The Qumran manuscripts


The discovery of the Qumran manuscripts, locations on the western shores of the Dead Sea, It is undoubtedly one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of our century.

In 1947 - the shores of the Dead Sea were then under the English protectorate, as well as the old city of Jerusalem – Mohamad ed-Dhib, a Bedouin from the Ta'amireh tribe, he was looking for a lost goat when the noise caused by a stone thrown into a cave in order to make the animal bleat to find it, it warned him of the presence of broken shards. He later returned to the scene with his cousin, he went down into the cave and found several jars, some of which are sealed. In them there were manuscript scrolls. They brought one to an antiquarian of the Syro-Jacobite Church, nicknamed Kando which took him to the Metropolitan of his Church Mar Athanasius Yeshue Samuel. It was only the beginning of a series of exceptional finds.

As it loomed, at the next departure of the British the first Arab-Israeli war of 1948-1949, the metropolitan managed to buy from the other Bedouins 5 rolls, while another Bedouin sold one to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Above all, Mar Athanasius managed to have the place of the discovery revealed and to send Kando for an inspection., after having unsuccessfully turned to Syria and Lebanon, he consulted three manuscripts to prof. E.L. Sukenik who understood the importance of the discovery. They were the scrolls that will later be called “Isaiah B”, “The scroll of war” and the “Scroll of hymns”. The Metropolitan brought other scrolls to the ASOR (American School of Oriental Research), saying that he had found them in the monastery library. Were “Isaiah A”, “The comment to Habakkuk”, “The community rule” ea “Apocryphal of Genesis”. The 14 in May the British left Palestine, the 15 the State of Israel was declared and war broke out. The Metropolitan had the manuscripts brought safely to America e, for a while', no one heard of it anymore, until a sale ad appeared in the Wall Street Journal in New York, the 1 June 1954. Prof Y. Yadin, Israeli archaeologist, son of Sukenik, was in the US for a conference e, advised by a friend of the fact, hurried to buy them for 250.000 dollars. It was the first group of texts of the “Book Museum” of Jerusalem.

In the meantime, careful searches had been made in all the caves that were now in Jordanian territory and all the texts found later were instead gathered in the museum on the other side of the border, where the Dominicans of the Ecole Biblique in Jerusalem also began to study them. After the war of 1967 everything fell into the hands of the Israelis and the manuscripts were assembled in “Book Museum”.

Now all the documents, even the tiny fragments, are available in microfilm, for all scholars. E’ a legend that wants some texts to be still hidden by who knows what political or religious authority. Some smaller fragments have not yet been deciphered, for the difficulty of putting the texts together. They may still have some surprises in store for us.

The Qumran community

There is now substantial agreement among scholars that the Qumran community belongs to the larger religious group of the Essenes., one of the three main groups of New Testament Judaism, as Flavius ​​Joseph testifies. The other two groups are also well known from rabbinic and New Testament sources and are the Sadducees and the Pharisees..

“Esseni” it is a term preserved in the Greek of Flavius ​​Josephus. Designates the descendants of the Assyrians (O “Hassidim” , i “Pii”), after the schism that occurred in the movement in 152 to.C. It derives from’ Aramaic “hassaya” (pl. “encounter”), ” and Pii” . This nickname was probably given to them by the Pharisees. The Essenes had even stricter rules of conduct than the Pharisees, accentuating the legalistic aspect.

The community of Qumran had thus chosen to live far not only from the influences of Hellenism and paganism, but also from the official Judaism of Jerusalem, that of priests, of the Sadducees and Pharisees, which he believed was not in conformity with the Torah and the divine will. Indeed, the texts testify to us that the community's vision of the future was marked by the expectation of a war, through which the cult of the Temple would finally be brought back to the desired purity.

The Qumran site was abandoned, around 68 D.C., during the first Jewish war, before the capitulation of Masada – which is not far from Qumran and, before the escape, the manuscripts in the possession of the community were carefully hidden in the surrounding caves probably in the hope of a future return. We know from Josephus that numerous Essenes were killed by the Romans.

The most bitter controversies that arose following the discovery of the Dead Sea texts, they concern their relations with the New Testament and early Christianity.

The hypotheses of those who wanted to find direct connections between the Essenes of Qumran and the first Christian communities, appear almost unfounded today. The name and figure of Jesus, eg, fundamental in the New Testament, it is never present in the Qumran manuscripts. But, mostly, the legalistic Qumranic approach and its messianic vision characterized by a curse of the children of light and preparing an armed confrontation with them appears antithetical to the New Testament. The finding of concrete differences, as well as general considerations of a historical-religious nature thus prevent admitting a direct derivation of Christianity from the community of Qumran or from the other Jewish sects present in Palestine in the New Testament era.

The Qumran manuscripts

The Qumran manuscripts have been preserved, some of these almost intact, for about two millennia, due to the’ absence of humidity . The eleven caves of Qumran have provided us with the remains of approx 800 fragments (then cataloged with a number of which the first number indicates the cave, is.: 4Q = fourth cave), dated between the third century BC. and the 1st century AD. (the years of’ existence of the community ), written or copied in Qumran or taken to the shores of the Dead Sea from other places. They are generally written in Hebrew, but also in Aramaic, rarely in Greek.

The texts found in Qumran make us aware of the strongly legalistic approach of the Essene movement. We can see, in the so-called ” Damascus document” , which was already known for its discovery in 1896-1897 in ” gheniza” of the Ezra Synagogue in the old part of Cairo, but which was later found in ten manuscripts in the Qumran caves, dietary rules: ” As for the fish, do not eat them unless they have been opened alive and their blood shed. And all the locusts, according to their gender, they will be placed in fire or water when they are still alive or not, since this is the norm of their kind. And all the woods and stones and dust that are contaminated with impurities of the’ man, by contamination of oil in them, according to their uncleanness they will make those who touch them unclean. And every tool, nail or pin in the wall that is with a dead man in the house, it will be impure of the same impurity as the working tools” . Still in the same document we can read the very strict rules regarding Saturday: ” Nobody helps to give birth to an animal, the day of Saturday. And if he falls into a pit or a pit, don't pick him up, on Saturday. No one profane the Sabbath for wealth or gain, on Saturday ... And every living man who falls into a place of water or a place, no one pulls it up with a ladder, a rope or a tool. Nobody offers anything on the’ altar, on the Sabbath except the Sabbath sacrifice, because so it is written: only your Saturday offerings”. In addition to ” Damascus document” the famous one was found “Community rule “, which informs us about the hierarchical structure of the community and the rules for admission to it. We also own “The scroll of the Temple” which would seem to provide not so much a description of the practice of Judaism of the time, but rather the ritual that was believed to be observed in the sacrifices and liturgy of the Temple in Qumran. ” Scroll of War” which addresses the issue of the conflict of ” children of light” and gods “children of darkness”. Here is the beginning, which announces the war with the pagan peoples and with the’ Judaism not faithful to the Law: “And this is the book of the rule of war. L’ it will begin when the children of light start the attack against the party of the children of darkness, against the army of Belial, against Edom's militia, of Moab, of the sons of Ammon, against the Amalekites and the people of Philistia, against the militias of the Kittim of Assur, to whom those who act wickedly towards the covenant will come to their aid” . Famous for the curiosity it has aroused is the ” Copper roll” which was very difficult to open for’ oxidation of the copper from which it is made and which contains what appear to be indications of hidden treasures and coins, in any case, could not be found.

They are part of the Qumran manuscripts, at least in a fragmented state, all the books of the Hebrew Bible (“protocanonici”), except that of Esther (although other texts show that it was not unknown) as well as other apocryphal texts and writings concerning the doctrine of Qumran.

The best known is the famous 1QIsA (Roll A - since of Isaiah in Qumran there is also a second, more fragmentary copy called B - of the prophet Isaiah found in the cave 1). This great scroll of Isaiah, long almost 7,5 meters goes back more than 2.200 Years ago. Seventeen pieces of leather were sewn to form this roll. His 54 all columns are written 66 chapters of the prophet Isaiah. On the far left margin, you can recognize the seam between two pieces of leather. During rereading, the writer added the missing words, inserting them between the lines. When the place for correction was not enough, he continued to write in the margin down.

The text of 1QIsA is a consonant text, without the vocalization that will become usual only in the Middle Ages (but, still, in the synagogue reading, the Torah scrolls have no written vocalization). Its consonant text is absolutely the same as the one we know from the Masoretic Bible, whose oldest manuscripts in our possession date back to the 10th century AD. This confirms the seriousness of the scribal transmission of the sacred text.

A distinction - which is now common in scientific studies on the prophet and which helps to distinguish different authors and periods in the composition of the book – between a first, a second (Deuteroisaia) and a third Isaiah (tritoIsaia) it is not found in this roll, since the chapters 39 e 40 were copied to the same piece of leather. The same goes for the chapters 55 e 56. The scroll is written practically in one go. A notable three-line gap, it is found only at the end of Isaiah 33 - that is, exactly in the center of the roll. It seems that two writers shared the task of transcribing the text.

E’, But, It is important to note that significant variations with respect to the Masoretic Text have been found in fragments of other biblical books found in Qumran, for example in some passages of Deuteronomy (Dt 32, 8) where medieval Hebrew says “children of Israel” we have in Qumran “children of God” and in the LXX “angels” (which would suggest residues of polytheism present in more ancient witnesses and then disappeared in the tradition of the text).

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