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Theosophical Encyclopedia

Dead Sea Scrolls

Biblical manuscripts found in caves near Qumran near the Dead Sea between 1947 and 1956. It is estimated that the scrolls dated from the third century BCE to about 68 CE, which made them one of the most valuable finds in biblical archaeology since they are now the oldest Old Testament (OT) manuscripts known. More than a thousand different documents were found, written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. Hidden in eleven limestone caves, the scrolls discovered may be classified into three general groupings:

(a) copies of all the books of the Hebrew Old Testament except for Esther;
(b) apocryphal books or fragments of Enoch, Jubilee, Sirach, Tobit, and some psalms;
(c) previously unknown documents that include:

  • rule book of a community that is believed to be identified with the Essenes;
  • commentaries on the Old Testament
  • liturgical texts
  • conduct in war
  • Psalms
  • paraphrases of OT books such as Leviticus

The Qumran Community. The manuscripts revealed the existence of a hitherto unknown community that lived in Qumran who were ascetic and separate from the mainstream Jewish religious community. They are led by an unnamed Teacher of Righteousness. Many scholars identify this community as an Essene group, but others disagree. It calls itself “Children of Light,” and dates back to the second century BCE during the time of the Maccabees, a Jewish priestly family that ruled Judea in the second and first centuries BCE. The community is believed to have been abandoned during the Roman invasion in 68 CE. Among the scrolls found in the Dead Sea was a Manual of Discipline regarding the communal life of the group, containing details about community procedures, way of life, beliefs, punishments of violators, etc.

V.H.C.

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