Dead Sea Scrolls Authorship

Table of Contents

Background information and the impact on religious communities

The discovery of strange manuscripts by a Bedouin near the Dead Sea in 1947 led to archeological excavations in the area that resulted in the discovery of large volumes of antiquity materials. From 1947-1956, large volumes of Hebrew manuscripts, hidden in clay pots and stuffed in cave holes, were discovered in 11 caves in Khirbet Qumran area near the Dead Sea. These manuscripts were later termed the “Dead Sea Scrolls”1.The majority of the manuscripts were written in Hebrew, some in Amharic, and few in Greek. Carbon dating showed they date back to the “last centuries BCE and first century CE”.2 The scrolls, currently numbering around 800 are alleged to represent the works of an ancient community that inhabited the Qumran region between the 2nd century and 68 CE before it was destroyed by Romans.3 A recent breakdown has presented the distribution of the text as follows: From cave 1 (7 manuscripts and 72 fragments), cave 2(33 texts), cave 3(15 texts), cave 4 (582? Text), cave 5( 25 text), cave 6 (31 texts), cave 7 (19 texts –all Greek), cave 8(5 text), cave 9( 1 text), cave 10(1 text), cave 11(31 text), from unidentified cave (7 texts) 4.The finds in cave 1, 4, and 11 have been considered the most significant in many quarters. A majority of the text was in fragments, although a few, like those found in cave 11, were completed. Most of these scrolls were taken to Jerusalem where they were first examined by Israel’s archeologists. Soon after, international archeological scholars and theologians also got involved.

The attention the manuscripts attracted can be attributed to the sheer number of their volume and content. It has been proposed some of the content was written before and after the destruction of the second temple. The contents of the scrolls were later classified as either biblical or non-biblical.5The biblical materials were, among others, texts related to the book of Isaiah, paleo-Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Psalms, job, Samuel, Zephaniah, as well as Haggai. Except for books of Esther and Nehemiah, copies of the whole of the Old Testament were found6. The non-biblical content comprise commentaries on a number of books,a description of possible apocalyptic ending, the Hebrew writings of Halakhot (rabbinic-laws) , the Manual of Discipline (also referred as Rule of Community), the war scroll, the Damascus Document, Songs of Sabbath Sacrifice, Nahum as well as some asceticism observance rules.

The Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) continue to generate a lot of interest and research. They have, in large part, illuminated the books of the Bible like never before. They particularly have been important in the scrutiny of the Hebrew Bible translation and second temple Judaism7. The novelty of the scrolls has also been employed in assessing the accuracy of contemporary Hebrew Bible and understanding the canon of the books of the scriptures. This has led some to hail them as the best sources for understanding the Rabbinic Judaism and the origin of Christianity8.

The DSS attracted the attention of religious communities because they turned out to be much reliable in examining the accuracy of the translation of the Hebrew Bible, especially the Old Testament books since its divine inspiration from God. Before the DSS, the witness manuscripts were the Masoteric text, the Samaritan Pentateuch and the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Hebrew text). The reliability of these manuscripts was subject to questioning due to their lateness. The Masoteric text is said to be as late as 900 A.D. The Dead Sea Scrolls proved much reliable and acceptable because they were over a 1000 year older than the extant copies of Hebrew text.9 More interesting however, is the fact that the DSS have shown to be in agreement with the Masoteric text, thus confirming the accurate translation of the Hebrew text (i.e. Old Testament) since the very early centuries.

The text of the scrolls have also shade light on the issue of the canon of the Old Testament books during the late second temple leading some to believe that the canon of the Hebrew scripture could not have occurred in the late second temple period but extended up to the second century CE.10 The Qumran texts also suggest the appreciation and acceptance of other books apart from the traditional Torah as also authoritative. These include the prophets, the Jubilees and also the 1Enoch books.11Thus, it can be said the DSS brought reevaluation of issue of canon to the fore with mixed results. In this regard, divergent views have emerged. One group of modern biblical scholars has tried to delink the history of the literary development of the text from their subsequent transmission while the other has based its textual criticism on the recognized dates of canonization of the scriptures.

Efforts have also been made to adjust the Old Testament to reflect the new finds of the Dead Sea. This has resulted in the editing of some section of the Hebrew Bible by the Hebrew University Bible Project with text relating to the Dead Sea discoveries by employing the Masoteric text as reference text while others have opted to employ a judicious approach to arrive at an acceptable, fully eclectic text of the Hebrew Bible12.Some of the DSS text have also been adopted. For example, the Isaiah scroll influenced the Revised Standard Version (RSV) Old Testament copyrighted in 1952 and was inserted at four instances in the New American Bible13

The DSS have shed light into the history of the development of Judaism. They have revealed the emergence of Rabbinic Judaism infused with ideas and trends of other Jewish sects in the second temple epoch14.This form of Judaism later emerged as the standard norm throughout the Jewish history. The Qumran literature has also shaped new understanding of the rabbinic law. This is because of its significant dissimilarity with traditional rabbinic literature on the issue of the Jewish law, Halakhal.15 One of the DSS, the 4QMMT (Miqtsat Ma ’ase ha-Torah) has revealed the differences between the Pharisees and the Sadducees in the interpretation of the halakhic law. Schiffman holds that piety differences led the Qumran sectarian to the desert where they observed their own form of religious spirituality. In so doing they rejected the deeply held Sadducean belief that the Torah was the only authoritative biblical text and the Pharisean version of Torah that was coupled to an explanatory oral law.

The DSS have also led to the ascertainment of the authoritativeness of the bible in the early days of Christianity, in particular the specific sections/chapters16 This has been discerned out of the fact that the majority of scrolls found at Qumran form a significant portion of the Hebrew bible (202 of the over 800 discovered).17 The variation in the number of copies of each constituent book has been suggested to attest to the significance the authors gave to each one of them. For example the 36 copies of Psalm suggest hymn-based worship by this group. Other popular books include Deuteronomy (29 copies), Isaiah (21 copies), Exodus (17 copies), Genesis (15 copies) and Levictus (13 copies) suggesting these authors teachings were probably biased on end-times teachings. The high number of copies discovered also point to the deep piety of the authors as less than 10 copies had ever been discovered for a single book before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls18

It can also be rightly said the DSS has emerged as credible evidence for the divine origin of the scripture and gave renewed aspiration to the readers. This is because the Bible and the DSS share similar features such as the apocrypha and commentaries not to mention new excerpts not found in the Hebrew bible. In addition, the DSS discovery yielded all of the Old Testament but the books of Ester and Nehemiah. This suggests that the bible has undergone very minor changes in the course it’s recopying and transmission since it was inspired to the authors by God.


For over 50 years since the DSS were discovered, its authors remain shrouded in mystery and speculations. Various theories have been advanced by various scholars. However modern scholars of the post 1990s era have advanced a theory completely contrary to that espoused by scholars in the early days of the Qumran discoveries. The oldest theory dominant for the better part of last century attributes the authorship of the Qumran Hebrew text to the Essenes, a Jewish sect, who according to medieval writers inhabited the Qumran region on the Western shores of the Dead Sea from the 2nd century. This civilization lasted until it was annihilated by the Romans during the 66-68 CE Jewish revolt.

The Essenes are said to have been a pious faction that left Jerusalem and emigrated to the Judean wilderness in protest of the vile practices of the then priest of the Temple of Jerusalem19. Elsewhere, it is also alleged that they were descendants of Zadok that were banished from the Temple of Jerusalem by the Greek rulers in 2nd B.C20. The Essenes settled in Qumran area and continued their deeply pious lifestyle that involved strict adherence to Jewish laws and rituals in anticipation of an imminent apocalypse which they believed would occur in their time. Jassen has written:

“While at Qumran, the community fervently studied the scriptures and other sacred work, meticulously observed Jewish law, and actively awaited the unfolding drama of the end days, which they believed was imminent in their own time”21

This strict spiritual lifestyle perhaps is the main reasons why so many scholars linked this Jewish sect to origin of the Qumran literature. Proponents of Qumran-Essene theory, as it came to be known, point to a number of historical recordings as support for their position. They assert that Essenes existence was noted by earlier philosophers and historians such as Josephus, Philo and Pliny who held them as the dwellers on the Western shore of the Dead Sea in the period after the 2nd century.

In addition, Qumran-Essene early supporters such as Eliezer Sukenik have used one of the Qumran find, the Manual of Discipline as evidence to account for the apparent spiritual observance of a typical “brotherhood sect” that he likened to that of the Jewish Essenes 22 Such views as Sukenik’s gained widespread acceptance in many scholarship quarters in the early days of the discovery of the Hebrew text as the proper account for the origin of the scrolls that lasted late into the 20th century.

Further evidence for the Essenean origin is adduced to the discovery of large number of ink pots and long table found in a rectangular room in the Qumran ruins. This room is purported to be “scriptorium” where the manuscripts were probably written or copied by Essenean scribes.23 It is worth pointing out the Essene origin postulate was advance very early (before 1950) into the discoveries at Khirbet Qumran. Later discoveries, which continued up to 1956) proved the cornerstone on which modern day scholar would base their argument against this theory.

Another hypothesis that is gaining steady acceptance holds that the scrolls originated from Jerusalem where they were written by a diverse array of scribes. Evidences advanced by advocators of this theory include the discovery of other Hebrew text made throughout the Judean desert such as at Masada and around Jericho. The finds at Masada include fragments of Ecclesiastics, the Jubilees. Most striking though was the discovery of fragment of the Song of Sabbath Day, whose portions were also found at cave 4 in Qumran. This connection has been used by modern scholars in asserting that Qumran should only be considered as one of the hiding places and never the origin of the Hebrew text found there. The evidence from other sites spread out in the Judean wilderness has led to the belief that the manuscripts were secretly transported for concealment southwards of Jerusalem as the Roman army advanced and upon the fall of Jerusalem in 68-70 AD.24 Yet no other evidence has proved critical for this new approach as much as the Copper scroll.

The copper scroll found in cave 3 at Qumran in 1956 has been cited as the irrefutable evidence that suggest a broad scheme by the Jerusalem rulers to hide treasured Jewish artefacts when faced with the threat of Roman attack. This scroll lists, albeit in coded language various places in the Judean desert where the artefacts , including the later discovered Dead Seas Scrolls were supposedly hidden. Some of the hiding places listed are cisterns, aqueducts as well as Wadis.25 It also goes on to state where a similar scroll could be found in the desert. This has been suggested to indicate the copper scroll was considered important so much that a duplicate had to be created. It importance probably lay in the names of locations of hiding places it contained.

What about the Christian theory? Some scholars have suggested that the Qumran scrolls could have been written by Jewish Christians. This school has is that the claim of the “Teacher of righteousness “should be accepted to have meant Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified and “False teacher” to refer to the renegade Paul of the New Testament.26 In addition, its supporters claim the Covenant of Damascus, found in one of the Qumran extracts was “Written in the spirit of Christianity against Judaism” and therefore evidence for Christian aligned authors.27

Other proof cited the messianic references that include the Aramaic apocalypse writings of “son and God” and “Son of the most high” that have been interpreted to mean the biblical Jesus. Backing efforts for this theory have also involved linking the Qumran literature to the lives of New Testament personalities such as James and Apostle Paul as well as specific lines of the manuscripts that agree with those of the books of New Testament. Critics have asserted this supposition falls short of credibility because the all the Scrolls do not mention Jesus or his disciplines at any particular point in addition to his crucifixion and resurrection28

Supporters of each of the above postulates, theories have piled more supporting claims on theories whenever criticism on them emerged. Even when later discoveries and analysis suggested a reexamination, each group has held on to earlier standings. Although each of them will indefinitely remain assumption, some of their propping claims have overtime become glaringly wanting.

The Qumran-Essene theory, by virtue of each age has been the one subjected to thorough scrutiny. However it is losing the support of contemporary scholars who after examining the Scrolls found in Qumran caves found it basis unrealistic. First, although it is claimed the Essenes authored the Qumran manuscripts nowhere have they made explicit reference to themselves.29 The assertion for their existence has relied on medieval historian and philosophers such as Josephus (who penned his history in Roman prison), Philo and Philby the elder whose works cannot be verified30

The Hebrew texts found in Qumran bear numerous forms of handwriting and other variations of style.31 This strongly suggests the writers were of diverse background. This order does not agree with number of the Jewish Essenes who were estimated to be just around four thousand.32 Also, later analyses of the Hebrew text at Qumran revealed that they reflected the general words of the Hebrew bible and did not appear to suggest a particular sect33

The excavations of the Qumran ruins conducted from 1953-1956 also revealed a totally different picture that what the Essene school of thought seem to suggest. The archeological excavations and subsequent reconstruction resulted in a structure with distinct features of a fortress far from the getaway dwelling for a celibate sect that the theory seems to portray. This seemingly military garrison of rather sophisticated design contained cisterns, grains storage, stables complete with watchtowers34

It is also worth pointing out that the Qumran-Essene theory was formulated during the very early days of the Qumran discoveries. It was primarily based on only 7 Hebrew texts that were initially discovered by Bedouins in 1947. Soon after, hundreds were discovered. To date the tally stands at over 800.Whether this rashness was due to lack of foresight or what its original achievers aspired to achieve at that time can only be guessed. However, what is clear is that the Essene faculty has repeatedly refused to accommodate later findings in their theory. This have only made their theory more lacking

Faced with the real threat of an advancing army of the most powerful nation of their time, Jerusalem leaders saw victory on their own side unlikely. They knew their Roman enemies had placed a huge prize on them and nothing short of a complete victory was going to be acceptable. After all, the Jewish religion that advocated against the Roman paganism has send ripples throughout the Roman Empire. The Roman considered the Jewish faith a serious threat to their existence. The Jerusalem spiritual leaders also foresaw the first order of business upon a Roman victory over them would be the complete destruction of the Jewish religious artefacts.

The artefacts most likely included religious texts, silver, precious metals, legal documents and perhaps mundane personal notes of prominent Jewish people. In light of safety concerns for these materials, a scheme was devised to protect the most treasured of the Jewish artefacts. This plan involved dispersing them from their storage places inside Jerusalem to other areas throughout the whole of the then Jewish Palestine for safety and later retrieval when the Jewish revolt would end. To avoid future difficulties in retrieval, the locations of the hiding place were recorded on a number of special copper plates.

The massive number scrolls at Qumran strongly suggest that the region was one is the hiding places selected for safekeeping of the Jerusalem artefacts. The manner of storage-properly encased in special fiber and put in side clay pot or buried underground-attest to their deliberate concealment. Qumran was not the only hiding place. Others, for example, Masada and Wadi Murabba’at, where similar discoveries have also been made are also possible hiding locations.

The copper scroll found in a Qumran cave is without doubt the best evidence for the deliberate concealment of the Hebrew literary scrolls. On it are clearly listed the hiding location for the Jewish artifact. Moreover, the fact that it is the only scroll made of copper, a precious and expensive metal during its creation, perhaps points to the importance its creators accorded it.

It is possible that other discoveries similar to the Khirbet Qumran may be made in the coming years or through refined scientific researches and analyses, a plausible explanation about the authorship of the Qumran is brought to the fore. Until then the Qumran-Essene theory

is inadequate in explaining the origin of the manuscripts. The ‘concealment’ theory is a better guess.


Crawford, Sidney White. “” Near Eastern Archaeology 65, no.1 (2002): 81-86. 2011. 

Fitzmyer, Joseph A. The Impact of the Dead Sea Scrolls. New York: Paulist press, 2009.

Golb, Norman. The Biblical Archaeologist 48, no.2 (1985): 68-82. 2011.

Golb, Norman. (New York: Scribbler, 1995): 95-104,382-385. 2011. 

Jassen, Alex P. “Religion in the Dead Sea Scrolls.” Religion Compass1, no.1 (2007): 1-25.

Larson, Erik W. Near Eastern Archaeology 63, no.3 (2000): 168-171. 2011. Web.

McGirk, Tim. “Scholar claims Dead Sea Scroll ‘Authors’ never existed.” Time, 2009. Web.

Schiffman, Lawrence H. Near Eastern Archaeology 63, no.3 (2000): 154-159. 2011. Web.

VanderKam, James P. Dead Sea Discoveries 5, no.3 (1998): 382-402. 2011. Web.

Willis, Mike. Truth Magazine Vol. XLV: 1 p2, 2001. Web.

Zeltin, S. Jewish Quarterly Review, New Series 55, no.2 (1964): 97-116. 2011. Web.


Crawford, Sidney White. “Dead Sea Scrolls: Retrospective and Prospective.” Near Eastern Archaeology 65, no.1 (2002): 81-86. 2011. Web.

Fitzmyer, Joseph A. The Impact of the Dead Sea Scrolls. New York: Paulist press, 2009.

Golb, Norman. “Who Hid the Dead Sea Scrolls?” The Biblical Archaeologist 48, no.2 (1985): 68-82. 2011.

Golb, Norman. “Who wrote the Dead Sea Scroll? The search for the Secrets of Qumran,” (New York: Scribbler, 1995): 95-104,382-385. 2011. Web.

Jassen, Alex P. “Religion in the Dead Sea Scrolls.” Religion Compass1, no.1 (2007): 1-25.

Larson, Erik W. “Are the Dead Sea Scrolls Christian?” Near Eastern Archaeology 63, no.3 (2000): 168-171. 2011. Web.

McGirk, Tim. “Scholar claims Dead Sea Scroll ‘Authors’ never existed.” Time, 2009. Web.

Schiffman, Lawrence H. “Dead Sea Scrolls and the History of Judaism.” Near Eastern Archaeology 63, no.3 (2000): 154-159. 2011. Web.

VanderKam, James P. “Authoritative Literature in the Dead Sea Scrolls.” Dead Sea Discoveries 5, no.3 (1998): 382-402. 2011. Web.

Willis, Mike. “The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Text of the Old Testament.” Truth Magazine Vol. XLV: 1 p2, 2001. Web.

Zeltin, S. “History, Historians and the Dead Sea Scrolls.” Jewish Quarterly Review, New Series 55, no.2 (1964): 97-116. 2011. Web.

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