It’s a story of chance, intrigue, the black market, spies and deception from Israel to Damascus to New York. And it all began 1000’s of years ago. Here’s what happened.
Early in 1947, a Bedouin shepherd boy of the Ta’amireh tribe was tending his flock of sheep and goats in the desert area of Qumran. He noticed a few of the goats were missing, so he searched amid the limestone cliffs that line the north-western rim of the Dead Sea about 40km from Jerusalem.
Spying a cave in the cleft of a steep rocky hillside, he cast a stone into the dark interior and heard something shatter. Intrigued, he went to investigate with his cousin. After clambering up the cliff, they entered the cave and found a cache of large clay jars, some of which were shattered and some that were still intact, even with lids in place. Could these ancient jars hold treasure?
Excitedly the boys opened the jars, but to their great disappointment, most of the pots were empty, and the remaining few contained nothing but old leather scrolls wrapped in linen and blackened with age.
Thinking the old scrolls had little value, as the story goes, the Bedouins first considered using the scrolls as fuel for the fire. But they decided to sell the scrolls to a shopkeeper in Bethlehem. They even wanted to sell the leather scrolls to a bootmaker to replace the soles on shoes.
Eventually, it was found that the scrolls contained Biblical texts and other ancient religious writings. This initial discovery was momentous enough to arouse immediate universal interest that continues to this day. When the value of the scrolls became apparent, there was a scramble to investigate every cave in the region. Bedouins and scholars searched for more ancient scrolls.
The scrolls are known today as the Dead Sea Scrolls. They were part of an ancient library and belonged to a Jewish religious sect called the Essenes. They lived in a commune at Qumran along the shores of the Dead Sea about 2,000 years ago.
They spent their lives copying out the Scriptures, commentaries and other works by hand.
Their whole lives revolved around this work. They had copies of the Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament part of the Bible, and they spent their time carefully copying it out. But their communal life came to a sudden and dramatic end in 68AD when the Romans destroyed the settlement on their way to attack Jerusalem.
Those of the residents who did escape had enough time to hide the sacred scrolls they could not carry in the cliffside caves before they fled the Romans. They hoped that, when the Romans had gone, the scrolls could be rescued.
However, they didn’t live to return.
Some of the scrolls were lost in landslides or through dampness, but the majority remained hidden in the caves until the Bedouin and scholars discovered them.
As the experts pieced together and deciphered the scrolls, they discovered that most of the scrolls were Biblical manuscripts, copies of books of the Bible, the Hebrew Bible, also known as the Old Testament. All the books of the Old Testament were discovered at Qumran, except for Esther.
And here’s what’s truly unique. When these ancient scrolls were compared with the words of our Bibles today, they were found to be virtually identical. Do you see what this means? It means that we can know that our Bible today is nearly the same as when it came from the hands of the prophets. You can trust the Bible. The Dead Sea Scrolls allow us to be sure that our Bible has been miraculously preserved down through the ages.
And more importantly, in this age of modern scientific discovery, it challenges us to consider the Bible and its claims seriously. The Bible claims to be special and unique. It claims to be God’s Word. It claims to contain vital information for us today. It claims to hold the key to true inner peace and happiness. Why not make a decision to check it out, to give it a try?