Dead Sea Scrolls FAQ

What are the Dead Sea Scrolls?

The Dead Sea Scrolls are fragments of ancient manuscripts discovered in 11 caves between 1947 and 1956 in the Dead Sea region of what is now Israel.  Some of these fragments are from the books of the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament.  Others are sectarian scrolls—giving us insight into daily life in that area more than 2,000 years ago.

How old are the Dead Sea Scrolls?

The oldest fragments date back to the third century BCE (ca. 250 BCE), making them about 1,000 years older than previously known copies of the Hebrew Bible.  The most recent fragments are from the first century CE (60-68 CE).

What are CE and BCE in the dates?

Many scholars in a variety of academic fields use the Common Era (CE) and Before Common Era (BCE) rather than the traditional Christian notations of AD (Anno Domini—Latin for “year of our Lord”) and BC (Before Christ) designations.  The periods are the same—57 BC and 57 BCE are the same year. 

Why are the Dead Sea Scrolls important?

Professor William Foxwell Albright, a renowned biblical scholar and archaeologist, has called the Dead Sea Scrolls “the greatest manuscript discovery of modern times.”  The scrolls are important culturally for their contribution to our knowledge of Jewish origins and early Christianity during ancient Middle Eastern times, scientifically for what they teach us about conservation and preservation, and archaeologically for their glimpse into an ancient civilization.

Who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls?

Most scholars believe most, though not all of the scrolls were written by a community living in Qumran, the site closest to the caves where the scrolls were found along the northwest shores of the Dead Sea.

Which scrolls were displayed at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences and are they “real”?

A total of twelve authentic scrolls on loan from the National Treasures of the Israel Antiquities Authority were displayed at the Museum—six scrolls during each three-month period.  During that time, scrolls being displayed include fragments from Genesis, Exodus, Deuteronomy, Isaiah and Jubilees, as well as the Damascus Document, Blessing of the Community, Thanksgiving Scroll and more.  Four of the fragments are being conserved especially for our Museum and were never before on public display.

Why are the scrolls rotated out of the exhibit after three months?

The Dead Sea Scrolls are extremely fragile.  After three months on display, they must return to their permanent storage facility in Israel to “rest” in a dark location in precise temperature and humidity conditions.

Why were the Dead Sea Scrolls at a natural science museum?

The Dead Sea Scrolls are a testament to human creativity and provide a rare glimpse back into the culture that eventually gave rise to Judaism and Christianity.  The story of their preservation and discovery is not only one of great mystery and intrigue but also one of the ways in which science and technology help scholars unravel and piece together fragments of our past. The Dead Sea region’s geological conditions allowed these ancient documents to be preserved.  The science behind how the scrolls were naturally preserved and the way in which modern conservation techniques have advanced since the scrolls were originally discovered is a compelling story to share with museum visitors. 

Back to the Dead Sea Scrolls Exhibition