Parchments found at new Dead Sea Scrolls Cave

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Photo credit: Randall Price

Craig A. Evans, Ph.D., D.Habil., is the John Bisagno Distinguished Professor of Christian Origins at Houston Baptist University in south Texas. Evans has published extensively in the area of the historical Jesus, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and archaeology. He earned his Ph.D. under William Hugh Brownlee, one of the very first scholars to lay eyes on the Scrolls. Evans is a member of the Scholars Initiative concerned with the significance of the ancient biblical artifacts housed and conserved by the Museum of the Bible. Evans is also featured in several Faithlife Mobile Education courses, including the acclaimed video Archaeology and Jesus.

A New Cave, an Old Controversy: Dramatic New Discovery in Israel will Re-Ignite Debates

By Craig A. Evans

The last Dead Sea Scrolls cave, linked to the ruins on the marl shelf at the mouth of Wadi Qumran, was discovered in 1956, bringing the total number of caves to eleven — eleven caves containing the famous Dead Sea Scrolls, ceramic jars, and a number of other artifacts.

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For sixty years archaeologists and looters have been searching for a twelfth cave. Would another one ever be found? Most didn’t think so. This is what makes the announcement from Hebrew University so astounding: A twelfth cave has been discovered!

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Photo credit: Randall Price

Playing in the dirt

One of the Operation Scroll volunteers was archaeologist Randall Price, who today serves on the faculty of Liberty University. One of the briefly examined caves in 1993 — cave 53 — caught his attention.

Last year Price received permission to excavate that cave. Last month (January 2017) he, Oren Gutfeld, Ahiad Ovadia from Hebrew University, and a number of volunteers did so. Among the volunteers was sixty-five year old Cary Summers, President of the Museum of the Bible, whose exhibits and extensive collection will open to the public in November.

“You are never too old to play in the dirt,” Cary told me in a recent email. As a veteran volunteer digger myself, I know what he means and I couldn’t agree more. As it turns out, Cary chose the right dirt to play in.

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Photo credit: Randall Price

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The discovery in Cave 12

Price and his team made a truly significant discovery. Although the cave that the archaeologist and his team excavated had been looted (and the looters left behind a couple pick-axes), what was unearthed was quite important. Price and has team recovered six jars identical to the jars found in several of the other Qumran caves. These ceramic jars were designed to contain scrolls.

The condition of the some of the better-preserved Scrolls strongly supports the widely-held view that the jars were indeed intended for that purpose. Most of these jars are on display in Jerusalem’s Shrine of the Book and in Kando’s famous antiquities shop in Bethlehem. Although there are doubters, most scholars are convinced that these ceramic jars at one time contained many of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

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Photo credit: Randall Price

The jars in ancient sources

In fact, ancient sources actually refer to ceramic jars used for this very purpose. Long ago the prophet Jeremiah was instructed to “take these deeds … and put them in an earthenware vessel, that they may last for a long time” (Jeremiah 32:14). In a first-century apocryphal writing Moses is commanded to “take this writing so that later you will remember how to preserve the books that I shall entrust to you. You shall arrange them, anoint them with cedar, and deposit them in earthenware jars … ” (Testament of Moses 1:16–17).

Long before the Scrolls were found in modern times in the caves near the Dead Sea, ancient scrolls were found in the general vicinity. Fourth-century Church historian Eusebius reports that third-century Origen somehow got hold of a biblical scroll “found at Jericho in a jar” (Hist. Eccl. 6.16.3).

We will never know if Origen’s scroll came from the ancient library partially preserved in the celebrated eleven caves in and around Qumran, discovered from 1947 to 1956. But the report of a discovery of a scroll in a jar at least attests the ancient practice.

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Archaeologists Oren Gutfeld & Ahiad Ovadia in the cave. Photo credit: Casey L. Olson and Oren Gutfeld

Cave 13 discovery on the horizon?

It is hard to believe it, but Price and his team seem to have discovered a twelfth cave, something Scrolls scholars have been dreaming about for sixty years. And not only that, Price thinks there may even be a thirteenth cave near the Qumran ruins.

Unlike the newly discovered Cave 12, the mouth of the suspected thirteenth cave is concealed — which means there is a chance that it has not been looted. If that is the case, more texts could be discovered. If that happens, who knows what new things we might learn?

Of course, new scrolls have been coming to light from time to time for decades. Often they have been in possession of bedouins, reaching all the way back to those heady days of discovery and exploration in the 1940s and 1950s. The caves from which these scroll fragments were derived usually cannot be determined.

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Photo credit: Randall Price

Parchment, Papyri, and Linen!

This is what makes Price and team’s discovery so important. He and his team have discovered what likely will be confirmed as Qumran’s Cave 12. Not only were six scroll jars recovered, but small fragments of parchment and papyrus, as well as at least one linen used for wrapping scrolls.

Scientific testing of the ceramic should confirm its link to the ruins and Qumran and to some of the other jars found in nearby caves. DNA testing of the parchment could confirm links to some of the scrolls whose origins have to date not been determined. The presence of the jars and the linen wrapper confirms that Scrolls used to be in this cave (and same applies in the case of Cave 8).

This is truly exciting. I might add that the recovered artifacts of the new Qumran cave will be of interest to scholars of great antiquity as well, for Price and his team also recovered Neolithic remains, including arrowheads and knives.

Linking worlds together

The caves, the ruins, and the scrolls of Qumran are important because they link the Old Testament and Jewish world to the world of Jesus, the Christian Church, and the writings of the New Testament. These discoveries near the Dead Sea also link sacred texts with hard evidence. The texts clarify the hard evidence, and the hard evidence clarifies the texts.

What archaeological evidence shows is that the ancient narratives of our old scriptures reflect an ancient world that actually existed, not a fairytale world of imagination and fiction. Thanks to archaeology, which in the last century or so has uncovered a great quantity of manuscripts, we now know that the ancient texts do indeed speak of real people, real places, and real events.

Judaism in the time of Jesus

The Qumran Scrolls are also important because they shed a great deal of light on the Judaism of Jesus’ day and a great deal of light on specific teachings of Jesus and his early followers.

For example, an Aramaic scroll from Cave 4 speaks of a coming figure who will be called “Son of God” and “Son of the Most High” who will be “Great” and who will reign forever. The parallels with the Annunciation of Luke 1 are obvious. Another scroll from Cave 4 anticipates the coming of God’s Messiah who give sight to the blind, heal the wounded, raise the dead, and proclaim good news to the poor. The parallels to Jesus’ reply to John the Baptist are quite apparent.

Even Paul’s “works of the law” terminology finds an important parallel in a Cave 4 letter concerned with legal matters.
The Melchizedek Scroll from Cave 11 forecasts the coming of one who seems to be God himself, possessing the power to forgive sin, heal, and defeat Satan. Examples like these — and there are many more — should make it clear how important the Scrolls are.

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Photo credit: Randall Price

The controversy is re-ignited

Of course, this startling new discovery will almost certainly re-ignite the controversy over who owns the Dead Sea Scrolls? Do they belong to Israel (when first found, Qumran was part of Jordan), or do they belong to the Palestinians? It was this hotly debated political issue that led to the new discovery.

The organized, authorized search for new Scrolls caves started with the dispute over the West Bank and the fear that Israel would lose access to the famous Dead Sea caves that to date have yielded about 1,000 documents, including and especially the famous Dead Sea Scrolls, which have been described as “the greatest archaeological find of the twentieth century.”

On the chance that Israel might lose access to this desolate region, in 1993 Operation Scroll was launched. Manned by members of the Israel Antiquities Authority (under the direction of IAA chief Amir Drori), the Israel Defence Forces, and a number of archaeologists and volunteers, Operation Scroll explored and recorded hundreds of caves along the western bank of the Dead Sea, including Jericho to the north. A few odds and ends were discovered but nothing earth-shaking, at least nothing that could count as another Dead Sea Scrolls cave.[1]

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Photo credit: Randall Price

New treasures, new troubles

I am deeply grateful to Dr Price for sharing with me the details of his important discovery. I also share his hope that Cave 12 will not be the last Qumran cave to be discovered. Who knows what new treasures will be unearthed? And, who knows what new political trouble these new discoveries will generate? We live in interesting times.

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Dr. Evans with Cave 4 in the background. Photo credit: Greg Monette

Dr. Evans has an outstanding series of online education courses, including Archaeology and the NT, The DSS and the NT, and a new course under development, Archaeology in Action: Jesus and Archaeology, only available on Logos.

[1] For a report of Operation Scroll, see Neil Asher Silberman, “Operation Scroll,” Archaeology 47/2 (1994) 27–28; idem, “Operation Scroll,” in K. D. Vitelli (ed.), Archaeological Ethics (London: Altamira Press, 1996) 132–35.

 

Comments

  1. says

    This is so exciting! I have been waiting for a solid update on the work Dr. Price and Dr. Evans have been involved in this past year or so. Congratulations on the find!! Cannot wait for the scrolls to be revealed.

    • Ken Scaletta says

      There are no new scrolls. The cave had already been looted. All that was left was some blank scraps of parchment, some broken jars and some cloth once used for wrapping scrolls. Unfortunate. The black market for Israeli antiquities is a blight on the archaeology of the region.

      • Michael Henderson says

        Yes, I realize that but there were some parchments and papyri, although said to be blank, I wonder if they have undergone technical screening to make sure possible writing has not faded? Just a thought. I am sure more will be found. Very exciting.

      • Makram Zaki Shenouda says

        Why does he say that they were looted! and not just been lost!
        When did they have been looted? at ancient centuries, or during his work in that area?
        The sight of his face while the crashed jars on his hand, says that he had faced a bad shock because of an unexpected matter!
        Did he say anything else about that?

    • Alta Veasley says

      I just completed watching the Book of Ezra whereas Baruch was told by the Most High AHAYAH to obtain five scribe’s who wrote fast and reserve forty days to write the Book and the Most High AHAYAH have them the knowledge to write characters they did not know. Never underestimate the powers of AHAYAH…He does many things supernaturally.

  2. says

    (2/09/2017)-I’ve had the privilege and honor of working in association with Dr. Randall Price on some past projects. He’s a loyal scholar that has true integrity. He to be highly commended for his hard work and this find.

    Sincerely,

    Dr. Ronald Stewart, Th.D., Ph.D.

  3. says

    What evidence do you have, if any, to connect this cave to Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls?

    The inhabitants of Qumran were not the only people using parchment and papyri and pottery in that area.

  4. says

    I’d the privilege to work in association with Dr. Price on a couple of past projects. It’s an Honor to know him. He’s to be greatly commended, for his loyal/faithful professional scholarly devotion over the years, and for this potential discovery.

    However, the (original) article released by the (IAA) and photo that resembles a (possible/alleged) (DSS)-(Dead Sea Scroll) according to the original article could be:

    1). A truly unique new discovery of a new (DSS)-(Dead Sea Scroll).

    2). It could have also been that was found, could be a scroll that was being prepared to be written on. Yet, may have been damaged and then discarded inside the cave. Or,…

    3).May only be some parchments of a (DSS) or what is left of a (DSS) itself.

    In conclusion, more will not be known until it is removed, investigated, and analyzed determining what it may be or not be as I’ve outlined above in (1-3). It’s still an admirable find!

    Sincerely,

    Dr. Ronald Stewart, Th.D., Ph.D.

  5. Philippe Mayu says

    Is the Lord bringing new revelation in this year of Jubilee to draw and save some of His people as dark times are approaching?

    • Dave Morrow says

      Read the Word of God! All is in the KJV1611.
      What new revelation is need beyond obey the Word?

      Answer: NONE. Just obey the Word!

      • FREDNANT DIP. THEOLOGY says

        I agree with you sir. all is very clear in the scriptures hence any other revelation contradicting scripture is totally condemned.

  6. Douglas Crawley says

    Congratulations to Dr. Price on this important discovery in the area of biblical archeology! Who knows what revelations this might provide?

    Douglas Crawley, D.M.A.

  7. Pastor Paolo Benini says

    Oh that is good, God perhaps has new surprifse for has, congratulations to the R. Price archaeology team, please, give news & infos as soon as possible.

  8. Adeoye Sakin Stephen says

    RANDALL PRICE: Well-done for your selfless efforts to Humanity and to genuine christians worldwide. In fact, i was perturbed and wearied when i was reading your finding s on the 12th Qumran cave discovery. I intuitively perceived that these DSS would represent : “”THE TWELVE TRIBES OF ISRAEL”” SPIRITUALLY. Randall: Go on with your findings to agree or disagree with my caption above until God says STOP or call you to GLORY. GOD BLESS YOU.
    From: Adeoye S.Stephen

  9. Edwin Ndumbe Mwambo says

    Dear Dr. Price,
    God richly bless you with everything you need to continue with your searches and discoveries.
    I want to believe that God is up for something today. You have availed yourself to be use. We appreciate.
    Thanks to our Lord for using you to excavate some of the evidence of His Lordship and the love of Jehovah Himself.
    I love you and I love our Master, Creator and Redeemer. Amen.

    • Sakiasi Seru says

      Praise the Lord. God is working in a mighty way and using His people to witness His greatness because He is the ALPHA AND THE OMEGA.

  10. says

    One thing that this shows is that there are even more evidences of the importance of information be protected during times of hostility. The ancient world was concerned with guarding certain information and history. The credibility and purposes lies not in just what is contained but also how it is contained.

  11. Peter Jackson says

    Perhaps this will be a bid to stop the ecumenical cart in 2017 and stick back only to the Bible instead of putting peace and tolerance over the clear warnings of the Scriptures. The Bible says to stay away from those who commit moral fornication by prioritizing their ecclesiastical laws and decisions over the plain teaching of the Bibleand its sacred law. Turn away from futurism and preterism and look at the prophecy the way Luther, Melanchton, Zwingli, Calvin, Knox, and Wesley DID. Can we be sure they were all wrong when they left and created new cleaner churches giving impetus to the Reformation?

  12. says

    Thank you, Dr. Craig Evans, for giving Dr. Randall Price due credit. I was disappointed to read the Fox News edition of this story that gave accolades to the Israeli archaeologists and then mentioned an anonymous “professor and students at Liberty University” that supposedly assisted in the find. Such bad reporting is not normally tolerated unless the discovery is done by an evangelical archaeologist.

    • says

      I’m sure the news networks are always under pressure to get the story perspective, from the policies they have adopted within their own network criteria. In such things. It would be nice to see a balanced “optimistic” perspective in all news network reporting” of such like prospective events and developments.

      Sincerely,

      Dr. Ronald Stewart, Th.D., Ph.D.

  13. Mrs Janet Waithaka. says

    It’s good to see this report but sad there are no actual documents which show the cave to be connected to the other Qumran documents. I was excited by the idea of 12th cave to represent the 12 tribes of Israel but maybe we should not read too much into that.
    On the topic of Scriptures, I believe that they are enriched by knowing the context in which they were written but the true meaning needs discernment and prayer. God can inspire each of us differently to understand what He is saying to us today. Those who add to our knowledge by unearthing early copies and translations are doing a lot of good work and all praise to their diligence. Well done.

  14. Pastor Kenneth David says

    It’s an amazing thing to know that many’ and i so many ” informative resources are still left underneath the surface of this earth where we all roam about daily, such artifacts that bring a great wealth of knowledge and proofs of the bible’s historical prophecy; I’m glad for men like Dr Price and his great on their willingness to dig the dirt for knowledge sake, Congrats on your discovery.

  15. Chuks says

    Glory be to God, thank you so much for making yourself available to be used to discover this 12th one, God will richely bless your effort.

  16. says

    With knowledge of the Dead Sea scrolls and their clear link with Jesus Christ, I am now more certain that the Bible is no work of fiction, but one of credence based on concrete proved facts. I am thankful to Dr Price and his colleagues who, through their work and findings, have in diverse ways helped to give substance and meaning to my Christian faith.

  17. Rosetta Young says

    Continue your work for God. He will continue to guide you to the truth. Please don’t give up. I wish I was there with you to help find the truth. God works in mysterious ways. I will be praying for you and your team. May God place his safe protection around you and between you and do not allow any danger to enter your paths.

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