The Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) mystified me a lot until recently. I wrote a little this past winter about the Essenes and who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls. But since then I started reading a second source on the subject, The Dead Sea Scrolls, by Evans. This gave me a significant direction to a lot of perplexities.
My first source, The Dead Sea Scrolls, by Wise/Abegg/Cook, gave facts without jumping to many conclusions. It was confusing, but I felt informed enough either to make my own conclusions or remain undecided. In contrast, my second source simplified too much by drawing too many conclusions. I was pleased it gave a few answers that made sense, eliminating my confusion. But I felt in the dark on how Evans could assert so many other conclusions, or at least skeptical. I was thankful I read my first source first, but also thankful my second source seemed equally well researched. I just had to hold back on how much I’d go along with Evans, plus share here the significant direction I’ve gained.
The two main things that used to puzzle me were the many different contradictions in the DSS and the different types of handwriting on the scrolls. The different types of handwriting mean many different people wrote the scrolls. But the original idea that the Essenes wrote them was that they were like Catholic monks. In monasteries, during the medieval ages, there were only a few who would write scrolls, and others would farm the land. Qumran was assumed to be like a monastery. The different forms of handwriting made this theory seem like too much of a later culture and religion were read into the DSS origins. But what to believe instead was the confusing part.
Worth noting also is that copies of some of the DSS were found elsewhere, at Masada and other locations. I concluded then there must’ve been a network of scribes across the land making copies of the same scrolls and distributing them everywhere. But the containers holding the scrolls in the caves were made from the same clay as the pottery sherds found in the Qumran community. Scientific analysis proves this, testing the clay these pots were made from and the contents of the local clay. This means it is possible they were written elsewhere, and just stored in these locally-made containers. But at least they would’ve been copied from scrolls found elsewhere. Yet I’m still digressing from what was most significant to me.
Evans wrote that various amounts of money were also found in those same caves with the scrolls. Look at the above table for the coins found. Note that many of these coins were found in three jugs.
It is assumed that these jugs were buried for safekeeping shortly after the date of the most recent coins…. It is also inferred that the Qumran compound was abandoned temporarily, for why bury money if you’re leaving permanently? Thus it seems this hoard was buried…then inadvertently forgotten when the Qumran site was reinhabited shortly thereafter.
To me, this explains so much, both for the contradictions and for the many types of handwriting. If you read my last three blogs you’d understand the extent of the turbulence in that era. In fact, in Yancey’s The Jesus I Never Knew, Barclay says, “…in 67 B.C. to 37 B.C. before the emergence of Herod the Great, no fewer than 150,000 men perished in Palestine….” Most of these coins date to just before this turbulent period. Did the Qumran inhabitants have to fight or flee from the Romans? Or even fight with/flee from the Sicarii, who didn’t differentiate peace-loving Jews from the Romans? Did they hide their coins and greatest treasure (their sacred writings) in hopes of coming back? If they’re killed, their secret dies with them. The next bunch of Jews now with different beliefs come and live there instead. Or perhaps Qumran inhabitants were sold into slavery and died far away, so were never able to come back. The cycle repeats itself.
Each time they’re hiding their coins and sacred scriptures, they may note that others did the same thing before them. But now they’re fleeing. What good would it do to take with them this newly discovered treasure? They’re here now because they’re burying their own money and scrolls. And they too will get killed. What a sad story to potentially solve the mystery around the DSS.
What a spoiled people we are, living in this era with so much peace and prosperity. How often do we thank God for these things? When we long for the greener grass on the other side of the fence, we bring on such needless discontentment. Let’s focus on the good God gives us instead of the things we can’t have.
The above pictures were both scanned from Living in the Time of Jesus of Nazareth‚ and the table of coins was scanned from The Dead Sea Scrolls. Another long article that would support my above conclusions has a completely different interpretation of who the Qumran inhabitants were. This was published by the Biblical Archaeology Review.