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The Dead Sea Scrolls


In 1947, inside eleven inaccessible caves near the ruins of Qumran (more exactly Khirbet Qumran) in the West Bank were discovered hand-rolled scrolls. Initially attributed to the Essenes, these scrolls continue today to raise many questions.

The looted library

It was a young Bedouin who, in 1947, discovered the first jar containing extremely well preserved leather scrolls. More than six months passed between this discovery and the thorough analysis of the scrolls that the jar contained. In fact, at first the young Bedouin tried to sell the leather scrolls, then came the war with Egypt (1947-1949) which further delayed the analysis of these documents by university specialists from Jerusalem.

When in January 1948 researchers finally identified one of these scrolls as the Book of the prophet Isaiah, they then tried to locate the cave from which it came. When they did, however, it was clear that they had been looted. In view of the remains, it was nevertheless estimated that it originally contained between two hundred and two hundred and fifty scrolls. Ten other caves were later found, also housing other manuscripts and fragments. At first, archaeologists related the biblical content of the first scrolls analyzed with the proximity of the remains of the convent of Qumran, described by the learned Pliny the Elder (24-69 AD) as the seat of a colony of Essenes.

Disturbing discoveries

It is known today that the approximately eight hundred manuscripts found at Qumran are the work of five hundred different copyists. The writing of the Dead Sea Scrolls, written in Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, and Nabataean, are likely to have been from somewhere in the third century BC to the 1st century AD. This discovery triggered a new round of excavations at the Qumran site and sparked further discussion. Indeed, the unusual number of copyists and the age of some of these manuscripts led archaeologists to question the extent of the convent.


Roman coins discovered during excavations made it possible to date the destruction of the convent; this one would go back to the Jewish uprising which took place between 66 and 67 AD. On the site of the cloister, there was also a meeting room containing hundreds of vases and clay pots, a grain mill, a pottery workshop and tanks that were connected with the ablutions practiced by the Essenes. This convent included, in addition, a refectory and a scriptorium, that is to say a room where one wrote or copied the scrolls. On the other hand, research did not reveal any room or private use, which led researchers to conclude that the inhabitants of this convent were retiring for the night in the caves.

However, some discoveries proved to be inconsistent with the image of a retired community living in asceticism. Some deduced that Qumran was, in fact, a ceramic factory or even a village. Relying on the unusual number of languages ​​and manuscripts discovered, others also imagined that copies of scrolls were made on order. Finally, according to other theories, there is no connection between the scrolls and the remains of the convent. Dead Sea Scrolls are some of the most valuable manuscripts ever discovered and still have many mysteries. The work of deciphering the scrolls is still going on. However, it seems unlikely today that they can tell us more about their past.


The Essenes (Aramaic, which means "the stakes") formed between about 150 BC a Jewish religious sect, similar to future monastic orders.

Established apart from other members of the Jewish community, the Essenes preached chastity and destitution and observed very strict rules regarding the hierarchy and the course of daily life. They probably did not form a homogeneous group, but consisted of several subgroups that admitted different interpretations of faith.