What are the Dead Sea Scrolls?

The Dead Sea Scrolls are a collection of fragments of Hebrew manuscripts, dated between the first and second centuries B.C., which were discovered in 1947 in a cave near the Dead Sea in Jordan, just south of Jericho and east of Jerusalem, in an area known as Qumran. Later searches discovered two oxidized copper scrolls, various Roman coins and arrowheads, and a large cemetery. The people who lived there and who supposedly wrote the scrolls, the Essenes, were a sect of Jewish priests.

It is speculated that either Jesus or John the Baptist may have been members of this sect some time in their upbringing and training -- although Jesus grew up in Nazareth in northern Israel (Matthew 2:19-23, Luke 4:51-52) and didn't come down to this particular region until his ministry began (Matthew 3:13, Mark 1:9). John the Baptist, however, was born to a Jewish priest (Luke 1:1-25), in a town in Judea (Luke 1:39), and may have grew up near the area (Luke 1:80, 3:3). Based on a lack of clear Biblical detail, however, this remains speculation.

According to these scroll fragments, the cave dwellers were called the "Community of the Covenant," now believed to be the Jewish sect of the Essenes who renounced riches and pleasure, shared their belongings, and lived lives of temperance, chasitiy, and self-control. Unlike the Pharisees, the Essenes practiced brotherly love, humility, and modesty, along with upholding the Law. Unlike the Saducees, they believed that the souls of the Sons of Light survived to enjoy eternal felicity, while the souls of the Sons of the Dark would suffer eternal pain. They also looked forward to the coming of the Messiah, participated in baptismal washings, and shared in sacred, communal meals.

Among the texts were found Biblical manuscripts (such as the Isaiah scrolls, containing an accurate copy of the Book of Isaiah), Apocryphal writings, and indications of the religious thoughts and ideals of the time. The Old Testament scrolls found there predated the oldest copies in existence (A.D. 1008) by nearly 1,000 years. The text themselves, deemed reliable in translation, have yet to be fully studied and disclosed, but they have served thus far as a historical reference for Judaism, as well as proof of the accuracy of Jewish copies of the Old Testament.

        "All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the Lord blows on them. Surely the people are grass. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever." (Isaiah 40:6-8)