A collection of thousands of ancient scrolls and scroll fragments, in particular those found in 11 caves at Qumran, near the northwest shore of the Dead Sea. (See QUMRAN.) These writings are thought to have originally been part of some 930 Biblical and non-Biblical Jewish manuscripts. The majority are written in Hebrew, others in Aramaic, and still others in Greek.
The documents, discovered between 1947 and 1956, had been placed in earthenware jars and hidden in the caves, apparently to keep them safe. About one quarter of the documents were Biblical manuscripts or fragments, which represented every book of the Bible except Esther.
What makes these documents exceptionally important is their age. They date from the third century B.C.E. to the first century C.E. One of the scrolls, a leather roll containing the whole book of Isaiah, was written about a thousand years earlier than the oldest copy of the same Hebrew text previously known to exist. (See Media Gallery, “The Great Isaiah Scroll.”) The text of the Isaiah scroll—as well as the text of other Bible books among the Dead Sea Scrolls—was carefully compared with manuscripts that were copied about a thousand years later. The comparison showed that the text of the Hebrew Bible has been transmitted with extraordinary accuracy. It is of particular interest that the divine name appears with great frequency in both Biblical and non-Biblical documents.
Additionally, ancient manuscripts have been found in other places in the Judean Desert near the Dead Sea. One of these places is Wadi Murabbaat, a dry riverbed to the south of Qumran. (See Media Gallery, “Certificate of Divorce” and “Written Agreement Acknowledging a Debt.”) Another place is Nahal Hever (Cave of Horrors) further south, where an early copy of portions of the Greek Septuagint was found. In the Greek text of this fragmentary manuscript of the so-called minor prophets, the Tetragrammaton is written in ancient Hebrew characters.—See App. C3, Mt 1:20.