When the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1946, and gradually released to the public over the course of the next few decades, it provided valuable insight into the minds of those who wrote the Bible. The technical name for the Dead Sea Scrolls is the Qumran Cave Scrolls. The caves are located a little over a mile inland from the Dead Sea, in the area now called Israel’s West Bank. About 2,000 years ago, they were home to a group of Jewish conservatives called the Essenes, who sought to live a life that would keep them untainted from the outside world. Not wanting to socialize with the “liberals” in Jerusalem, they lived in the desert in order to purify themselves while they awaited the coming of the Messiah. No less a luminary than John the Baptist might have studied with them. The Gospels say he lived “in the desert” until he announced his presence by officiating at the most famous baptism of all time. He was certainly a tough, crusty, fanatic who would fit the part.
John the Baptist Preaching by Rembrandt (1634) ( Public Domain )
The Essenes’ Texts
The Essenes had amassed a library of scrolls and believed strongly that YHVH (these days translated as either THE LORD or Jehovah), the God of Light, was someday going to defeat the god of darkness — the being now called the Devil. Their theology was dualistic, no doubt derived from the time the Israelites spent in Persia, absorbing the dualism of Zoroastrianism. Many of the scrolls painted the world in shades of only right and wrong, white and black, light and dark.
In the year 70 AD, a little less than 40 years after Jesus had been crucified (which event, by the way, did not even register on the Essenes’ radar), Titus and the Roman legions burned Jerusalem to the ground. Their intent was to retaliate against the Jewish establishment, who refused to honor the Roman emperor in what the Romans thought was the proper fashion. The Essenes were not concerned about their own deaths. They were willing to become martyrs for their cause. As far as they were concerned, whatever happened to them was a fulfillment of prophecy. But they did not want their library destroyed. So they carefully placed the scrolls in clay jars and hid them in caves way up in the mountains. There the forgotten texts sat undisturbed until 1946, when a Bedouin boy discovered some of them while searching for lost sheep.
Top Image : The four evangelists by Peter Paul Rubens. Sanssouci Picture Gallery. (1614) ( Public Domain )
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Jim Willis is author of nine books on religion and spirituality, he has been an ordained minister for over forty years while working part-time as a carpenter, the host of his own drive-time radio show, an arts council director and adjunct college professor in the fields of World Religions and Instrumental Music. He is author of Censoring God: The History of the Lost Books (and other Excluded Scriptures)