The Historian and the Dead Sea Scrolls

The importance of these much-debated scrolls is here interpreted by Cecil Rothin the light of the events that took place during the first-century Jewish Revolt against the power of Rome.

Probably no recent archaeological discovery has attracted such general attention as the finding some thirteen years back, in caves near the Dead Sea, of the first of what today are generally known as the Dead Sea Scrolls. We may reduce the issues to the very simplest terms. The earliest manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible hitherto known dated from about the year 900; we were now confronted with texts of a great part of it that are something like a thousand years older. (We may overlook the querulous voice of perpetual opposition which dismisses the documents as “medieval forgeries”.)

Moreover, we formerly knew Palestinian Jewish history at the time only, or almost only, from the highly partisan writings of Josephus and incidental details in the New Testament; now a whole corpus of Hebrew literature dating to this period suddenly became available.

As was obvious from the first glance, it was a literature that expressed the doctrines, teachings and experience of a body of Jews who did not belong to the main stream of Pharisaic and later Rabbinic Judaism; but the nature and leadership of the Sect in question remained obscure. The key seems to be given by a number of historic references in one of the first of the books to be discovered and published—a sort of running commentary on the Biblical Book of Habakkuk, emphasizing the contemporary relevance of the prophecies comprised in it; these references being echoed in other documents or fragments among the new finds.

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