Featured Class

Exploring the Dead Sea Scrolls (Thursdays, August 10-September 28 (8 weeks), 6-8pm Central (Chicago) Time on Zoom and recorded)

The Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) were discovered in remote caves in the Judaean desert in the 1940's and have changed our understanding of ancient Judaism forever. They contain texts written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, and include some of the oldest known manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible (or Old Testament). In this course, we will be exploring the range of texts that make up the DDS, but we will also look at the archaeological excavations of the Qumran site and its link to the Essenes; the convoluted research history of the scrolls; and the problems surrounding the looting and trafficking of antiquities in general. Through all these discussions, we will become more acquainted with ancient Judaism and the development of religious and philosophical thought in later Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity.

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In 1946-1947, Muhammad Ahmed el-Hamed, known as al-Dhib, who was a Ta'amira Bedouin, together with Jum'a Muhammed and Khalil Musa discovered the first texts from what would be a sensational find known as the Dead Ses Scrolls. Between this period and 1956, thousands of fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls would be discovered, most of them written in Hebrew. Some 40% of the fragments were from the Hebrew Bible. The significance in these documents was in the fact that they dated to a considerably earlier period than other manuscripts, such as documents from the Cairo Genizah, of which there are also examples in the ISAC Museum. Those Biblical fragments dated to the medieval period, and these were considerably earlier.  

Further, the medieval texts were very uniform, representing the Masoretic Text generally with very little variation. The Dead Sea Scrolls, on the other hand, show that there were multiple versions of the Bible in existence in this period. Some fragments do in fact resemble the Masoretic Text, but others appear to be more similar to the Samaritan Torah and Pentateuch, as well as the Greek Septuagint. 

Not only do the scrolls illuminate the Hebrew Bible and its various versions, we also have some information about the people themselves who owned the texts. Most scholars agree that the Jewish sect the Essenes owned the scrolls. Some of the scrolls they wrote themselves, others they bought in from the outside. Norman Golb, who was a professor at ISAC, on the other hand, has argued that the scrolls came from Jerusalem and were concealed in the caves when it was sieged by the Romans in 67-70 CE. You can see more about his ideas here.