The Men of Qumran: Doctrine of the Scrolls

Read Part 1 and Part 2.

The men of Qumran fervently believed in a doctrine of the “last days.” They had fled to the desert and were readying themselves for the imminent judgment when their enemies would be vanquished and they, God’s elect, would be given final victory in accordance with the predictions of the prophets. It was in connection with these end-time events that one of the most fascinating teachings of the sect emerges. The messianic hope loomed large in the thought of the brotherhood. As a matter of fact, evidence shows that they actually believed in three messiahs—one a prophet, the second a priest, and the third a king or prince.

In the document mentioned earlier called the Manual of Discipline or the Rule of the Community, it is laid down that the faithful should continue to live under the rule “until the coming of a prophet and the anointed ones (messiahs) of Aaron and Israel” (column 9, line 11). These three figures would appear to usher in the age for which the community was making preparation.

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The Men of Qumran: Description and Controversy of the Scrolls

Description of the Scrolls

As soon as the announcement of the scrolls’ discovery was made, the scholarly debates about their origin and significance began. The debates increased when the amazing contents of the scrolls were successively revealed.

The seven original scrolls, from what came to be called “Cave One,” comprised the following: (1) a well preserved copy of the entire prophecy of Isaiah—the oldest copy of an Old Testament book ever to be discovered; (2) another fragmentary scroll of Isaiah; (3) a commentary on the first two chapters of Habakkuk—the commentator explained the book allegorically in terms of the Qumran brotherhood; (4) the “Manual of Discipline” or “Community Rule”—the most important source of information about the religious sect at Qumran. It described in detail the requirements for those aspiring to join the brotherhood and how they were to behave and worship; (5) the “Thanksgiving Hymns,” a collection of devotional “psalms” of thanksgiving and praise to God; (6) an Aramaic paraphrase of the Book of Genesis; and (7) the “Rule of War” which dealt with the battle between the “Sons of Light” (the men of Qumran ) and the “Sons of Darkness” (the Romans?) yet to take place in the “last days,” which days the men of Qumran believed were about to arrive.

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The Men of Qumran: Discovery of the Scrolls

Juma was beginning to get nervous. Some of his goats were climbing too high up the cliffs. He decided to climb the face of the cliff himself to bring them back. Little did Juma realize as he began his climb on that January day in 1947 that those straying goats would eventually involve him in what William Foxwell Albright would call “the greatest archaeological discovery in the twentieth century.” Such thoughts were far from his mind when he saw two small openings to one of the thousands of caves that dot those barren cliffs that overlook the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea. He threw a rock into one of the openings. The unexpected cracking sound surprised him—what else could be in those remote caves but treasure? He called to his cousins, Khalil and Muhammad, who climbed up and heard the exciting tale. But it was getting late, and the goats had to be gathered. Tomorrow they would return—perhaps their days of following the goats would come to an end once the treasure was uncovered!

The youngest of the three, Muhammad, rose the next day before his two “fellow treasure-seekers” and made his way to the cave. The cave floor was covered with debris, including broken pottery. Along the wall stood a number of narrow jars, some with their bowl-shaped covers still in place. Frantically Muhammad began to explore the inside of each jar, but no treasure of gold was to be found…only a few bundles wrapped in cloth and greenish with age. Returning to his cousin, he related the sad news—no treasure. No treasure indeed! The scrolls those Bedouin boys removed from that dark cave that day and in the days following would come to be recognized as the greatest manuscript treasure ever found—the first seven manuscripts of the Dead Sea Scrolls!

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