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Last of Dead Sea Scrolls About Ready to Publish

November 16, 2001|Associated Press

NEW YORK — Half a century after the first of the Dead Sea Scrolls was found in desert caves, archeologists celebrated the near completion of the publication of the ancient texts.

"It's a very happy moment that we can say today that all this is completed," Emmanuel Tov, the project's editor in chief, said Thursday at the New York Public Library.

"After 54 years of excitement, expectation, tribulation, much criticism and a little praise, with the help of much inspiration and even more perspiration, the publication has been finalized."

The scrolls, which date from 250 BC to AD 70, were discovered between 1947 and 1956 in 11 caves overlooking the western shores of the Dead Sea.

For decades, access to the complete scrolls was tightly guarded by a small group of international scholars. After the release of bootlegged copies of some of the texts and an archive of scroll photographs, a new group of nearly 100 scholars took charge of the scrolls in 1991. Tov, a professor at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, was named to head the project, pledging to expedite its publication.

The 900 scrolls and commentaries in 37 volumes were primarily written in Hebrew and Aramaic on more than 15,000 leather and papyrus documents. They were found near the ruins of the ancient settlement Hirbet Qumran, nine miles south of Jericho in the West Bank.

They are believed to have been written by the Essenes, an austere, insular Hebrew sect.

Scholars consider the scrolls a treasure of Jewish history and religion. They provide insights into what the Hebrew Bible looked like more than 2,000 years ago. They also contain prayer texts, biblical interpretations, fragments of poetry, compositions on wisdom and various sectarian documents.

Tov and his colleagues said that nothing in the scrolls is likely to shed a negative light on Judaism or early Christianity as once was thought possible. Tov said Jesus was not mentioned in the scrolls, noting that most of them were written before Jesus was born.

The work "leads us to believe that the Bible went through many stages of changes," Tov said.

Tov's team, overseen by the Israel Antiquities Authority, has issued 28 volumes; two more are in their final stages. They are published by Oxford University Press under the general title "Discoveries in the Judean Desert."

One scroll contains a Hebrew song of thanksgiving that Tov and his colleagues dedicated to New York City in honor of its steadfastness following the Sept. 11 terror attacks: "Bless the one who wonderfully does majestic deeds, and makes known his strong hand."

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