In late 1946 or early 1947, Palestinian Bedouins discovered the first of what by 1956 proved to be hundreds of ancient scrolls in eleven caves in bluffs overlooking the Dead Sea. These scrolls can be divided into two categories: biblical and sectarian. Dated to the second and first centuries b.c.e., they may be the oldest surviving manuscripts of both types of Jewish literature.
The texts of the earliest discovered scrolls were published quickly, and the Jordanian government allowed the chief archaeologist at Qumran to form an eight-person team that would publish the remaining manuscripts. Since then, all the texts from Cave 1 and a small number from eight other caves have been published. By 1990, only a few of the many scrolls in Caves 4 and 11 had appeared, however, leaving about 55 percent of the scrolls unpublished. Many scrolls from Cave 4 crumbled in their containers and had to be reassembled like jigsaw puzzles. That task was finished by the early 1960’s. Shortly thereafter a photographer made infrared pictures of the scrolls, copies of which were stored for security in California, Ohio, and England. The original scrolls were kept in the Palestine Archaeology Museum.
When the West Bank came under the control of the State of Israel after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, the Israeli government assumed responsibility for the scrolls and promised speedy publication of the remaining texts—a promise it has not kept. Since 1967 four members of...
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