Photo By Lonnie Paulson ©
























Above you are looking at Cave #4 which is the most famous of all the Dead Sea Scroll caves. The reason why this cave is so important is it contained the largest find. There are more than 15,000 fragments from over 200 books and 122 biblical scrolls found in this cave. Please note that in all eleven of these caves at Qumran every book from the Old Testament is represented except Esther.


The Dead Sea Scrolls are the earliest Old Testament Hebrew manuscripts that have ever been found. They date back as far as 250 B.C.1 How and where were the Dead Sea Scrolls found? Who wrote these scrolls? What do these scrolls contain and where are they now? What is the mysterious copper scroll?

I will attempt to answer the above questions and give a full account of the history of the Dead Sea Scrolls.


The Discovery2

Do you know how the Dead Sea Scrolls were found? You are about to read the most extraordinary and thrilling archaeological adventure of the 20th century.

Once upon a time in the winter of 1946-47 is when our story starts. The place is the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea in Palestine. Picture a lost goat running up a cliff and into a limestone cave. A young Arab Shepherd is close behind. The Shepherd throws a rock into the cave to get the goat´.s attention. He misses the goat but hits something. Strange sounds come from the cave. In the stillness of the air the Shepherd hears the sounds of broken pottery. Jum´a Muhammed the young Bedouin Shepherd yells out to his two cousins to join him.

It is uncertain which cousin first noticed the cave. Muhammed Ahmed el-Hamed, known as Muhammed the Wolf claims he was the first to enter the cave. The third teen-age cousin that accompanied the Bedouin was the oldest. His name was Khalil Musa.

These three Shepherd boys first took three scrolls out of the cave. This cave would soon be known as Qumran Cave #1. These scrolls included the complete Isaiah scroll, the Manual of Discipline, and the Habakkuk Commentary. From this cave the boys found four more scrolls. They now had seven scrolls of antiquity. What would they do with them?

The Bedouin Offer Scrolls for Sale3

On April 1947 Jum´a and Khalil, the Shepherd boys took these scrolls over to Bethlehem. They showed what they had to various antiquity dealers. One of these dealers suggested the boys go to Khalil Iskander Shahin, a Syrian Orthodox Christian who owned a cobbler shop and had an antiquities shop in the back. This cobbler was simply known as Kando. Kando offered Jum´a and Khalil £5 for the scrolls. In the future Kando would act as a middleman for the Bedouin.

Another antiquities dealer, George Ishaya Shamoun who saw the scrolls from Jum´a and Khalil partnered with Kando. George and Kando took the scroll which was known as the Manual of Discipline to Athanasius Yeshue Samuel of the Metropolitan of the Syrian Orthodox Monastery of St. Mark´s in Jerusalem. Samuel confirmed that the scroll was written in Hebrew and that the scrolls were made of animal skins. He said that he would buy this scroll and any others like it.

The Metropolitan Samuel4

Kando took the Manual of Discipline back with him to check with the Shepherd boys for any more scrolls. Several weeks later Kando gives Samuel a call. By this time Samuel is quite excited to see the scrolls. However, this is not the best time to be roaming the streets of Jerusalem. There are all kinds of violence being agitated by Jews, Arabs, and Great Briton. On the first Saturday in July an appointment was made for Samuel to see the scrolls at the Metropolitan of St. Mark´s in Jerusalem from the Bedouin. The appointment was made some time in the morning. Even by noon Samuel still did not hear from the Bedouin. While eating lunch Samuel heard from one of the other monks mentioning that he turned away some Bedouin from the monastery door earlier. The monk talked about these filthy Hebrew scrolls that the Bedouin were holding; they were possibly old Torahs covered with pitch and they stunk. The monk said he could not allow such filth within the monastery.

Apologies were made, but it was a couple of weeks before Kando could get back to Jerusalem with the scrolls. By this time Samuel had heard the news about the discovery of the scrolls in the cave. Finely Samuel got to see the scrolls. This time there were five scrolls in all. The church gave Kando £24 [about $97]. Two-thirds went to Jum´a and Khalil. In the months ahead numerous incidents surfaced about the scrolls possibly being a fake.

Samuel went to École Biblique, the Dominican monastery of St. Stephen which is also the location for the French Biblical and Archaeology School. Samuel talked to Father Marmardji about the scrolls. Father Marmardji along with Father J. Van der Ploeg decided to visit St. Mark´s to look at the scrolls. Father Van der Ploeg immediately recognizes the largest scroll as the book of Isaiah. Samuel went looking for other Biblical Scholars who could give him more information on these scrolls. He also attempted to learn Hebrew.

Archaeologist and Scholar E. L Sukenik5

Finally in late January 1948 these scrolls came to the attention of Eleazar L. Sukenik an archaeologist of the Hebrew University. The archaeologist viewed these scrolls in a neutral area, the YMCA. Sukenik had also acquired other scrolls from the Bedouin. He wanted these scrolls and made offers of procurement to Samuel and his colleague Anton Kiraz. Kiraz and Sukenik also knew each other. Sukenik had once excavated on Kiraz´s property. One of Sukenik´s offers for the scrolls was as high as £1,000. Kiraz thought since Sukenik was so excited to get possession of these scrolls maybe these scrolls were worth more than £1,000. Kiraz decided to hold off on the sale and get a second opinion. Kiraz wrote back to Sukenik that he was not going to sell yet, but would wait until the local situation would settle.

Photography and Dating of Scrolls6

It will take a while before Samuel makes an attempt to the sell the scrolls again. Samuel shows the scrolls to various experts. Some of these experts believed they were worthless. However, Ibrahim Gabriel Sowmy, an expert in Aramaic culture considered them to be very old and valuable. Sowmy telephones John Trever who is temporarily acting as director for the American Schools of Oriental Research. Sowmy asks Trever if he could help date some old manuscripts from the St. Marks library. Sowmy brings the scrolls the next day to the school.

From the school Trever examines the scrolls along with other old Hebrew manuscripts. Trever tells Sowmy that the scrolls should be photographed. Besides being a Bible student, Trever was trained in photography. The next day Trever risks his life to go in to Jerusalem to St. Marks to acquire the scrolls. The scrolls were photographed at St Marks. Trever believed that the Isaiah scroll he was photographing was older than the Nash Papyrus that he was comparing to the scrolls. The finished photographs were sent to a paleographer by the name of William Albright. A paleographer is one who studies ancient writing. Albright writes in a letter to the school the following.

“There is no doubt in my mind that the script is more archaic than that of the Nash Papyrus.” He further stated he would date the scrolls around 100 B.C. He also points out that he does not have the slightest doubt that these scrolls are genuine.

Technical Photographer´s Note

I have used photography to copy written documents. The camera of choice would have been a large film format camera. The larger the film the sharper and better resolving power of the image. Puny 35mm negatives could not give the sharpness needed for such intricate work of these documents. The quality of 35mm film in the late 40´s was very inferior to the quality of 35mm film today. They probably used 4x5 to 8x10” sheet films.

At first I thought the photographers of the Dead Sea Scrolls would use professional copy film to photograph the scrolls. But I have recently read in the book Dead Sea Scrolls7 by Michael Wise, Martin Abegg Jr. and Edward Cook that photographers used infrared film to copy the scrolls. I guess that makes sense since infrared film can detect information that the human eye cannot see. Where the writing may no longer be visible to the human eye infrared film can bring it into appearance.

Kodak no longer makes infrared films. There are still photographic hobbyists that use black-and-white infrared film from other film manufacturers. Kodak also made a color infrared film often called “false color” film. It had uses in science, medicine, and aerial photography. During war time it was used to find military hardware camouflaged by a heavy forest. All green trees and shrubbery would appear bright magenta in color on infrared color film. I miss this film. The color saturation is not as intense with digital color infrared.

Many different filters are used with infrared film or digital cameras that are sensitive to infrared. These filters filter out certain wave lengths to bring out different information. Various red filters are often used in various densities. Filters that look like black opaque glass to our eye will pass various infrared light rays. However if you look at these filters in a bright light you can see some light pass through. No special lighting needs to be used for infrared photography only special film or a camera sensor that is sensitive to infrared. Modern researchers of the Dead Sea Scrolls are having great success with infrared digital cameras and photo editing software.

The Dead Sea Scrolls in America

Increased violence in Israel threatens the Dead Sea Scrolls. Sowmy was killed by bomb fragments right in the courtyard at St Marks.8 Samuel decided to store the scrolls in a safer place. He decided to store them in Beirut, Lebanon.9 At this time more word had gotten out about the scrolls. These scrolls became famous. Everybody wanted to see them. Samuel wanted to take the scrolls to the United States to display and perhaps sell them. Claims were made by both Israel and Jordan on ownership of the scrolls.

The scrolls went to the United States and were displayed in several locations. The publicity of the scrolls brought there awareness to the average person and increased their value. For security these scrolls did not find a home in a museum, but found safety in the home of a Syrian Orthodox Christian in Worcester, Massachusetts. This house had a specially designed safe to keep the scrolls safe.10

The authenticity of the scrolls was still being debated by scholars. Some said they were a hoax. Samuel was declared an outlaw in the country of Jordan. So a frustrated Samuel decides to sell the scrolls in America. He put a newspaper want-ad in the Wall Street Journal. On June 1, 1954 an ad was placed in the Wall Street Journal under the caption, “Miscellaneous for Sale.” The ad read: “The Four Dead Sea Scrolls Biblical Manuscripts dating back to at least 200 B.C. are for sale. This would be an ideal gift to an educational or religious institution by an individual or group.”

The Sale of the Dead Sea Scrolls11

As I wrote earlier, the archaeologist and scholar, Eleazar L. Sukenik wanted to purchase the scrolls from Samuel. Professor Yigael Yadin a scholar and son of Sukenik went over to visit America when he came across the Wall Street Journal ad. He knew both he and his father wanted the scrolls. Yadin was determined to buy the scrolls for Israel. He knew the difficulty that his father ran into dealing with Samuel so Yadin found someone who would act on his behalf and the government of Israel to purchase the scrolls. The man who would purchase the scrolls for Yadin and Israel was Sidney Esteridge. On July 1, 1954 at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York Samuel meets Sidney Esteridge with lawyers and others to close a sale on the Dead Sea Scrolls. The sale was for $250,000.

Yadin was responsible for acquiring all the scrolls from cave #1. He also found another scroll in a shoe box under the floor tiles of Kando´s Bethlehem home. In cave #11 Yadin finds the Temple Scroll.

The Shrine of the Book12

Thanks to Yadin all the Dead Sea Scrolls found by the Bedouin shepherds were now in the hands of Israel. A new museum was constructed in Jerusalem. This museum goes by the name “Shrine of the Book.” This building was specifically built to house the Dead Sea Scrolls. This building is a fine piece of architecture that protects the scrolls. Since Israel has many enemies there is an underground safe room which acts as a bomb shelter. The steel walls underground are 1.5 feet thick. In 1991 during the Scud missile attacks by Iraq during the Gulf War the scrolls were safe. Inside the museum we can see the 23.5 foot long Isaiah Scroll which is mounted so one can walk completely around in a circle to see the entire scroll. On the top of this Isaiah scroll is built a large Torah-scroll holder.

Photo by ©William King/ShutterPoint Photography

This building is beautiful to look at. A black slab contrasts with the white dome. If it isn´t obvious already the white dome of the building is shaped like the lid of the jars that held the scrolls. The black slab together with the white dome symbolizes the wars of the Sons of Light against the Sons of Darkness which is a topic of one of the scrolls.

Pictured here is a jar that held some of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Photography Prints


1. Biblical Archaeology Society. The Dead Sea Scrolls;Biblical Archaeology Society; Washington DC (2007) p34.

2. Ibid. pp 7-9

3. Ibid. pp 10-11

4. Ibid. pp 11-14

5. Ibid. pp 14-15

6. Ibid. pp 15-17

7. Michael Wise, Martin Abegg Jr., Edward Cook. Dead Sea Scrolls; Harper Collins Publishers; New York, NY 10022 (1996); p 40.

8. Ibid. The Dead Sea Scrolls; p 17.

9. Ibid. p 17

10. Ibid. p 17

11. Ibid. p 18

12. Ibid. pp 15-16