[Previous] [Next]

Scrolls From the Dead Sea:
The Ancient Library of Qumran and Modern Scholarship



The Dead Sea Scrolls include a range of contemporary documents that serve as a window on a turbulent and critical period in the history of Judaism. In addition to the three groups identified by Josephus (Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes), Judaism was further divided into numerous religious sects and political parties. With the destruction of the Temple and the commonwealth in 70 C.E., all that came to an end. Only the Judaism of the Pharisees--Rabbinic Judaism--survived. Reflected in Qumran literature is a Judaism in transition: moving from the religion of Israel as described in the Bible to the Judaism of the rabbis as expounded in the Mishnah (a third-century compilation of Jewish laws and customs which forms the basis of modern Jewish practice).

The Dead Sea Scrolls, which date back to the events described in the New Testament, have added to our understanding of the Jewish background of Christianity. Scholars have pointed to similarities between beliefs and practices outlined in the Qumran literature and those of early Christians. These parallels include comparable rituals of baptism, communal meals, and property. Most interesting is the parallel organizational structures: the sectarians divided themselves into twelve tribes led by twelve chiefs, similar to the structure of the early Church, with twelve apostles who, according to Jesus, would to sit on twelve thrones to judge the twelve tribes of Israel. Many scholars believe that both the literature of Qumran and the early Christian teachings stem from a common stream within Judaism and do not reflect a direct link between the Qumran community and the early Christians.

Back to Contents