The Dead Sea Scrolls: Discovery and Decipherment

Gary A. Rendsburg / Rutgers University

Discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls

In 1947, a Bedouin shepherd lad was searching for a lost goat near Qumran, an isolated location near the shore of the Dead Sea, when he stumbled upon one of the most remarkable archaeological finds of the 20th century: seven ancient Hebrew manuscripts housed in pottery vessels and stored inside a cave. These precious documents led scholars to explore other caves in the area — an effort which eventually yielded 800+ documents, now known collectively as the Dead Sea Scrolls. The decipherment and study of these ancient documents has led to nothing less than a revolution in our understanding of ancient Judaism, earliest Christianity, and the relationship between the two religious movements.

Why is the Discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls Important?

In this lecture, Professor Rendsburg will present the remarkable story of the initial finds, the explorations of the caves, the excavations at Qumran, and the progress of scholarly work during the past 70-plus years. By examining the key documents themselves, he will uncover the salient features of the Essene community which composed these texts during the last few centuries B.C.E. and the first century C.E. – with a special focus on their unique theological positions, their atypical social and religious practices, their relationship to other Jewish groups at the time, and their connections to early Christianity.

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