Scrolls and Scribes
The year was 73 AD and the Roman general Titus was determined to stamp out all efforts by the Jews of reclaiming their land and sovereignty. He had marched the infamous Tenth legion from Rome to Jerusalem and destroyed the city and the Temple in 70 AD. Determined to eradicate the last vestige of Jewish resistance he was now marching the Tenth Legion towards Masada – the fortress of Herod located on the Dead Sea where Jewish zealots had held the fortress for over a year. As Titus marched down from Jerusalem towards the Salt Sea (Hebrew: יָם־הַמֶּ֖לַח – yam HaMelach), also called the Dead Sea, he discovered a small enclave of Essenes (Hebrew: אִסִּיִים – Eisi-im), living in a compound in the old City of Salt (Hebrew: עִיר־הַמֶּ֖לַח – Ere HaMelach) [ref. Joshua 15:62 – the Arabic name is Qumran] During the Second Temple Period, there existed three major branches of Judaism: Pharisees, Saducees and the Essenes. Josephus wrote about the Essenes and Pliny, a Roman writer, placed them at the City of Salt (Qumran). The Essenes were scribes (Hebrew: sofer – סופר) from the root meaning ‘to count’ and lived a monastic life at Qumran. They had a large Scriptorium of scrolls (Hebrew – מגיללות – megillot) that they had copied of the T’nakh (except the book of Esther which they did not copy). Knowing the Romans were approaching and would destroy anything in their path, the Essenes hid the precious scrolls in the caves of the marl hills along the shore of the Salt Sea. With Jewish sovereignty lost and the Temple gone, the Jewish people entered the period known as the Diaspora (Greek: ‘dispersion’). The Essenes of Qumran were no doubt killed by the Romans, but their scrolls lay safely hidden in secret until the time when the prophecies they contained would be fulfilled.
Approximately 68 years ago this month, (Feb. 1947) a Bedouin herdsman named Muhammed edh-Dhib Hasan threw a rock into a cave in an attempt to scare a lost goat out of the cave when he heard a breaking sound. Upon exploring the cave, the young herdsman found the first of the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) that had lain undisturbed for Millennia. He later sold the scrolls to Kando, an antiquities dealer in Bethlehem. Six months later, on November 29th, 1947, Professor Eleazar Sukenik of Hebrew University was preparing to travel by bus to the old city of East Jerusalem to possibly purchase three of these scrolls. Professor Sukenik knew the scrolls were ancient and were worth the risk of traveling to East Jerusalem. His son, Yigdal Yadin, who would later excavate Masada, was currently the chief of the Haganah (the precursor to the IDF). As an archaeologist, Yigdal Yadin knew the scrolls were of monumental importance, but as a son, he wanted his father to stay home that day! Professor Sukenik purchased the three scrolls on this day and simply wrapped them in newspaper and rode the bus back to the safety of West Jerusalem. That evening, the UN voted to end the British Mandate of the land of Israel thus paving the way for the nation of Israel to be born six months later. This great event was met by extreme celebration in the streets of West Jerusalem, but rioting followed in Arab controlled territories. One city that saw much rioting was Aleppo, Syria and the great Aleppo synagogue was burned and destroyed. This synagogue had housed the much revered Aleppo Codex – the most ancient and accurate copy of the entire T’nakh in existence. Written by the famous Masoretic scribe Aaron ben Asher around 1,000 AD, it was the source of the Masoretic text and the master copy of every Torah scroll in every synagogue throughout the land.
Professor Sukenik would eventually purchase all seven of the original Dead Sea Scrolls for Israel (today they are housed in the Shrine of the Book in Jerusalem). One of those seven is the great Isaiah scroll written only about 500 years after Isaiah had written the original. When compared with the Isaiah scroll of the Masoretic text, (written about 1,000 years later), the differences are minimal spelling differences thus proving the great care and accuracy of the Masoretic scribes who preserved the Word of God down through the centuries for us today.
Isaiah was a great patriot of Israel and wrote about the day of the nation’s rebirth that Professor Sukenik and others of his day were witnessing before their eyes: “Fear not: for I am with thee: I will bring thy seed from the east, and gather thee from the west;
I will say to the north, Give up; and to the south, Keep not back: bring my sons from far, and my daughters from the ends of the earth.” – Isaiah 43:5-6 The rediscovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls at this exact time in history was a miracle of monumental proportions!