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Introduction & Map

Dead Sea Scrolls Found

A.D. 1947

Probably originally hidden during the Roman sack of Jerusalem around 70 A.D., the Dead Sea Scrolls are one of the most significant archaeological discoveries of the 20th century.
Probably originally hidden during the Roman sack of Jerusalem around 70 A.D., the Dead Sea Scrolls are one of the most significant archaeological discoveries of the 20th century.
Photograph copyright John C. Trever/The Dead Sea Scroll Foundation/Corbis

The Dead Sea scrolls are one of the greatest discoveries in archaeological history. The ancient texts first came to light in 1947, when a young goat herder stumbled upon some manuscripts hidden in a cave at Khirbat Qumrān—about a dozen miles (19 kilometers) from the ancient West Bank city of Jericho.

The leatherbound papyrus manuscripts include hundreds of distinct works. The predominantly Hebrew writings are a wellspring of information about the Holy Land from the third century B.C. to the second century A.D., including the birth and growth of Christianity and the new faith's religious and social relationships to Judaism. As the scrolls' value became known, local Bedouin nomads and archaeologists raced to find more. To date the area has yielded scrolls from 11 different caves.

The finds include a nearly complete Hebrew Old Testament Bible, which has allowed scholars to date the existence of that text to no later than A.D. 70. In addition, the Copper Scroll was a sort of archaeological treasure map guiding scholars to dozens of other hidden texts. And the Temple Scroll contained detailed construction plans for the Temple of Jerusalem.

Many scholars believe that the documents belonged to a Hebrew religious sect that lived in the area during the first century A.D. The scrolls' guardians may have hidden them from the Romans during the First Jewish Revolt (A.D. 66 to 70).

Since their discovery the scrolls have often been a source of controversy among scholars. Texts of the more complete documents were published soon after their discovery but most of the scrolls have deteriorated into thousands of tiny fragments. Access to these texts was for many years tightly controlled by a small group of scholars working under the Jordan Department of Antiquities and later, after Israel took over the area in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, the Israel Antiquities Authority. In 1991 the Huntington Library in San Marino, California, allowed scholars unlimited access to its complete collection of scroll photographs—finally opening the priceless texts to study by the larger community of eager scholars.