Contents of The Dead Sea Scrolls

The Dead Sea Scrolls contained all but one of the Books from the Old Testament. In all there were some 225 copies of various biblical books found in the caves above and around Qumran. This however, was only a portion of the scrolls discovered in the caves. 

The scrolls which were not Books found in the ancient Hebrew Bible fall into two categories. The first is Non-Biblical Compositions. The second classification is Documents and Letters. 

Most of the Documents and Letters were found in cave 5/6 which came to be known as the Cave of the Letters. Here they found fifty-five documents. Fifteen were military letters stored in a leather waterskin. There were also thirty-five financial documents that were apparently the personal archive of a refugee named Babatha. The final five documents belonged to Eleazar, the son of Shmuel. These were contracts found in a leather purse and one hidden inside a reed.

The Non-Biblical Compositions have been broken down into at least ten different categories depending on their content. Some of these include Apocrypha, Historical Texts, Legal Texts, Sectarian Texts and Poetical/Liturgical texts. We will briefly look at some of the other categories of scrolls found in the various caves above the Dead Sea.

Calendrical Texts - These scrolls show the calendar in some detail. It was found the Qumran community apparently relied on solar calculations rather than lunar calculations. Some of these scrolls were written in a cryptic script which some believe is an indication the contents of the scrolls were considered secret, or possibly restricted.

Sapiential Texts - These texts offer very practical advice concerning daily life and how to combine intellectual with apocalyptic themes. It is felt these scrolls are intended to continue the wisdom found in such biblical books as Job, Psalms and proverbs.

Parabiblical Texts - These books are a re-telling or embellishing of a book from the Bible. These are far different from the ancient Hebrew writings and it is easy to see how their contents could confuse some. It is also possible these expanded editions of biblical texts may have been given scriptural status by some groups.

Exegetical Texts - These are a very unique group of scrolls. The Exegetical texts are interpretations of Books of the Bible. The best known of these are the pesharim which included interpretations of Psalms as well as Habakkuk and others. Once again these are not actual scripture, but are books or writings with interpretations of scriptures.

Pesher - These texts are also interpretations of scripture but with a focus on prophecy and the end of days. These scrolls are commentaries on various biblical texts and each uses the word ‘pesher’ to connect the biblical reference to its interpretation.

With the above-mentioned texts interpreting and expanding on biblical books it is not surprising some people claim the Dead Sea Scrolls show the Bible we have today is not the same as the Bible of ancient times. It is important to realize the actual scrolls which contained the Books of the Bible almost exactly match the texts we have today. These other texts are interpretations and modified versions of the Bible texts and should not be confused with actual scripture. All of the texts remain valuable as they offer a rare insight into how people thought and lived more than two thousand years ago. It is crucial to separate the two groups, but also to use both to expand our knowledge of the biblical story and the people who actually experienced it in real time.

There were several huge scrolls found in the Qumran caves, but there were also many small and even tiny scrolls found. These include two very special types of scrolls.

Tefillin - These scrolls are worn in a small container, normally a black box, during daily prayers. The box is designed to be worn between the person's eyes so the smaller the scroll can be, the better. - Approximately 24 Tefillin were included in the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Mezuzot - These are also small boxes which hold scripture. These boxes, rather than being worn, are meant to be mounted on doorposts of homes. Again, the tiny size of the box dictates that the scroll be as small as possible. Eight of these were found with the Dead Sea Scrolls.

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