Dead Sea Jigsaw -- By: Abraham Rabinovich

Journal: Bible and Spade (First Run)
Volume: BSP 08:4 (Autumn 1979)
Article: Dead Sea Jigsaw
Author: Abraham Rabinovich


Dead Sea Jigsaw

Abraham Rabinovich

Keen-eyed Beduin watching bats flying in and out of a hillside with no apparent opening. A shrewd Syrian antiquities dealer taking tea in a garden and measuring over the top of his cup the eagerness behind the expression of mild interest worn by his Western hosts. Scholars in the cool silence of a scrollery, eyeing for the first time the fragments that will change the way much of mankind views its religious heritage.

The story of the Dead Sea Scrolls is one of the most exciting modern times have to offer and much of it is still unfolding. Scholars have not yet fully absorbed or even completely deciphered the libraries uncovered in the dust of the Dead Sea caves; and there is a belief in some informed circles that some major scrolls may still be in the hands of Beduin or dealers.

The scholarly focal point in Jerusalem now is not the Shrine of the Book, where the Israel Museum’s scrolls are displayed, but the Rockefeller Museum, where an international team of scholars is painstakingly editing those scrolls that have still not been published.

They have been at their labors for 27 years now and are preparing young scholars to succeed them in their task if necessary. Last year, the sixth volume of edited scrolls from the Rockefeller was published and there are twice as many yet to be completed.

Such is the richness of the material, that an entire new field of scholarship is being opened. Even more significant is the impact the scrolls are expected to have — perhaps not in this generation — on Jewish-Christian relations.

The First Scrolls

The tale of the first scrolls has been told often. In 1947, a Beduin youth threw a stone into a cave on the cliff face at Qumran, about a kilometer from the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea, and heard the sound of breaking pottery. He returned with a friend to find some cylindrical jars containing a leathery substance of apparent antiquity. The leather was inscribed with what they took to be some kind of writing.

Members of the Ta’amara tribe, to which the youths belonged, took the rolls of leather to Bethlehem, which served them as a trading center, and showed them to two small merchants they had dealings with. One was an Arab antiquities dealer. The other was a Syrian Christian named Kando, who had a cobbler’s shop and a general store. According to one version, the Beduin thought Kando might use the leather for shoe repairs.

There were seven scrolls in all. Three of them were acquired for the Hebrew University by Professor Eliezer Sukenik, who, at great personal risk, travelled to Bethlehem ab...

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