In 1947, Muhammad adh-Dhib, a twelve-year-old Arab boy, made one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of all time. While looking for a lost goat in Qumran, near the Dead Sea, he threw a stone into a cave and heard the sound of shattering pottery. Curious about the noise, he entered the cave and found a collection of large clay jars containing carefully wrapped leather manuscripts. What this boy stumbled upon was an ancient collection of handwritten copies of the Old Testament that dated as far back as far as the third century BC. Scholars determined the age of the scrolls by carefully examining:
• the type of pottery the manuscripts were housed in
• the weave and pattern of the manuscript cloths
• the form of the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek characters
• the spelling of the words
• several hundred coins found with the scrolls—they were minted between 135 BC and AD 68
Archaeologists spent years searching the surrounding caves. By the time they were done, some 220 copies of Old Testament books had been found. These included nineteen copies of the Book of Isaiah, twenty-five copies of Deuteronomy, and thirty copies of the Psalms. When the search ended, the only Old Testament book that wasn’t found was a copy of the Book of Esther. But it is mentioned in some of the other Dead Sea Scrolls, so we know the Jews at Qumran were familiar with it and probably had it. Many of the Dead Sea Scrolls are housed today in climate-controlled vaults in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.
- Precept Austin