This year marks the 75th anniversary of the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
“Most of the Christian world, it seems to me, has heard of these famous pre-Christian scrolls, discovered in the Judean desert. But the story of their discovery and release is actually more dramatic and interesting than most Christians seem to be aware,” said Mark Ward, editor of Bible Study Magazine, which dedicated space to the anniversary in the January-February 2022 issue.
The story many people learned says that in 1946, a shepherd boy searching for a lost animal threw a rock into a cave in the Qumran. Instead of a goat, he heard pottery breaking. Inside of that pottery were ancient scrolls.
Those scrolls turned out to be ancient copies of the Hebrew Bible from before the New Testament era.
The shepherds sold the scrolls to antiquities dealers, who in turn sold them to an archbishop and a professor in Jerusalem.
Later, British archaeologists discovered more caves with scrolls in the area. Beyond that, most people didn’t know much about the scrolls.
A handful of scholars began to study the scrolls, but they remained rather unknown until some scrolls were advertised for sale in an ad in the Wall Street Journal.
Some scrolls or fragments were displayed, but only a few people had access to really study them. The scholars created a concordance of the scrolls by the mid 1950s. However, that concordance was kept secret.
A concordance is a list of words in a work — often the Bible — and where the passages are found in the work.
During this time, the scrolls were being photographed and sent to certain scholars. The same was true for the concordance.
Through those first decades, the public didn’t know much about the scrolls beyond their existence and that they were aiding Bible research. But in the mid 1980s, that began to change. Some of that change came from a man named Marty Abegg, Bible Study Magazine said. Abegg learned of the concordance and eventually was given access to it. However, he was not given access to some of the other scrolls that would aid his research.
The magazine said Abegg eventually realized he could recreate those scrolls using the concordance’s information. He also recreated some of the scrolls his academic adviser needed and couldn’t get. Eventually, Abegg was able to get his recreations published.
And in 1991, the doors opened for the public and many other people to start studying the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Why are the Dead Sea Scrolls so significant to us?
Before their discovery, the oldest existing complete version of the Hebrew Bible was from the year 1008, long after Jesus walked the earth. The Dead Sea Scrolls are from 250 BC to AD 68.
Scholars found much of the Hebrew Bible was close to what was in the 1008 version and the minor differences didn’t change meanings. However, some passages were added or omitted in the newer versions. If you read newer English translations of the Bible, you may find notes that point out that certain passages aren’t in older translations. The Dead Sea Scrolls led to a lot of that.
Bible Study Magazine shares several passages with the newer, different translations that emerge from using the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Among them is Psalm 139:14, which in the English Standard Version says, “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.”
In the International Standard Version, published in 2011, the verse reads, “I praise you, because you are fearful and wondrous! Your work is wonderful, and I am fully aware of it.”
Visit biblestudymagazine.com to see a detailed telling of Abegg’s story and to see more on how the scrolls and their history have affected Bible translation in the past 75 years.