Living History: The Dead Sea Scrolls


August 27, 2013

The Dead Sea Scrolls are ancient Hebrew scrolls, some of which correspond to sections in the Old Testament, that were accidentally discovered in 1947 by a Bedouin boy in the Judean Desert.  They are approximately two thousand years old, dating from the third century BCE to the first century CE. Most of the scrolls (mainly written on parchment and a few on papyrus) were written in Hebrew, with a smaller number in Aramaic or Greek. In his September 3rd class, Seymour Rossel guides us through the bewildering array of past and present interpretations of these texts.

WIH Reporter: What is important to know about your class?

Rossel: I always like to tell my classes, “Nothing changes as quickly as ancient history.” It has been 65 years since we discovered the Dead Sea Scrolls and in all that time they have provided continued excitement to everyone who loves history, philosophy, religion, and literature. While they were yet hidden in caves and caches, we knew little about how people thought and what people believed for nearly three hundred years leading up to the time of Jesus and the rabbis. Suddenly, we had such an embarrassment of riches for that period that, even now, we are still trying to account for everything we can learn from the scrolls.


WIH Reporter
: What is the biggest misconception we have about the scrolls?

Rossel: The two biggest misconceptions are that (1) the scrolls were found together and (2) they were all scrolls. In the Dead Sea region, 900 actually different texts were found, but they vary from pieces that are one square inch to scrolls that are 9-10 feet long. Most measure in the middle. And they come from eleven different caves, but one cave (we call it Cave 4) gave us 600 fragments of scrolls and some full-length scrolls!

WIH Reporter: What things would surprise us to know about the scrolls?

Rossel: Here is a list:

  • Scrolls are written on various animal skins, on papyrus, and even on copper.
  • Scrolls are in Aramaic, Hebrew, and Greek.
  • The scrolls include copies of every book in the Old Testament except for the Book of Esther.
  • The scrolls also include Aramaic originals of books outside the Bible canon—books we had previously known only from Greek translations.
  • The scrolls are full of experiments—literary experiments, experiments in styles of living, and experiments in religious philosophies.
  • Without containing any material from the New Testament, the scrolls reveal trends that led to the many new forms we find in the New Testament

WIH Reporter: What exciting things do we have to look forward to learn in this class?

Rossel: The biggest mysteries have yet to be solved, so we can offer our opinions freely, even here in Houston at WIH. Who wrote these scrolls? For whom were they written? Who hid these scrolls? Where did they come from? Who gathered them here together? As we study the scrolls together, we can share our own opinions and add our voices to the discussion of the scholars.

This 12-week class begins on Sept. 3rd, and takes place from 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. For more information, or to register, click here