The recent decoding of a cryptic cup, the excavation of ancient Jerusalem tunnels, and other archaeological detective work may help solve one of the great biblical mysteries: Who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls?
The new clues hint that the scrolls, which include some of the oldest known biblical documents, may have been the textual treasures of several groups, hidden away during wartime—and may even be "the great treasure from the Jerusalem Temple," which held the Ark of the Covenant, according to the Bible.
The Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered more than 60 years ago in seaside caves near an ancient settlement called Qumran. The conventional wisdom is that a breakaway Jewish sect called the Essenes—thought to have occupied Qumran during the first centuries B.C. and A.D.—wrote all the parchment and papyrus scrolls.
But new research suggests many of the Dead Sea Scrolls originated elsewhere and were written by multiple Jewish groups, some fleeing the circa-A.D. 70 Roman siege that destroyed the legendary Temple in Jerusalem.
"Jews wrote the Scrolls, but it may not have been just one specific group. It could have been groups of different Jews," said Robert Cargill, an archaeologis. The new view is by no means the consensus, however, among Dead Sea Scrolls scholars.
"I have a feeling it's going to be very disputed," said Lawrence Schiffman, a professor of Hebrew and Judaic Studies at New York University (NYU).