Finding the Dead Sea Scrolls Isn’t Enough

The Qumran caves only take us so far.

Our guide pointed from the road to a rocky outcropping on one of the distant hills. “This hike is definitely optional,” he warned. “But it’s worth it.”

Qumran Cave 4 interior

(Photo: The interior of Cave 4 at Qumran. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

A few of us brave souls followed, and for the first time in my life, I wished I had four legs.

Our guide scurried over the rocks like a lizard and stopped ahead, halfway up the hill, near the fissure in the rocks to which he had pointed. He turned and stood, arms crossed, one leg over the other, and waited for us. Finally I arrived.

“This is it,” he beamed.

Still panting, I entered the small cave. Empty . . . but bursting with significance. The contrast between the crudity of the cave and the profundity of its history still staggers me.

Qumran Cave 1 entrance with the Dead Sea below

(Photo: Peering out of Qumran’s Cave 1 toward the Dead Sea. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

The Significance of the Dead Sea Scrolls

I turned and looked back out the cave at the Dead Sea below me. In this area, a small community at Qumran scribbled copies of the Hebrew Bible and other literature. They sealed their scrolls in clay jars and hid them in caves near the shores of the Dead Sea—the place from which these now famous scrolls received their name. I stood in “Cave 1,” so called because it was found first.

  • Prior to the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, scholars despaired of ever finding Hebrew manuscripts that predated our oldest copies, which were from the tenth century A.D. But the finds at Qumran dated from the second century B.C.—and backed up our understanding of the Hebrew Bible by about one thousand years!
  • Twelve caves at Qumran have produced copies of every Old Testament book except Esther, verifying that the copies we had were accurate and reliable all along.

In a book published before the discovery, Frederic G. Kenyon wrote despairingly,

There is, indeed, no probability that we shall ever find manuscripts of the Hebrew text going back to a period before the formation of the text which we know as Massoretic. We can only arrive at an idea of it by a study of the earliest translations made from it. —Frederic G. Kenyon

Only 52 years later, the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered.

A portion of the Dead Sea Scrolls

(Photo: A portion of the Dead Sea Scrolls)

Despair—Then God Steps In

Isn’t this often how we view life? Utterly hopeless, and then God steps in. Any one of us could have written something similar to Kenyon’s quote. Situations and conditions often seem hopeless— most often, actually. Outcomes and attitudes will appear unchangeable and literally demand we doubt God’s Word.

But circumstances have nothing to do with trust—Adam’s fall in Eden proves that. Even paradise had its temptations!

Teaching about the scrolls' significance in front of Cave 4

(Photo: Teaching about the significance of the Dead Sea Scrolls in front of Cave 4)

Beyond Having and Verifying God’s Word

God verifies the reliability of Scripture by many means, including resurrecting ancient manuscripts from the caves of Qumran—and resurrecting His Son from the cave that was His grave.

But finding the Dead Sea Scrolls isn’t enough for us. We need more than having God’s Word and verifying its truth. It takes belief and obedience to the Word—even when the darkest of times tempt us to doubt.

And they will.

Tell me what you think: What helps you move beyond believing the Bible to living it out? To leave a comment, just click here.

This video by Amir Aloni offers a great perspective on Qumran.

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This post is adapted from Wayne’s book, Walking in the Footsteps of Jesus: A Journey Through the Lands and Lessons of Christ.

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