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The History of the Qumran’s Discoveries


Between 1946 and 1947, a pastor of the Bedouin tribe Ta’amireh was herding his flock in the area called Khirbet Qumran (i.e. the Qumran ruins). At some point, perhaps to drive out some animal, he throws a stone. It ends in a cave. He hears a noise like terracotta objects that break. He enters the cave. The epic of the Qumran discoveries starts.

The first seven manuscripts found in the first cave (signed as 1Q = first Qumran cave) came into the hands of the antique dealer in Bethlehem nicknamed Kando. Four manuscripts (1QIsa; 1QEn, 1QS, 1QapGen) ended up in the hands of Archimandrite Syriac Orthodox Monastery of St. Mark in Jerusalem – Yeshue Athanasius Samuel – who hoped to profit from it. The other three manuscripts ended happily in the hands of Prof. E. L. Sukenik of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who purchased them (1QIb, 1QH, 1QM). The Archimandrite showed the manuscripts to the American School of Oriental Research in Jerusalem, where J. C. Trever photographed them. He then fled with the manuscripts in the United States with the aim of selling them. After lengthy negotiations the manuscripts were purchased in 1954 by Yigael Yadin – son of Sukenik – and they were exhibited, together with four other manuscripts, in the Shrine of the Book in Jerusalem.

E. L. Sukenik

Meanwhile, the news of the discoveries had spread around the world, arousing enormous interest among scholars and even among the people. In 1949 the cave from which the first seven manuscripts were from was located (i.e. the 1Q). The first excavations were conducted between February and March of 1949. The excavations were directed by Lancaster Harding and Roland de Vaux. They managed to recover hundreds of fragments of at least 70 manuscripts. These extraordinary discoveries required a survey  of the Qumran area. During excavations – from 1951 to 1956 directed by De Vaux and Harding – was established the link between the first cave and the ruins of a human settlement which was located on the terrace above the caves. The manuscripts were penned by men who at one time had lived in the settlement for about 200 years, from 135 BC to A.D. 68 when the Romans destroyed the Qumran settlement.

In 1952 rumors have that the Ta’amireh Bedouin had found another cave full of manuscripts. So it was that the École et Archéologique Française, the American School of Oriental Research and the Palestine Archaeological Museum undertook a vast archaeological campaign in all the areas close to the first cave. Between 1952 and 1955 manuscripts from the caves 2 (1Q), 3 (3Q), 6 (6Q), 5 (5q) and 4 (4Q) returned to light . The last cave was incomparably the one that returned the highest number of fragments belonging to about 550 different manuscripts! After that there was the discovery of so-called “small caves”: 7 (7Q), 8 (8Q), 9 (9Q) and 10 (10Q).

In 1956, thanks to the collaboration of Ta’amireh Bedouin, the eleventh cave of Qumran was found (11Q). In this cave the famous Temple Scroll was found.

Simone Venturini


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