrolls were hung out to dry for the potential use as sandal straps, blowing in the wind for months, while others were used for a variety of immediate purposes.
The scrolls were first found by the bedouin in 1947, but if you know your history there was sort of a lot going on in this land around then. After a long story, fragments of the scrolls fell into the hands of scholars from the Hebrew University in the spring of 1948 who recognized their significance. Work began to recover as many scrolls and fragments as possible.
Once the bedouin realized the scrolls had monetary value, they would tear them into smaller pieces in an effort to make more money for each piece they provided. I know, heartbreaking, isn't it? Survival at its finest. Those seeking to recover the scrolls quickly edited their payment to stop the further damage, paying per square centimeter rather than piece.
Predating our current Old Testament manuscripts by 1,000 years, the significance of these scrolls lie not only in their attestation to an accurate scribal tradition, but also in their value as windows into the first centuries B.C. and A.D. In other words, scholars have learned A LOT about the life and times of Jesus through the discovery and subsequent study of the Dead Sea Scrolls. It is discoveries like this that bring the Bible to life and help us understand what the authors originally meant and how passages were interpreted in Jesus' day. Because of this find, we can better know how Jesus lived and hopefully shape our lives to be more like His.