Why You Need to Know About the Dead Sea Scrolls

Last week I was able to go with Ray Goodwin to Discovery Times Square to see the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit.  It was my third time seeing an exhibit of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and this one is excellent.  The display is on until April, and I would highly recommend you go.  ”Wait a minute pastor Ryan,” you might say, “I’m no geek.  Why should I go see some dusty old manuscripts?”  This is a good question.  Here’s a shot at an answer:

What are the Dead Sea Scrolls?

The Dead Sea Scrolls are a group of manuscripts found in caves in the cliffs on the northwest coast of the Dead Sea in Israel.  They contain mostly Old Testament books and date roughly from 150 BC to 70 AD.  There is a great story as to how they were discovered, but it’s too long to tell here.  Suffice to say the initial 7 scrolls were found quite accidentally by some Arab shepherds in the late 1940s.  In all 972 texts were found.  They were essentially the scriptures and commentary library of a group of Jews living around the time of Jesus.

Why do they matter?

Study of the Dead Sea Scrolls is very important for at least 3 reasons:

1.  Trustworthiness of the Old Testament-  The Old Testament contains books written from 1500 -400 BC, but the oldest complete copies of the Old Testament we have date to around 1000 AD.  What if the texts were corrupted?  Changed?  Could we have it wrong?  The Dead Sea Scrolls provide for us copies of virtually every Old Testament book that are 1000 years older than what we had.  When we compare them what do we find?  The OT as we know it is remarkably consistent with what this group had 2000 years ago.  This confirms the reliabilty of the OT and adds some good old fashioned archeological evidence to prove it.

2.  Improvement of Old Testament Research- In the places where the Dead Sea Scrolls do differ from what we had (for example, the Dead Sea Scrolls text of 1 Samuel has a few additional verses at the beginning of chapter 11), they help us to analyze what we have.  These differences are minor and often incidental, but they provide important data as we work hard to ensure we have the Word of God as He gave it so many years ago.

3.  Historical Background of the New Testament- The Dead Sea Scrolls that aren’t biblical books provide for us an invaluable peek into the thought and theology of one Jewish group at the time of Christ.  Messianic expectations were high as was dissatisfaction with the Jewish religious establishment.  As we study the life and teaching of Jesus this information is a key aide to reconstructing the culture in which He ministered.

What will I get out of seeing them?

It’s different for every person.  The exhibit has much more than just the selection of manuscripts.  In essence, they try to “bring Israel to you.”  You will learn about the history of Israel and see real artifcats that bring to life the Bible in a way second only to going to Israel.  Knowing the history of the Bible brings to color details that you may only have seen in black and white.  Your faith will be confirmed, and you will be better equipped to read and understand the Bible.

There is a permanent display of the Dead Sea Scrolls in Jerusalem at the Israel museum.  That is a bit further than Times Square.  I would highly recommend you take a day and go see this display while it is here.  In fact, I’d love to go with you.  I always love watching the Dead Sea Scrolls help someone’s faith come to life. 

Notes: The audio guide was helpful and is probably worth the extra $7.  The display itself is probably ideal for students High School age or older.  Definitely check out the web site for information on when and how to go.  Ray and I spent two and a half hours in the display.

Ryan serves as the Senior Pastor of Green Pond Bible Chapel in Rockaway, New Jersey. He is married with four children.

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