The recent decoding of a cryptic cup, the excavation of ancient Jerusalem tunnels, and other archaeological detective work may help solve one of the great biblical mysteries: Who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls?
The new clues hint that the scrolls, which include some of the oldest known biblical documents, may have been the textual treasures of several groups, hidden away during wartime—and may even be “the great treasure from the Jerusalem Temple,” which held the Ark of the Covenant, according to the Bible.
The Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered more than 60 years ago in seaside caves near an ancient settlement called Qumran. The conventional wisdom is that a breakaway Jewish sect called the Essenes—thought to have occupied Qumran during the first centuries B.C. and A.D.—wrote all the parchment and papyrus scrolls.
But new research suggests many of the Dead Sea Scrolls originated elsewhere and were written by multiple Jewish groups, some fleeing the circa-A.D. 70 Roman siege that destroyed the legendary Temple in Jerusalem.
“Jews wrote the Scrolls, but it may not have been just one specific group. It could have been groups of different Jews,” said Robert Cargill, an archaeologist who appears in the documentary Writing the Dead Sea Scrolls, which airs Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET/PT on the National Geographic Channel. (The National Geographic Channel is part-owned by the National Geographic Society, which owns National Geographic News.) …
Dead Sea Scrolls Written by Ritual Bathers?
In 1953, a French archaeologist and Catholic priest named Roland de Vaux led an international team to study the mostly Hebrew scrolls, which a Bedouin shepherd had discovered in 1947.
De Vaux concluded that the scrolls’ authors had lived in Qumran, because the 11 scroll caves are close to the site.
Ancient Jewish historians had noted the presence of Essenes in the Dead Sea region, and de Vaux argued Qumran was one of their communities after his team uncovered numerous remains of pools that he believed to be Jewish ritual baths.
His theory appeared to be supported by the Dead Sea Scrolls themselves, some of which contained guidelines for communal living that matched ancient descriptions of Essene customs.
“The scrolls describe communal dining and ritual bathing instructions consistent with Qumran’s archaeology,” explained Cargill, of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). …