Sites and Insights: Finding Dead Sea Scrolls isn’t enough

A closer look at the caves that confirmed Biblical history.

June 11, 2012 11:48
4 minute read.
Qumran from West

Dead Sea 370. (photo credit:


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Wayne Stiles has never recovered from his travels in the Holy Land. Follow him on Twitter (@WayneStiles) or on his blog at

Our guide pointed from the road to a rocky outcropping on one of the distant hills.

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“This hike is definitely optional,” he warned us. “But it’s worth it.”

A few of us brave souls followed, and for the first time in my life, I wished I had four legs. The quarter-mile climb between the bus and that outcrop proved the hardest hike I took in Israel. The loose rocks over which I toddled were large, hot and pokey. I had to calculate every step. There was no enjoying the view. 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, which inside looked about the size of a tiny bedroom. Empty . . . but bursting with significance. The contrast between the crudity of the cave and the profundity of its history still staggers me.

Qumran Cave Interior PanoramaIn 1947, a Bedouin shepherd allegedly lost a sheep and tossed a rock in this cave to search for the animal. Why—or how—a sheep would ever wander up here makes no sense. Our guide told us the Bedouin more likely was a looter in sheep’s clothing who fabricated the whole affair to legitimize his discovery. Anyhow, what he found in the cave made biblical history—or rather, I should say, confirmed it.

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!

Eleven 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 not long 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.” Only eight years later, the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered.

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!

QumranIn Jerusalem today stands the Shrine of the Book, a museum that displays the Dead Sea Scrolls. I’ve been there many times. The shrine’s massive white roof, shaped like the lid of one of the clay jars the scrolls were found in, stands opposite a large black wall of granite. The contrasting colors represent the “sons of light” and the “sons of darkness” and imply a principle: God’s Word represents the difference between light and darkness (Psalm 119:105; 2 Peter 1:19).

God verifies the reliability of Scripture by many means, including resurrecting ancient manuscripts from the caves of Qumran. But the task of living His Word, God gives as our responsibility: “Every word of God is tested; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him” (Prov. 30:5).

Finding the Dead Sea Scrolls isn’t enough for us. Walking in the light takes more than having God’s Word; it takes belief and obedience to the Word—even when the darkest of times tempts us to doubt. And they will.

Wayne Stiles has never recovered from his travels in the Holy Land. Follow him on Twitter (@WayneStiles) or on his blog at

This column was adapted from Wayne’s book, Walking in the Footsteps of Jesus: A Journey through the Lands and Lessons of Christ (Ventura, Calif.: Regal Books, 2008). Used by permission.

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