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DEAD SEA (See also wiki article Dead_sea.)

DEAD SEA - An inland lake 53 miles long and From 2¾ to 10 miles in breadth, which is fed by the Jordan. Its level is about 1290 feet below that of the Mediterranean, being the lowest body of water on the earth's surface. It has no outlet, and the water received by it is all carried off by evaporation. In consequence, the waters of the lake are impregnated with mineral substances to a remarkable degree; they yield 25 per cent. salt, whereas the ocean yields but 4 to 6 per cent. Valuable as a source of salt in Biblical times (Ezk.47.11), its mineral deposits are exploited commercially to-day.

The modern name is of late origin (first used apparently by Pausanias) and refers to the total absence of life in its waters - in contrast with the apocalyptic hope of Ezk.47.8-10. Hebrew writers spoke of it as the 'Salt Sea' (Gn.14.3, Nu.34.3, Jos.15.5, etc.), the 'sea of the Arabah' (Dt.3.17, 4.49) and the 'eastern sea' (Ezk.47.18, Jl.2.20). Greek writers called it 'Asphalt Lake,' because asphalt sometimes rises to the surface and floats ashore. In Arabic it is known as Bahr Lut, 'the sea of Lot,' a name probably due to the direct influence of the history as related in the Qur'an. South of the lake was once the Valley of Siddim (Gn.14.10) where stood the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, which are believed to be entirely submerged by water. Earthquakes, accompanied by irruptions of ignited petroleum and gas, may have contributed to the sinking of the valley.

The Dead Sea owes its origin to a fracture produced in the surface of the region by earth-movements whereby the land of Palestine was raised above sea-level. This fault took place towards the end of the Eocene period; it extends along the whole Jordan Valley from the Gulf of 'Aqaba to Hermon. Thus the general appearance of the lake has not radically altered during the whole period of human existence.

Round the border of the lake are numerous small springs, some bursting actually under its waters, others forming lagoons of comparatively brackish water. The springs of En-Gedi and 'Ain Feshkhah on the western side made possible the cultivation of crops - the latter place by the Essene community of Khirbet Qumran. In the lagoons small fish are to be found; but in the main body of water life of any kind is impossible.

Modern observations show that the surface of the lake varies. An island that was a conspicuous feature at the north end disappeared under the surface in 1892, and became visible again in 1960.
[Article: Dictionary of the Bible, J.Hastings, 2nd Ed., T&T.Clark, 1963. - R.A.S.M. - W.H.Br.]


DEAD SEA SCROLLS - On the west side of the Dead Sea, not far from its northern end, a rugged valley named Wadi Qumran descends from the Judaean plateau. A promontory on its northern edge bears a ruin called Khirbet Qumran (Qumran Ruin), which has been shown by excavation to be the remains of a Jewish monastic establishment of the last century BC and the first century of our era. The major occupation of the site was in two periods, separated by a gap of about thirty years corresponding roughly to the reign of Herod the Great, just before the beginning of the Christian era. Coins found in the excavation indicated that the first period began near the end of the 2nd cent. BC, in or shortly before the reign of Alexander Jannaeus (103-76 BC). It was brought to an end by an earthquake in 31 BC, and the buildings were not restored and reoccupied until some time in the reign of Archelaus (4 BC - AD 6). The second period of occupation then lasted until AD 68, when the settlement was violently destroyed, probably by the Romans.

The excavation of this site was a consequence of a previous discovery. At some time during the years 1945-47 an Arab goatherd accidentally found a cave, about half a mile north of Kirbet Qumran, containing Hebrew and Aramaic manuscripts stored in clay jars. In 1947 these scrolls were brought to Jerusalem. Four of the seven documents contained in them were bought by the Syrian Orthodox Archbishop there and three by the Hebrew University, which later acquired the others also.

In 1949 the cave was scientifically excavated by the Department of Antiquities of Jordan and the French School of Archaeology at Jerusalem, and hundreds of fragments of manuscripts were unearthed. The excavation ofKhirbet Qumran followed in 1951-56 ; meanwhile and after the completion of the excavation ten more caves containing a few scrolls and thousands of fragments were found. The results of the excavations, combined with the palaeographical evidence of the manuscripts themselves, made it clear that all but the oldest of them had been made by the community at Khirbet Qumran.

During the course of these discoveries another and quite unconnected collection of fragments was found in another valley some miles to the south, the Wadi Murabba'at. These came from the 2nd cent. AD and consisted of letters, contracts, and similar documents, as well as biblical manuscripts, from the period of the revolt of Bar Cochba (AD 132-35). A third body of material, coming from later Christian centuries, appeared in the excavation of Khirbet Mird, the ruins of a Byzantine monastery farther up in the hills. All three collections are included under the term Dead Sea Scrolls in its widest sense, and all have their own importance. Major interest, however, has naturally centred in the oldest and largest collection, the fragments and scrolls from the Wad) Qumran. Most of these are of leather, some of papyrus, and one of copper. With the exception of the seven documents found in the initial discovery, which are now in Israel, all the material is in Jordan at the Palestine Archaeological Museum of Jerusalem, where it is being studied and published by an international and interconfessional team of scholars.

The contents of the Qumran texts exhibit an astonishing range and variety, though all are of a religious nature. Roughly a fourth of them are biblical manuscripts. All the books of the OT except Esther are represented, some of them in several copies. There are also selections of texts, paraphrases, and even commentaries on Genesis, Psalms, and several of the prophetic books. Several of the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, including Tobit, Sirach, Enoch, and Jubilees, have been found also.

In addition to these there are many non-biblical works, both in Hebrew and in Aramaic. Most of them were previously quite unknown. Portions of the Damascus Document (Zadokite Fragments) were found in three of the caves. An almost complete copy of a composition resembling it, the Manual of Discipline or Rule of the Community, was found in the first cave ; parts of eleven other copies appeared in another (Cave 4). The Rule of the Congregation is still another composition closely related to the Manual of Discipline and included in the same scroll with it in the copy from Cave 1. There are also collections of psalms, hymns, prayers, and blessings. Other scrolls contain directions for worship. Several texts have to do with the impending end of this world and with the world to come.

From all this emerges a vivid picture of a strict monastic order within Judaism, a community which regarded itself as the true Israel of the last days, deeply involved in the cosmic struggle between the sons of light and the sons of darkness, the 'lot' of God and the 'lot' of Belial. Many of the texts reflect a quiet group withdrawn from the world and devoted to worship and study. One scroll, however, gives detailed directions for the conduct of the war against the hosts of evil, with weapons and military tactics plainly copied from those of the Romans. The community's life at Qumran was strictly regulated by rules of probation, admission, discipline, the sharing of property, eating together, and the continual, ardent searching of the Scriptures. The nature of their life and organization and the location of their settlement make it natural to identify them with the Essenes (q.v.), described by Josephus and Philo. They were at least a closely related sect, part of the same general movement.

The significance of the Dead Sea Scrolls for biblical studies is twofold. The biblical manuscripts provide a wealth of material for the textual criticism of the OT; the other texts acquaint us with a little known phase of Jewish history and by so doing fill in an important part of the background of the NT. For textual criticism the importance of these texts lies in the fact that they are a thousand years and more older than the oldest Hebrew manuscripts of the OT previously known. They carry us back to a stage in the history of the text before it had been standardized in the form preserved by all the later manuscripts. In the Wadi Murabba'at manuscripts of the 2nd cent. the standardization is complete ; in the Qumran fragments and scrolls the text is still much more fluid. In some books there is little difference from the traditional (Massoretic) text; in others there is a notably close relation with the text represented by the Septuagint. Many readings not found in any other form of the text are found, and occasionally they seem to be superior to the traditional readings. Fragmentary as the Qumran texts are, they afford invaluable assistance for the correction of the text and still more for the reconstruction of its history.

For the study of the NT the literature of the Qumran sect affords many striking parallels in language, thought, and practice. The sense of living in the last days was characteristic of both the sect and the early church. The sharp division between the realms of light and darkness recalls many passages in the NT, especially in the Johannine writings. The stress on the sinfulness of man and on salvation by the grace of God alone reveals a surprising affinity with the experience and doctrine of Paul. The life of the early apostolic church at Jerusalem resembled that of the Qumran community at such points as the common meals and the sharing of property. Many scholars, impressed by these contacts, have inferred that the sect had some direct influence on the early church, through John the Baptist or through Jesus or through later connexions. If there was any such influence, which is possible but cannot be proved, there were also radical differences which were even more significant. In any case, the vocabulary, presuppositions, and ways of thinking inherited by the first Christians from Judaism are illuminated at many points by the Dead Sea Scrolls. [Article: Dictionary of the Bible, J.Hastings, 2nd Ed., T&T.Clark, 1963. - M.B.]