Dead Sea Scrolls Q and A


What are the Dead Sea Scrolls?

The Dead Sea Scrolls are ancient manuscripts that were discovered between 1947 and 1956 in 11 caves near Khirbet Qumran, on the northwestern shores of the Dead Sea in Israel.

How old are the Dead Sea Scrolls?

The Dead Sea Scrolls date from the 3rd century before the common era (BCE) to the 1st century of the common era (CE). The scrolls contain some of the oldest-known copies of biblical books, as well as hymns, prayers, and other important writings.

How many scrolls were found?

Over 100,000 fragments of text were discovered, and scholars have pieced these together into over 900 separate documents.

What is the significance of the Dead Sea Scrolls?

The Dead Sea Scrolls are widely acknowledged to be among the greatest archaeological treasures linking us to the ancient Middle East, and to the formative years of Judaism and Christianity. Over 200 biblical manuscripts are more than a thousand years older than any previously known copies of the Hebrew Bible. In addition, there are scrolls that appear to represent a distinct form of Judaism that did not survive the Roman destruction of the second Temple in 70 CE. These "sectarian scrolls" reveal a fascinating stage of transition between the ancient religion of the Bible and Rabbinic Judaism, as well as the faith that would become the world's largest, Christianity. Both of these traditions, in turn, influence Islam.

How do the scrolls relate to the Koran?

Many Westerners are not aware of the many ways in which the Koran is influenced by the Hebrew Bible and the Christian New Testament. The Koran does not borrow from these scriptures, however, it does contain some of the same history, most notably from the Torah (the first five books of the Hebrew Bible). Those familiar with these biblical books will recognize figures in the Koran such as Abraham, Moses, Lot, Noah and others. The scrolls are important to Islam because they contain the earliest-known text of part of their history, as well as the history of Jews and Christians.

What material are Dead Sea Scrolls made of?

The majority of the scrolls are written on leather parchment, but there are also some texts written on papyrus (reed paper). One scroll, known as the Copper Scroll is inscribed upon copper.

In what languages have the Dead Sea Scrolls been written?

The majority of the scrolls are written in Hebrew; there are also texts in Aramaic and in Greek.

Who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls?

Most scholars believe the scrolls were created by the Essene sect, a group of Jews who broke away from mainstream Judaism to live a communal life in the desert. When the Romans invaded their community around 68 CE, the Essenes hid the manuscripts in nearby caves. The ruins of Qumran, near the base of the caves, are believed by many to be the communal quarters of the Essenes. However, some scholars believe the Essenes were not the only authors of the scrolls; they assume that some of the manuscripts were written in Jerusalem and later deposited in the caves at Qumran when the Romans threatened Jerusalem.

What kind of texts are the Dead Sea Scrolls?

The manuscripts fall into three major categories: biblical, apocryphal, and sectarian. The biblical manuscripts comprise some 200 copies of biblical books, representing the earliest evidence for the biblical text in the world. Among the apocryphal manuscripts (works that were not included in the biblical canon) are works that had previously been known only in translation, or that had not been known at all. The sectarian manuscripts reflect a wide variety of literary genres: biblical commentary, religious legal writings, liturgical (prayer) texts, and compositions that predict a coming apocalypse.

Where are the Dead Sea Scrolls now?

The majority of the scrolls are housed in Israel under the care and custody of the Israel Antiquities Authority (eight manuscripts at the Shrine of the Book and all others at the IAA State Collections). There are also some scrolls in Jordan and in Europe.

Are the scrolls coming to the SDNHM authentic Dead Sea Scrolls?

Yes. The Israel Antiquities Authority has approved the loan of these documents to the SDNHM. They are the same scrolls excavated from the caves surrounding Qumran in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

Why would Israel allow these scrolls outside of the country?

The Israel Antiquities Authority allows the scrolls to be exhibited in museums for a maximum of three months in order to make these important finds accessible to the public and in order to raise funds for the task of conserving the scrolls.

The San Diego exhibition is slated for six months. Will there be two sets of scrolls?

Yes. There will be a set of scrolls exhibited for the first three months of the show. These scrolls will be exchanged for an additional set for the last three months of the exhibition.

In addition to the Dead Sea Scrolls, what will the San Diego exhibition include?

The artifacts in the exhibition include actual fragments as well as numerous artifacts from the Dead Sea settlement of Qumran near the caves where the scrolls were discovered and from the same period (scroll jars, textiles, pottery, ancient coins, leather sandals, and an inkwell fully interpreted with large photographs and models of the settlement of Qumran).

How will the "science" of the Dead Sea Scrolls be incorporated into the exhibition?

The science of interpreting the scrolls will be fully presented including the use of infrared photography to enhance the appearance of the soiled and weathered texts; DNA analysis to match individual scroll fragments; multi-spectral imaging to read fragile rolled scrolls; chemical analysis of clay scroll jars to determine the location of the source of the clay; computer programs to match edges of torn scrolls; Carbon 14 dating to precisely date the scrolls; paleography to establish a chronology based on the evolution of styles of ancient handwritings; archaeology of nearby settlements of the same period; analysis of ancient human burials near Qumran; and the conservation and preservation of the scrolls.

How will the San Diego Natural History Museum enhance the content and scope of this exhibition?

The San Diego Natural History Museum will place the scrolls in the context of the geography and climate as well as the biological and geological diversity of the region, which is very similar to that of Southern California and Baja California.

What educational opportunities does this exhibition offer?

A complete education program is being planned to include lectures, films, classes, audio tours, and educational travel tours to Israel. A curriculum will be prepared for schools, synagogues, churches, mosques and homeschool students.

What will be the impact on San Diego tourism?

The Museum has set a target of 400,000 for attendance. The exhibition is timed to coincide with the 2007 conference of the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature which will be held in San Diego. This is the largest gathering of religion scholars in the world


Accessed 6/7/2007