You are here

Biblical Archaeology Review 4:1, March 1978

Bedouin Find Papyri Three Centuries Older Than Dead Sea Scrolls

Subsequent excavations in bat dung by American archaeologist confirms original location of the papyrus scrolls; diggers find hundreds of additional small fragments in Jordan Valley caves.

By Paul W. Lapp

Nineteen-sixty-one was the third winter of drought. In the Old City of Jerusalem there were long queues at the water spigots. Tribes of Ta‘âmireh bedouin were drifting north past Jerusalem. Whole families and clans were moving together, at times afoot, at times by donkey train with an occasional camel. They tramped up the tortuous central spine of Palestine, their flocks and herds consuming the sparse greenery. This year they had to move much farther north than usual, an added hardship in their spartan existence. It was nothing new. The Bible long ago celebrated long droughts as “seven years of famine.”

Many able-bodied Ta‘âmireh were absent from this northward trek. Some of the men had temporary or even permanent jobs and were beginning to adapt to village life. Most of the rest were searching for scrolls or other antiquities. The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947 by two Ta‘âmireh shepherds produced more changes in the life of the tribe than it did in the text of the Old Testament. Even the pittance that finally reached their hands, out of the vast sums paid for the scrolls, was enough to stir the enterprising Ta‘âmireh. The trend of the times among the bedouin is toward sedentarization, but if one has to work, the freedom of a treasure hunt, with its promise of gold, is much more attractive than any other job. As a result, many of the men were off digging tombs in Tekoa, exploring caves in the Wâdi Murabba‘ât, and combing ruins in the wilderness of Judea. Every week or so they took a taxi up the Jordan Valley road to see their families on the northern trek, and then returned.

Join the BAS Library!

Already a library member? Log in here.

Institution user? Log in with your IP address.