On February 12, the Rutgers Bildner Center for the Study of Jewish Life will host a lecture by Shalom Paul of Hebrew University: The Ever-Alive Dead Sea Scrolls, The Importance of the Scrolls for the Understanding of the Bible, Early Judaism, and the Birth of Christianity.
Why are the Dead Sea Scrolls of such interest to scholars? For starters, one of the scrolls of Isaiah is the oldest found version of this book, 1000 years older than the Leningrad Codex. The initial scrolls were found in 1947 by a bedouin and subsequently sold to Israeli scholars and to Christian scholars. The fact that for political reasons the two sets of scholars did not share information for many years is itself an interesting part of the story. In fact, the Christian scholars at American School of Oriental Research did not publish their research until the 1990s, even though most of the research was done by the early 1960s. Some called it the academic scandal par excellence of the twentieth century.
Between 1947 and 1956 thousands of fragments of ancient scrolls were discovered in caves in Qumran near the Dead Sea. Some of the scrolls are part of our Tanakh; others are never before seen Psalms or documents unique to the Qumran community. The Copper Scroll, a strangely constructed scroll made of copper and divided into pieces by modern researchers, speaks of gold, silver and more scrolls buried in spots in the Land of Israel and thus has attracted treasure seekers.
One of the controversies is who is the group that originally hid these scrolls in Qumran? Some say the Essenes, but other scholars disagree. The Essenes were a group of celibate men, and women are buried in Qumran along with men.
So if this topic piques your interest as it did mine, do some more reading: