Note: In January 2011 my wife and I went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. This post is part of a series of blogs I have written to convey what I learned while on this life changing trip.
One afternoon we visited Qumran, which is the site where Bedouin shepherds discovered the Dead Sea scrolls by accident. The settlement of Qumran is less than a mile from the northwest edge of the Dead Sea, the lowest land on earth. According to the story it was in the winter of 1946–47 that Muhammed edh-Dhib and his cousin discovered the caves. They were throwing rocks at the caves because they were bored and they heard a crash when one of their rocks hit a clay jar in a cave. Though could not imagine why a clay pot would be in a cave, so they investigated and found the scrolls. Eventually they told someone and archeologists began to search in earnest for more scrolls. When all the searching was complete, 972 scrolls were discovered in 11 different caves in the area.
Scholars emphasize that “the texts are of great mystical and historical significance, as they include the oldest known surviving copies of the Bible as well as extra-biblical documents and preserve evidence of great diversity in late Second Temple Judaism. They are written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek, mostly on parchment, but with some written on papyrus. These manuscripts generally date between 150 BCE and 70 CE. The scrolls are traditionally identified with the ancient Jewish sect called the Essenes. The Essenes composed the scrolls and ultimately hid them in the nearby caves during the Jewish Revolt sometime between 66 and 68 CE.”
Scholars go on to say “the significance of the scrolls relates in a large part to the field of textual criticism and how accurately the Bible has been transcribed over time. Before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the oldest Hebrew manuscripts of the Bible were Masoretic texts dating to 10th century CE such as the Aleppo Codex. The biblical manuscripts found among the Dead Sea Scrolls push that date back a millennium to the 2nd century BCE.”
All that scholar talk simply means that these scrolls are important because they show that the Bible we have to today is the same Old Testament the Jews were using over 2200 years ago. Though it is common for people who are not Christians to claim that the Bible has been changed over time and is not reliable, the Dead Sea scrolls provide historical and scientific proof that the Bible has not been changed over time. It has been preserved by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Bible is more than a good book. It is more than just a collection of nice stories handed down orally through the ages. It is the Word of God. Because of this miraculous power of God to preserve His Word, we can be confident as we read the scriptures that God is still speaking through them to us today and the Bible is still relevant for today. Since the Bible is accurate after all, and still relevant for giving us direction in life, we must ask ourselves how well we are doing in reading and studying it. Those Essenes thought it was important enough to copy word for word on scrolls and hide them in caves so future generations could find them. Do we believe the Bible is important enough to read, study, memorize and mediate on?
I am reminded of what Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” Spend some time reading these ancient words today. They may be far more inspiring than we thought!