How were the Dead Sea Scrolls found

Qumran and the OT


On the western shore of the Dead Sea, south of Jericho and north of En-Gedi, lies a chirbe (hill of ruins), which the Bedouins of this area call Qumran. In 1947 a Bedouin boy found several leather scrolls in a cave near Qumran, which ended up in the antique trade and then in the hands of Israeli researchers. It soon became clear that the texts had to be extremely old. From 1951 to 1958 there were (in addition to the ongoing search by the Bedouins) several scientific investigations in the area of ​​Qumran, during which the texts and fragments, which had been highly controversial in recent years, were recovered in a total of 11 caves.


A total of about 900 manuscripts were found in the area around Qumran, but they have been preserved in very different ways. Some scrolls are in such good condition that they can be considered almost complete; of others, only fragments the size of postage stamps have survived. Decisive for the different state of preservation was the material of the manuscript (leather or papyrus), the storage location and sometimes the packaging (clay jug, cloth bag).

In modern research, a specific reference system for naming the roles has become established: First, the cave from which the manuscript originates is named, followed by a 'Q' for Qumran as the location, followed by a brief description of the content or the find number. A Roman number can then denote the column, an Arabic number the line. 1QpHab VIII, 1 refers to the 1st line of the 8th column of the writing päschär Habakuk (= commentary on the book Habakuk) from cave 1.


The majority of the large, well-preserved scrolls were published very quickly after they were found, deciphered and processed. An international research team was responsible for this; its own series of publications, Discoveries in the Judaean Desert (DJD), was founded. In the following years, however, the publication process stalled. Various factors were responsible for this: Difficulties in deciphering and assigning the fragments, the dwindling financial support for the project and personal problems of the researchers, but by no means any kind of influence of the Roman Church. After global protests, the entire publication process was reorganized at the beginning of the 1990s, so that official publication in the DJD volumes has now been completed.


Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek texts dating from the 2nd century BC have been found in Qumran. until approx. 68 AD come. Some texts may be even older. According to the current majority opinion, a group was responsible for the collection of these texts. separated from the temple church in Jerusalem. It is likely that this group is mentioned by various ancient authors, especially Pliny and Josephus, under the name of Essenes.
At the moment, however, the thesis that the ruins in Qumran have nothing to do with the roles found nearby is also being intensively discussed. For example, the settlement was used for perfume production or as an estate. The writings, however, came from Jerusalem and were hidden in the caves by the Dead Sea during the time of the Jewish uprising against the Romans. However, this thesis leaves so many questions unanswered that the previous consideration is more plausible, according to which the scrolls were kept by the people living in Qumran and were in part also written. In contrast, the archaeological evidence is quite clear, according to which the settlement in Qumran around 100 BC. built and then destroyed by the Romans in 68 AD.

Bible manuscripts

The scriptures that have been preserved are of very different character. The most important group for Old Testament science is that of the Bible manuscripts. There are copies or fragments of all biblical books (with the possible exception of Esther). This means that research is provided with texts that are 1000 years older than the previously fundamental Hebrew Bible manuscripts of the Masoretes. The picture obtained through these manuscripts is surprising: On the one hand, there are texts that have practically the same text form as the more recent Masoretic text. This shows how exactly the Jewish text traders worked in the Middle Ages. On the other hand, there are also text forms that are close to the Greek translation, the Septuagint. Texts from Qumran confirm the shorter text of the Book of Jeremiah, which is otherwise only preserved in the LXX. Other biblical texts are close to the Samaritan tradition or have no recognizable model. From this it can be concluded that there was no binding text form of biblical writings in Judaism at that time. The Masoretic Text, which is decisive for us today, was only established as a standard text in the course of a certain development in the second century. So it is not necessarily the oldest or most reliable text in all cases.

Canon question

In addition, there is another fact: the community of the Essenes evidently also considered books to be binding that were not included in the later canon. (This also applies to the New Testament church, see above). On the other hand, other writings that were declared canonical by later rabbinical Judaism were not treated with this authority. This leads to the question whether the use of the term "canon" should not be avoided altogether for this period. It seems as if individual groups within Judaism of that time were able to put together their own collection of scrolls of holy scriptures. Apart from the Torah, there was no generally binding Bible. In addition, even if different groups cherished the same book, the text form could be very different in both groups. It also follows from this that there was no uniform Judaism, which is so often assumed in research.

Non-Biblical Scriptures

The non-biblical writings found in Qumran have also significantly enriched the knowledge. It should be noted that it is often not clear whether the writing in question comes from Qumran itself and was in some way relevant there, or whether it was only kept there in the "library" for study. The texts that were certainly written by Essenes provide information about the life of the group (such as the writing 1QS, the so-called sect rule, and CD, the Damascus writing), their end times expectation (1 / 4QM, the war role) or their Bible exegesis (1QpHab, see above) .

Other scriptures reveal ideas that further develop well-known Old Testament traditions: A differentiation of the angel teaching, which is also tangible in the Book of Daniel, can be recorded: According to the book of the Sabbath Sacrifice Liturgy (4Q400-407 + 11Q5-6), the angels perform one in heaven Worship service, which is considered a model for earthly worship. The temple scroll (11QT) corrects the Deuteronomic law in some places and was possibly intended as an addition to the Torah. Many other texts interpret biblical books or only individual biblical passages, such as the Aramaic Genesis Apocryphon (1QApGen) or the book of giants based on Gen 6: 1-4 (2Q26 + 4Q203). With the knowledge of these texts, essential gaps in understanding of the traditional process from the Old to the New Testament are closed. This is especially true for the further development of messianic and eschatological-apocalyptic ideas.


It should be noted that the Qumran findings bring essential new insights to Old Testament science. This is especially true for the late period of the Old Testament, for questions of text transmission and the formation of traditions in the inter-testament period. Due to the abundance of details, however, the picture has become more confusing, so that the questions raised by Qumran are still not adequately discussed.


Text output:
F. García Martínez, E.J.C. Tigchelaar (Eds.), The Dead Sea Scrolls. Study Edition, Vol. I, 1997; Vol II, 1998 (hebr./aram–engl.).
J. Maier, Die Qumran-Essener: The Texts from the Dead Sea, Volume I – III, 1995-1996 (only German translation)

Overview displays:
H. Stegemann, The Essenes, Qumran, John the Baptist and Jesus. A non-fiction book, 71998.
Davies, P.R., Brooke, G.J. et al., Qumran. The Dead Sea Scrolls, 2002.
Y. Hirschfeld, Qumran - the whole truth. The archeology finds reassessed, 2006.

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Electronic Bible Studies

The texts on this page are taken from:

Old testament

Rösel, Martin: Biblical studies of the Old Testament. The canonical and apocryphal scriptures. With learning overviews by Dirk Schwiderski, Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 10., veränd. Edition 2018.