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The Orion Center for the Study of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Associated Literature
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The 20th century may be characterized as the "Century of Manuscript Discoveries". From the Cairo Geniza to the more recent discovery of the Bar Kochba Letters which date to the time of the Second Jewish Revolt, scholars have access to an extraordinary amount of written sources.


A century of monumental manuscript discoveries began in 1897 with the discovery of the Cairo Geniza, a repository of 10th through 19th century manuscripts written mainly in Hebrew, Judeo-Arabic, and Aramaic. Two Scottish sisters, Agnes Lewis and Margaret Gibson, first stumbled upon the Genizah and they referred their find to Solomon Schecter, Doctor of Talmudic and Rabbinic literature at the University of Cambridge. The most famous of these texts include the 10th century versions of Ben Sira and a sectarian text known as the Damascus Document, which was attested also at Qumran fifty years later. Nevertheless, despite the wealth of information which was brought to light by the Cairo Genizah, the most famous 20th century find is the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. This library of over 800 papyrus and parchment texts was uncovered between 1947 and the late 1950s. The Scrolls' rather romantic and dramatic discovery by two Bedouin shepherds first caught the public through a series of articles written by Edmund Wilson and published in the New Yorker magazine in 1947.

The importance of the Scrolls was first realized on November 29, 1947, by the late Professor E. L. Sukenik, Professor of Archaeology at the Hebrew University. Of interest is the fact that this date corresponds with the vote by the United Nations to partition Palestine. Seven years later, a number of the better preserved Scrolls were purchased for the State of Israel and initially kept at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. During this time, the War of Independence of 1948 had caused a separation between Israel and Jordan and the Scrolls that were discovered subsequently were purchased by the Jordanian Government and placed in the Rockefeller Museum in East Jerusalem. The vast majority of the material placed there was found to be extremely fragmentary.

After the Six Day War in 1967, Yigael Yadin--Sukenik's son--purchased the Temple Scroll for the State of Israel. Other fragments are housed in the United States, at the University of Chicago. Today, the Shrine of the Book at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem houses many of the larger Scrolls. The building itself is a representation of the jars in which the scrolls were found. Its architecture and design also visualize some of the important concepts found in the Scrolls and use white and black to conceptualize the war between the Sons of Light and Darkness.


Most scholars agree that the Dead Sea Scrolls are the remains of a library that belonged to an ancient Jewish sect, the Essenes. This community inhabited an arid plateau on the northwest corner corner of the Dead Sea. Scrolls were deposited in caves situated in the cliffs behind the community's central building. The site was occupied by the Essenes from the late second century B.C.E. until the appearance of the Romans in the year 68 C.E. Most of the manuscripts were written in Hebrew; however, Aramaic and Greek are represented as well.

Most of the Scrolls are in extremely poor condition. The first international team of scholars, assembled in cooperation with the Jordanian government, spent years in the painstaking task of reconstructing texts based upon the analysis of the scripts (paleography) and the identification of literary genres. The international team began the publication of a number of Scrolls volumes. In 1967, the Rockefeller Museum came under Israeli rule. However, during the 1960s and 70s, much had remained unpublished. As the original members of the international team neared retirement age, the practice of passing manuscripts on to students and colleagues for publication began. In 1991, as the result of various developments, the international team was reconstituted with about 40 members, with Professor Emanuel Tov of the Hebrew University as its Editor-in Chief. Nevertheless, the influence of the original publication team continued to affect future scholars, since their unpublished comments and analyses on the Scrolls fragments were considered by those future scholars who would later take over the process of publication. During the early part of this decade, all photographs of the Scrolls, both published and unpublished, were made available to scholars and the general public. This development resulted in a growing stream of Scrolls publications.

The year 2001 saw the completion of the publication of the remaining Scrolls manuscripts This spate of new publications (known as DJD volumes, short for the series published by Oxford, "Discoveries in the Judaean Desert") has renewed interest in the Scrolls among scholars and the general public. Conferences, volumes of studies and exhibitions are taking place at a great rate. One of the best examples is the major exhibit staged at the Library of Congress now accessible online. That exhibition has been in New York, and is now in San Francisco. Major conferences have been held recently in Jerusalem, Madrid, Groningen, Haifa, New York and elsewhere. Clearly, the publication of the new material is making a major impact on the scholarly world.


The Dead Sea Scrolls were produced by Jews in Judea during a momentous time. They contribute to our understanding of this time period, and represent broad aspects of both ancient Judaism and early Christianity. From these texts, it is possible to trace the development of the Hebrew language, to learn about the different manuscript traditions, including knowledge of scribal practices in use by the community. This data can enable a fairly accurate historical reconstruction of this formative time period. This period was significant in the history of what later developed into Rabbinic Judaism and the Scrolls are concurrent with the origins of Christianity. With respect to the study of Second Temple Judaism, the Dead Sea Scrolls are the single most important discovery of our time.


Today the study of Second Temple Judaism and especially, the Dead Sea Scrolls, is rapidly growing at the Hebrew University. Programs of study exist at the undergraduate and graduate levels, in English and in Hebrew. The establishment of the Orion Center for the Study of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Associated Literature is another manifestation of the extent of interest in the Scrolls at the Hebrew University. With our unique focus on research resources and outreach to the public, the future looks very exciting indeed!


The contents of this site, including the Dead Sea Scrolls Bibliography, are copyright (C) by the Orion Center, Hebrew University, Jerusalem. All rights reserved.