Dead Sea Scrolls Link Past and Present

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JERUSALEM, Israel - Just over 60 years ago, a Bedouin boy stumbled on one of the greatest treasures in history. He discovered the first of the Dead Sea Scrolls, which constitute the oldest evidence for the Hebrew Bible.

On the edge of the Dead Sea, deep in the heart of the Judean wilderness in a place called Qumran, came some of the most significant artifacts of modern times: the Dead Sea Scrolls.

For two millennia, the scrolls lay hidden in 11 caves throughout the Qumran area. Their discovery marked the most important archaeological finds of the 20th century.

To learn more about the Dead Sea Scrolls, CBN News hiked up to one of those 11 caves with Stephen Pfann, founder of the University of the Holy Land and an expert on the Dead Sea Scrolls.

When asked why the Dead Sea Scrolls were so important to us today, Pfann said, "because they confirm the Bible that we have. There's variants, but basically it's [that] you can barely tell the difference between the two texts, [the one] that we have in Qumran and in our Bibles."

The Dead Sea Scrolls provide a 2,000-year-old link between the Scriptures during the time of Jesus and today.

"[It's also important] because we can hold the same scrolls in our hands that they held in their hands 2,000 years ago. And when somebody sits there with their New Testament and their Bibles in the United States and they're listening to their favorite sermon, they can know that this Bible was based upon manuscripts that people held in their hands from 2,000 years ago."

Now for the first time since 1967, curators at the Israel Museum put on display the most significant Dead Sea Scroll of all: the original scroll of Isaiah to mark Israel's 60th birthday.

"We are celebrating the 60th anniversary of the State of Israel and by chance or not, also the 60th anniversary of the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. We thought that the best way to honor the State of Israel is to bring back these major treasures of the Jewish nation for the celebration of the 60th anniversary of the country," said Adolfo Roitman, curator of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

"I think a strong case could be made for anyone of faith that this is a tremendous act of God -- to make this available to people at the same time that the State of Israel, as a people, has actually been restored. And I'm not sure and we don't want to overstate the rather amazing [timing]," he said

"It's hard to overstate the amazing coincidence that the massive scrolls were discovered around the same time, in the same months, that the State of Israel was proclaimed and was founded here in the land again."

Roitman says the scroll of Isaiah holds a special significance for Christians.

"But also I have to remind [you of] the fact that it's the oft-quoted prophet in the New Testament and all the major prophecies concerning the Messiah, which in the Christian interpretation was Jesus, [they're] also they're coming from the book of Isaiah.

"And there is a specific event and we have only one instance in all the Gospels where we actually have Jesus reading from a scroll, as [it is] in the Gospel Luke, chapter 4, that on Shabbat [Sabbath], on Saturday in Nazareth, he was given the book of Isaiah and he read from the book, the famous passage in Isaiah chapter 61," he said.

"It means that for Jesus, for John the Baptist and for the first Christians -- all of them also Jews -- the book of Isaiah was very central for them."

Jesus quoted these verses from Isaiah 61: "The Spirit of the Lord is on me because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

Two thousand years ago, the Isaiah scroll and many others were hidden in the caves near Qumran. Two thousand years later, the scrolls still speak to us.

*Original broadcast August 21, 2008.

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Chris Mitchell

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