Qumran Cave 1

QUESTION: What Happened to the Dead Sea Scrolls from Qumran Cave 1?


Three scrolls from Cave 1 above Qumran (the War Scroll, the Thanksgiving Psalm Scroll, and the second, incomplete Isaiah Scroll) were initially purchased by Faidi Salahi, an antiquities dealer in Bethlehem. Salahi contacted an Arab middleman in Jerusalem and arranged for a scroll fragment to be shown to Professor Eleazar Sukenik from Hebrew University.

Sukenik was a Jewish archaeologist and the first scholar to view any portion of the Dead Sea Scrolls discovery. Remarkably, this “viewing” occurred at a barbed wire barricade separating Jewish and Arab sectors in the Old City of Jerusalem during the last couple days before the British left the Palestinian mandate. It was a flash of a fragment in a clandestine meeting between a Jewish professor and an Arab intermediary, and Sukenik immediately understood the significance of what he saw.

On November 29, 1947, the night before the official United Nations resolution, Sukenik threw peril to the wind. He traveled to Bethlehem as the only Jewish passenger on an Arab bus, hoping to see the three scrolls Salahi had now entrusted to an antiquities dealer named Ohan. In a crazy whirlwind of mounting tension and ethnic suspicion, Sukenik and Ohan met in a quiet backroom. With no formal agreement, Ohan agreed to let Sukenik take the scrolls to Hebrew University for closer study. That night, Sukenik returned across the barbed wire barricade to Jerusalem with three scrolls that would prove to be a momentous discovery in the history of Israel. Remarkably, Sukenik was the last Jew to travel that route on the night before Israel was reborn as a state after nearly 1,900 years.

The other four scrolls from Qumran Cave 1 (the complete Isaiah Scroll, the Habakkuk Commentary, the Manual of Discipline, and the Genesis Apocryphon) went on a much different journey. In the Bethlehem marketplace, the Bedouin discoverers were directed to Khalil Iskander Shahin (known locally as “Kando”). Kando had a cobbler shop, but he traded some antiquities on the side. Kando purchased these four scrolls for about $20.00 and a promise to pay one-third of any future sales proceeds to the boys. Kando had no idea of the textual value, but he figured he could make a few bucks in the antiquities market.

Kando, a Syrian Christian, took his four scrolls to St. Mark’s Monastery in the Old City of Jerusalem, where he showed them to the Archbishop of the Syrian Christian Church, Metropolitan Mar Athanasius Yeshue Samuel. After some negotiation, “Metropolitan Samuel” purchased the scrolls from Kando for about $97.00, with the idea that he would re-sell them on behalf of the church. Samuel ran into a number of skeptics who saw no clear value in the scrolls or even suspected they were downright forgeries.

After a number of dead-ends, Metropolitan Samuel arranged a meeting with the American School of Oriental Research that had offices in Jerusalem. John C. Trever, a visiting professor from Drake University, was covering for the director that day, and convinced Samuel to allow him to carefully photograph the complete Isaiah Scroll, the Habakkuk Commentary and the Manual of Discipline. Trever sent some of the photographs back to his peers in the U.S.

On March 15, 1948, Trever received the following message from William F. Albright, the renowned archaeology authority in the U.S. at the time:
    “My heartiest congratulations on the greatest manuscript discovery of modern times … I should prefer a date around 100 B.C … What an absolutely incredible find! And there can happily not be the slightest doubt in the world about the genuineness of the manuscript.”

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