Sixty years after their discovery, the Dead Sea Scrolls still spark controversy and debate. How will they be remembered?
Proclaimed as the greatest discovery of the century, the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) quickly became the preserve of a limited academic circle. That meant that any hope they would increase our collective understanding of the Bible became rather remote.
In July 2008, leading DSS scholars gathered at an international conference to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the scrolls’ discovery. The event, titled The Dead Sea Scrolls and Contemporary Culture, took place at the Israel Museum’s Shrine of the Book, designed and built specifically to house seven of the celebrated scrolls, and now home to all of them that are in Israel’s possession. The declared focus of the conference was “to reflect on the progress made in the last ten years and to articulate our hopes for the future of Qumran studies.”
With respect to the scrolls, the program notes raised the question, “How can we dispel myths and inaccuracies?” Answering that question may have been an impossible goal, however, as myths and inaccuracies will always abound with a trove of documents as old as these. But the conference did reveal something of even greater importance: the diversity of opinions that surround the body of related evidence from the pre-Christian settlement at Khirbet Qumran, near the caves where the scrolls were discovered. The ongoing debate strikes at the foundation of some dearly held views regarding the scrolls’ significance.