The Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in eleven caves along the northwest shore of the Dead Sea between the years 1947 and 1956. They have been called the greatest manuscript discovery of modern times, writes JIM REES
The Dead Sea lies in a natural bowl in the earth’s surface. At 1,400 feet below sea level, it has the lowest elevation on the planet. Its salt content is so concentrated that even the most wary non-swimmer can float in it in complete confidence of not sinking. You can even lie on your back (actually half-sit) and read a newspaper while bobbing about in it!
They are two fairly fascinating features, but they are not what this article is about.
Even the fact that it forms part of the border between Israel and Jordan – placing the Dead Sea in one of the most highly volatile regions of the world – is not the main focus here.
No, this article concerns the countryside which surrounds the Dead Sea and what was found there in 1947.
The vast salty lake is set in an arid desert, mile after mile of limestone riddled with hundreds, perhaps thousands, of caves varying in size and length.
Most are natural, but many have been excavated by human hand over thousands of years. They have provided shelter for people and storage for food away from the over-powering heat of the desert sun.
Some of the ‘stores’, however, might be termed nourishment for the spirit and the mind rather than for the body and lay there unknown for the best part of two thousand years.
In 1947, a young Bedouin boy was minding sheep and, as often happens, a few of his charges went walkabout in search of what little sustenance the hills provided. As he searched for them in one of the caves, he found rolls of parchment.
He couldn’t read them, but he suspected they were valuable and he took some back to his family’s camp.
Even the community elders were mystified by them, but recognised that they could be important. They returned to the cave and took a few more of these scrolls.