A Biblical archaeologist out of Glen Rose, Dr. Aaron Judkins, recently helped uncover what may be considered the biggest discovery of the 21st century, the 12th Dead Sea scrolls cave at the Qumran site in Israel.
The Dead Sea scrolls are a collection of manuscripts from every book of the Old Testament, except the Book of Esther, that are now considered the earliest still in existence.
The first 11 Dead Sea scroll caves (located on the northwest side of the Dead Sea) were discovered between 1947-1957.
“Qumran was an area where we think a community, the Essenes, that used to live in Jerusalem, probably moved there around 125 B.C. so this is before Christ,” Judkins said. “This is the community we think wrote the Dead Sea scrolls. The Dead Sea scrolls were the greatest archaeological find of the 20th century.”
In 1947 a couple of Bedouin shepherds discovered the first cave by accident, which then led to the discovery of 11 other caves over the 10-year span.
“There were over 900 of these scrolls found and they realized these scrolls contained every book of the Old Testament with the exception of the Book of Esther, and they dated to 2,000 years old,” Judkins said. “So the significance of the Dead Sea scrolls is that these scrolls were 1,000 years older than the earliest text we had at the time.”
The oldest at that time was the Masoretic Text, the Aleppo Codex, that was dated at 1,000 years old.
“We’ve bridged the gap of 2,000 years to within a generation of the time that Christ lived,” Judkins said. “It was hugely important and the fact that they thought they had found everything there was to find since the 1950s, well turns out that’s not true because just last month we discovered cave 12.”
The dig, lasting from December 2016 through last month, was part of “Operation Scroll,” which was launched in the 1990s by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) and the team consisted of Judkins; Dr. Randall Price, a theologian archaeologist and co-director of the dig; students from Liberty University in Virginia; archaeologist Bruce Hall; Dr. Oren Gutfeld and Ahiad Ovadia from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Institute of Archaeology.
“We were the first foreign team in over 60 years to excavate any cave in the Qumran area for new Dead Sea scrolls,” Judkins said. “This cave was chosen by Dr. Randall Price because of its close proximity to the Qumran community and the other 11 caves. So we knew that this had very good potential, but we didn’t know what was there.”
The team spent two and a half weeks excavating and after sifting through the dirt found pottery from the Second Temple Period, which dates back to the Dead Sea scrolls time period 2,000 years ago.
“One of our guys was back in the tunnel (of the cave) and he found three large scroll storage jar vessels,” Judkins said. “As we got back there further we found two pick axe heads that dated back to the 1950s, so we realized that when word got out about the value of the Dead Sea scrolls the Bedouin’s who live in the area began to raid the caves. So we think that in the 50s the Bedouin’s raided this particular cave, found at least three Dead Sea scrolls and took them.”
The team continued their excavation and came across an area that had not been touched.
“Our team found other pottery vessels found in context and inside of one of those vessels was a tiny little rolled up scroll (2.7 inches long),” Judkins said. “It was leather and it didn’t have any writing on it so we took it to Hebrew University to see if the writing had faded. There was no writing on it at all, so we wondered ‘Why would they put a blank little tiny scroll in there?’”
After some research the team soon realized that the scroll was a Mezuzah, a small manuscript with specified Hebrew verses, and had been stored to be written on at a later time.
“The reason we think it’s blank is because it was a brand new scroll. They didn’t have time to write on it,” Judkins said. “The theory is that (the Essenes) probably realized the Roman army was coming in and they hid these scrolls in these caves in a hurry with intention of going back to get the scrolls, to write on the scroll and finish it. So we think it’s because of the Roman oppression between 68 A.D. - 72 A.D. they hid all these scrolls.”
After they fled, no one ever went back to the caves for 2,000 years.
“So because of the findings of our cave — the Second Temple pottery, the three large storage vessels, textile cloth and the little scroll — this cave has now been designated as cave 12 and is considered a Dead Sea scroll cave,” Judkins said. “It was such a fascinating thing to be involved in. This was probably the most important archaeological project I have ever been on because of the implications of the Dead Sea scrolls and now because of the new cave 12 we have made a mark in history and this is a moment in time where we will forever be tied to the Dead Sea scrolls.”
For more information on Judkins and his projects visit his website at aaronjudkins.com.