new sensation: Dead Sea Scrolls
A Guest News Report
Source material: The blockbuster
papyrus that exposed Mary and shocked theologians - now available in 37
By Catherine Pepinster - Independent
25 November 2001
Publication of the Dead Sea Scrolls – 15,000 papyrus documents
discovered in the desert that have changed scholars' views on the Bible
– is finally being completed, after more than half a century of bitter
squabbling, censorship and academic controversy.
Fifty-four years after the first of them was found in a cave in Qumran,
on the north-western shore of the Dead Sea, publication of all the
scrolls and fragments has been completed in 37 volumes. All but two
have been published in scholarly editions, and those two are being
The scrolls are believed to have been written by a Jewish sect sometime
between 200BC and early in the 1st century AD, and the first were
rediscovered in a cave by a shepherd boy in 1947. The theory is that
they were hidden there in 68AD during the Jewish revolt against the
Romans. Others were found in nearby caves during the 1950s.
The completion of publication is a landmark for academics and for
Christians and Jews, whose most dearly held beliefs have been
challenged by the scrolls – including that of the Virgin birth of
Christ, which arose from the use of the word for virgin in early Greek
versions of the Bible.The scrolls reveal that this was a
mistranslation: the original Hebrew word used simply meant young woman.
Now the completion of the scrolls' publication coincides with an
admission by the Vatican that it is to revise parts of the Bible
accordingly, a task likely to take five years.
Academics and historians also have to revise their views. For years
academics fought one another for access, and until 1990 just eight
volumes had been published. But in 1991, after the Antiquities
Authority of Israel pledged to speed up publication, conservation and
restoration of the scrolls, work on the rest began.
Professor Geza Vermes, who has spent 50 years studying the scrolls,
said that completion of their publication was very important. "These
are the only texts of their kind which have survived in their original
form and language and geographical setting.
"They are texts which were written by the Jews for themselves, and
without them we would have to rely on the Greek versions of the Old
Testament. The originals had been lost. The Dead Sea Scrolls allow us
to jump back another 1,000 years to the original documents."
Professor Vermes, who has been director of Qumran research at the
Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies since 1991, added that
publication would not stop controversy but would lead to further debate
about the Bible. "We will see even more interpretation and
Experts have studied the scrolls and discovered much about the way the
Bible was written, including its discrepancies, contradictions and
repetitions. The first five books – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers
and Deuteronomy – were ascribed to the same writer, Moses, but they
have many inconsistencies. The scrolls include several different
editions of the books of Exodus and Numbers, and the Psalms. They
revealed that the Bible was not a rigidly fixed text, but was edited
and adjusted to make the text more relevant to its audience.
It was not only the religious significance of the work that the scrolls
questioned but also their historical truth, for they revealed that the
writers would have coloured their accounts with their prejudices too.
© Copyright 2001 Independent Digital
Originating Document at The M+G+R Foundation
The M+G+R Foundation
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