Why are the Dead Sea Scrolls important?

The Dead Sea Scrolls are a large number of manuscripts which have been
found in a series of caves in the general area site of the ruins of the
desert community of Qumran. Qumran was a settlement in the steep and arid
hills at the Northwest end of the Dead Sea. Although there is some
argument from scholars, most believe that Qumran was a community of
Essenes, an ascetic sect of Jews who were waiting for the Messiah and who
had rejected the priesthood in Jerusalem. It is believed that at least
partly due to the upheavals at the time of the destruction of Jerusalem in
AD 70, these manuscripts were carried to a number of caves in the general
area of Qumran and eventually abandoned there.

The “scrolls” are a number of complete scrolls as well as many fragments
and even some manuscripts on copper and other materials. They contain many
of the writings of the Essenes and other Jewish sects, including a number
of apocalyptic and theological treatises. Most significantly for
Christians, the scrolls include a large number of fragments and even some
complete scrolls of Old Testament. This is very significant because before
the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the oldest known manuscripts of the
Old Testament in Hebrew were from AD 900 and later. The oldest complete
manuscript was the Leningrad Old Testament manuscript form the eleventh

The Dead Sea Scrolls are manuscripts from about 250BC to around AD 50.
This moves the oldest manuscripts of the Old Testament back over one
thousand years, spanning as much as two-thirds of the time from when some
of the books were written and the oldest previous available manuscript.

In general, the Dead Sea Scrolls are very similar to the Masoretic Text,
which is the oldest previously available text. In most cases in which they
differ from the Masoretic Text, they bear similarity to the Septuagint, a
Greek translation of the Old Testament which was done in the third and
second centuries BC.

The significance of the Dead Sea Scrolls is that they provide strong
support for the belief that our present text of the Hebrew Old Testament
is very similar to the original writings, giving us even greater
confidence that we have the very words of God. For further reading go to
the article A Remarkable Collection in the article section of the web site.

John Oakes, PhD

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