Dead Sea Scroll 11Q14, from 20-50 CE. Image Source: Donald Nausbaum via Time.
A set of talks on the Dead Sea Scrolls on tonight at the Jewish Museum London reminded me that I intended to do a post about the fact that the scrolls are slowly becoming available online, with translations, here. The scrolls site came online on 25 September 2011 with the help of Google. The scrolls date from 150 BCE to 70 CE and are the oldest known documents with sections from the Old Testament. They also contain apocryphal texts - Enoch, Jubilees, Tobit, Sirach - that were not included in the Hebrew Bible. They are written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek and were discovered in caves on the northwest shore of the Dead Sea in the 1940s and 1950s. They were found by a Bedouin tribesman who sold three of the scrolls to a small antiques dealer for 7 Pounds Sterling. After a series of adventures that only Indiana Jones could duplicate, the scrolls arrived in 1954 at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York to be auctioned.
Among other things, the scrolls talk about the End of Times and the final battle between good and evil. They seem to offer two versions of that event - a male version, and a female version. And now, through the wonders of modern technology, you can see the scrolls and read those stories for yourself.
The scrolls include the Book of Mysteries (also known as the The Secret of the Way Things Are and the Sapiential Work Scroll), a lost book of the Bible, which councils the reader on the secret mysteries of life as unveiled through revelation, not reason. It's kind of a self-help scroll from the first century BCE. It also refers to the End of Times, as do the other scrolls, and the predestined rift between good and evil. Yet the vision of the end of the world is not symbolized here by a great war, but by a sea change in perspective and understanding - a triumph of wisdom and the better parts of our nature. Also unlike the other scrolls, it is unusually addressed to a female audience: "The end time described by the [scroll] author does not manifest itself in the normal culmination of a battle, judgment, or catastrophe, but rather as 'a steady increase of light, [through which] darkness is made to disappear or in which iniquity dissolves and just as the smoke rising into the air eventually dissipates' ... There is no mention of angels, or YHWH's coming, or resurrection of the wise, or any of the typical Messianic language that we usually associate with Judeo-Christian eschatological texts. It simply argues for a change in focus from folly to wisdom, and therefore righteousness."
The masculine side to the conflict, if you will, the War Scroll, refers to the final battle between good and evil, which lasts for forty years; the scroll is additionally a combat manual on the conduct of war. It is also called the War of the Sons of Light Against the Sons of Darkness: "The war is first described as an attack by the Sons of Light, consisting of the sons of Levi, the sons of Judah, and the sons of Benjamin, and the exiled of the desert, against Edom, Moab, the sons of Ammon, the Amalekites, Philistia, and the Kittim of Asshur (referred to as the army of Belial), and [those who assist them from among the wicked] who 'violate the covenant.' In the end, all of Darkness is to be destroyed and Light will live in peace for all eternity. The war is then described again as a conflict between the congregation of God and the congregation of men."
And on a related note, a 22 November report from the Daily Mail suggests that some researchers have just theorized that the Essenes may have been the authors of the scrolls (see other reports here, here and here).
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