New Research on The Dead Sea Scrolls Reaches Dueling Conclusions

National Geographic recently posted an article titled, Dead Sea Scrolls Mystery Solved? Not because they had any answers, but because it’s really good headline.

The mystery of the scrolls concerns the writers; we have no idea who made these scrolls.  The reigning theory is that a group of Jews known as the Essenes (famous for baptizing people before Jesus was born) manufactured them, and many efforts have been made to connect this group to John the Baptist.  Such a grand unifying theory is certainly interesting, but it’s a theory that still lacks a great deal of proof.

National Geographic’s article focuses on some new discoveries:

“…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…”

Some of this research is based around a cup not connected to the Dead Sea Scrolls at all except for the writing on it that matches the writing on the scrolls.  It is supposed that this means the cup maker was part of the same group as the scroll writers, but all it really proves is a common style of writing.  Of course, Common Style of Writing Found Between Two Jewish Antiques isn’t a very good headline.

Meanwhile, scientific research has shed some light on this issue as a group in Italy did some exciting new work on the scrolls. fills us in:

The researchers bombarded the scroll fragments first with alpha-particles and X-rays from the portable XPIXE device, and then with proton beams produced by a particle accelerator.  The X-rays emitted by the samples showed that all of the fragments contained chlorine and that the ratio of chlorine to bromine within the Temple Scroll fragments was about three times higher than is normally found in sea water. The researchers concluded that the scroll may have been made from the very salty Dead Sea water.

The only problem with the article is that it seems to tell us that all of the documents were made locally – but only one of the 900+ scrolls were tested.  Still, it challenges the notion that the scrolls were collected from all over and held in Qumran merely for storage.  An interesting piece of the puzzle, to be sure, but not yet definitive.

I hate it when I have to choose between Discovery and National Geographic – it’s like asking someone to choose between their parents.  And I really hate to admit how often they can resemble cheap journalists rather than researchers.  Either way, the origin of the Dead Sea Scrolls may be beyond all of us – there are some secrets that history just refuses to give up.

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