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Dead Sea Scrolls

4Q109 Qohelet a

Fragments of Ecclesiastes from Qumran Cave 4

These fragments of the biblical book of Ecclesiastes are only some of the hundreds of fragments of the Old Testament, or Hebrew Bible, that were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. It is largely because of the presence of biblical texts like these that the find at Qumran is considered one of the most important of this century.
Click the image to view an enhanced version.
Until the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the earliest copies of biblical books in Hebrew dated to the medieval period, which was nearly 1,000 years after the first books had begun to be considered sacred scripture by the Jewish community. The finding of the Scrolls has meant that we now have copies that are older by hundreds of years than anything we had before 1947.

Among the Scrolls are copies of every book of the Old Testament, or Hebrew Bible, except for the books of Esther and Nehemiah. Some of the books, however, are only represented by very small fragments. The most common biblical books among all of the scrolls and fragments found at Qumran are Psalms, Deuteronomy, Isaiah, Exodus, Genesis and Leviticus. The only complete book still preserved among the Scrolls is the book of Isaiah.

One of the questions that frequently arises in connection with the Scrolls is "Did the Qumran community have the same canon as rabbinical Judaism?" (The word "canon" refers to the collection of books considered sacred and authoritative by a given community. Scholars use the word when they want to talk about the collection of books that are considered to be part of the Bible.) The Bible of Judaism today contains 24 books that are considered "canonical":

Torah: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy

Prophets: Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the Twelve Minor Prophets

Writings: Psalms, Proverbs, Job, The Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah, Chronicles

Protestant Christians accept the same books as part of their Bible, but use a different system of numbering and arranging the books.

What we do not know is whether the Jews at Qumran had the same books in their Bible. Other texts found in the caves show that some aspects of their belief system were different from those of other Jewish groups, so it is possible that some of the other texts were part of the Qumran Bible. We may never know, since the people who hid the Scrolls did not leave us a list of the books they thought of as their Bible.

Photograph by Bruce and Kenneth Zuckerman, West Semitic Research, in collaboration with the Princeton Theological Seminary. Courtesy Department of Antiquities, Jordan.

Commentary by Marilyn J. Lundberg.

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