1) Khirbet Qumran, meaning ‘ruin of’ Qumran, sits on a plateau at the top of an irregular border of limestone cliffs beside the Dead Sea. Many of these cliffs contain caves which, given their location, are accessible only with difficulty. To the West lies the Judean Desert, and to the North is a mountain that houses the Qumran caves numbered 1, 2, 3, and 11.
2) Khirbet Qumran was occupied until 68 CE by the Essene Jews, one of the major schools of Jewish philosophy at that time. The complex was destroyed in 68 CE. Ashes from the burned reed‑rooftops and Roman arrowheads found at the site suggest a battle. The simple fact that nobody returned to recover the scrolls suggests a massacre. The timing fits, because the Jewish rebellion against the Roman Empire put the two at war from 66 to 73 CE.
3) Cut to recent history. In 1947, a Bedouin shepherd discovered seven scrolls in what is now known as Cave 1. After that, the race was on. Archaeologists tried to excavate the caves scientifically, while Bedouins plundered them for whatever they could sell. In 1952, a French Dominican named Roland de Vaux located Cave 4. That cave contained over 15,000 fragments of over 800 manuscripts. A year later, an international team of eight scholars was assembled, with De Vaux as project director. Thirteen years after that, in 1966, De Vaux’s team was publicly accused of obstructing release of the scrolls because the content’s contrary to Trinitarian Christianity.
4) After the Six-Day War in 1967, Israel expanded its border to the Jordan River. The Qumran complex was in that territory, so became property of Israel. And so did the scrolls. In 1972, a Spanish scholar named José O’Callaghan claimed that papyrus fragments from Cave 7 represent some of the New Testament books. Other scholars disagreed, and claimed the fragments from Cave 7 are too small to know what they represent. But O’Callaghan’s assertion excited a lot of imaginations. Here’s why: The Essenes occupied the Qumran complex for over thirty years following Jesus’ ministry, and their complex was less than a day’s walk from Jerusalem. Yet none of the Qumran Scrolls (i.e., the Dead Sea Scrolls) was New Testament material. They represent all of the Old Testament books except Esther, but to date, nothing has been found that’s provably New Testament.
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