THE CENTURY OF MANUSCRIPT DISCOVERIES
The 20th century may be characterized as the "Century of Manuscript
Discoveries". From the Cairo Geniza to the more recent discovery of the Bar Kochba Letters which date to the time of the Second Jewish Revolt, scholars have access to an extraordinary amount of written sources.
THE DISCOVERY OF THE SCROLLS and THE MODERN STATE OF ISRAEL
A century of monumental manuscript discoveries began in 1897 with the discovery of the Cairo Geniza, a repository of 10th through 19th century manuscripts written mainly in Hebrew, Judeo-Arabic, and Aramaic. Two Scottish sisters, Agnes Lewis and Margaret Gibson, first stumbled upon the Genizah and they referred their find to Solomon Schecter, Doctor of Talmudic and Rabbinic literature at the University of Cambridge. The most famous of these texts include the 10th century versions of Ben Sira and a sectarian text known as the Damascus Document, which was attested also at Qumran fifty years
later. Nevertheless, despite the wealth of information which was brought to light by the Cairo Genizah, the most famous 20th century find is the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. This library of over 800 papyrus and parchment texts was
uncovered between 1947 and the late 1950s. The Scrolls' rather romantic and dramatic discovery by two Bedouin shepherds first caught the public through a series of articles written by Edmund Wilson and published in the New Yorker magazine in 1947.
The importance of the Scrolls was first realized on November 29, 1947, by the late Professor E. L. Sukenik, Professor of Archaeology at the Hebrew University. Of interest is the fact that this date corresponds with the vote by the United Nations to partition Palestine. Seven years later, a number of the better preserved Scrolls were purchased for the State of Israel and initially kept at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. During this time, the War of Independence of 1948 had caused a separation between Israel and Jordan and the Scrolls that were discovered subsequently were purchased
by the Jordanian Government and placed in the Rockefeller Museum in East Jerusalem. The vast majority of the material placed there was found to be extremely fragmentary.
After the Six Day War in 1967, Yigael Yadin--Sukenik's son--purchased the Temple Scroll for the State of Israel. Other fragments are housed in the United States, at the University of Chicago. Today, the Shrine of the Book at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem houses many of the larger Scrolls. The building itself is a representation of the jars in which the scrolls were found. Its architecture and design also visualize some of the important concepts found in the Scrolls and use white and black to conceptualize the war between the Sons of Light and Darkness.
WHAT ARE THE SCROLLS?
Most scholars agree that the Dead Sea Scrolls are the remains of a library that
belonged to an ancient Jewish sect, the Essenes. This community inhabited an arid
plateau on the northwest corner corner of the Dead Sea. Scrolls were deposited in caves
situated in the cliffs behind the community's central building. The site was
occupied by the Essenes from the late second century B.C.E. until the appearance
of the Romans in the year 68 C.E. Most of the manuscripts were written in Hebrew; however, Aramaic
and Greek are represented as well.
Most of the Scrolls are in extremely poor condition. The first international
team of scholars, assembled in cooperation with the Jordanian government, spent
years in the painstaking task of reconstructing texts based upon the analysis
of the scripts (paleography) and the identification of literary genres. The
international team began the publication of a number of Scrolls volumes.
In 1967, the Rockefeller Museum came under Israeli rule. However, during the
1960s and 70s, much had remained unpublished. As the original members of the
international team neared retirement age, the practice of passing manuscripts
on to students and colleagues for publication began. In 1991, as the result
of various developments, the international team was reconstituted with about
40 members, with Professor Emanuel Tov of the Hebrew University as its Editor-in Chief.
Nevertheless, the influence of the original publication team continued to affect
future scholars, since their unpublished comments and analyses on the Scrolls
fragments were considered by those future scholars who would later take over
the process of publication. During the early part of this decade, all photographs
of the Scrolls, both published and unpublished, were made available to scholars
and the general public. This development resulted in a growing stream of
The year 2001 saw the completion of the publication of the remaining Scrolls manuscripts
This spate of new publications (known as DJD volumes, short for the series published by Oxford,
"Discoveries in the Judaean Desert") has renewed interest in the Scrolls among
scholars and the general public. Conferences,
volumes of studies and exhibitions are taking place at a great rate. One of the
best examples is the major exhibit staged at the
of Congress now accessible online. That exhibition has been in New York, and is now in San Francisco. Major
conferences have been held recently in Jerusalem, Madrid, Groningen, Haifa, New
York and elsewhere. Clearly, the publication of the new material is making a major
impact on the scholarly world.
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE SCROLLS
The Dead Sea Scrolls were produced by Jews in Judea during a momentous time. They
contribute to our understanding of this time period, and represent broad aspects
of both ancient Judaism and early Christianity. From these texts, it is possible
to trace the development of the Hebrew language, to learn about the different
manuscript traditions, including knowledge of scribal practices in use by the
community. This data can enable a fairly accurate historical reconstruction of
this formative time period. This period was significant in the history of what
later developed into Rabbinic Judaism and the Scrolls are concurrent with the
origins of Christianity. With respect to the study of Second Temple Judaism,
the Dead Sea Scrolls are the single most important discovery of our time.
TODAY AND THE FUTURE
Today the study of Second Temple Judaism and especially, the Dead Sea Scrolls,
is rapidly growing at the Hebrew University. Programs of study exist at the undergraduate and graduate levels,
in English and in Hebrew. The establishment of the Orion Center for
the Study of the Dead Sea Scrolls
and Associated Literature is another manifestation of the extent of interest in
the Scrolls at the Hebrew University. With our unique focus on research resources
and outreach to the public, the future looks very exciting indeed!
The Orion Center for the Study of the Dead Sea Scrolls,
Mandel Institute of Jewish Studies,
Rabin World Center of Jewish Studies,
The Hebrew University, Mt. Scopus 91905, ISRAEL.