These amazing documents contain fragments of include the earliest known surviving manuscripts of works later included in the Hebrew Bible canon- preserved for two thousand years by the hot, dry desert climate and the darkness of the caves where they were placed.
Part of their fame to Christians is the fact that the many fragments contain almost identical versions of OT scriptures that we still read today. This serves somehow to preserve the idea that the Bible is Gods Word, for all time, floated down intact as the ultimate instructional manual for life.
(As a matter of interest, there is a rather good discussion about how we might understand the phrase ‘The Word of God’ here.)
Most Christians I grew up with had no idea about how the library of books they knew as ‘The Word of God’ came to be gathered. They would have regarded such things as irrelevant, dangerous- trickery of those who would stain the purity of the the holy paper. However, the Dead Sea Scrolls give a window into how scripture was understood even before the wranglings over the Christian Canon.
Biblical scholars can not agree about when the Hebrew closed the book on their own collection of scriptures, but it was clear that those who put away the scrolls in the caves of Quran still experienced scripture as a work in progress.
They also used copies of the book of Enoch;
The book of Enoch was not included in the canon of the Hebrew Bible. It tells of Enoch, the great-grandfather of Noah, who lived for 365 years and “walked with God”. The displayed fragment describes the heavenly revolt of the fallen angels, and their descent to earth to cohabit with the daughters of men and to reveal secret knowledge to mankind, a story hinted at in Gen. 6.
The Apocryphon of Daniel (and other fragments of Apocrophal writings, whose significance is mostly lost to us.)
The Dead Sea Scrolls contain extensive apocalyptic literature relating to the final messianic battle at the End of Days. The Aramaic Apocryphon of Daniel describes either a messianic figure or a boastful ruler that will arise as “Son of God” or “Son of the Most High”, like the apocalyptic redeemer in the biblical book of Daniel. The text calls to mind the New Testament proclamation of the angel Gabriel concerning the new-born Jesus: “He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High… ” (Luke 1:32)
It is almost impossible to begin an adventure into trying to understand where these scriptures came from without having to set aside the idea that the ONLY relevant writings useful to Christians are contained within the book we know as The Bible. However we might also come to view these books as all the more remarkable.
The papers today are full of a blundering UKIP MEP who has published a charter that he wants Muslims in the UK to sign ‘rejecting violence’. He also has suggest that some Muslim texts need updating, claiming some say “kill Jews wherever you find them and various things like that”. “If that represents the thinking of modern people, there’s something wrong, in which case maybe they need to revise their thinking. If they say they can’t revise their thinking on those issues, then who’s got the problem – us or them?” he added.
The fool thinks you can re-write scriptures for other people’s religions. As if there are not enough blood thirsty bits in our own.
What we need is more understanding, and an open dialogue about how these still-incendiary ancient texts should rest on our post modern souls.