Biblical Archaeology Review 7:4, July/August 1981

Saving the Dead Sea Scrolls for the Next 2000 Years

Preservation in the Qumran caves was easier than in a museum atmosphere

By Dodo Joseph Shenhav

The Dead Sea Scrolls were preserved in remarkable condition for 2000 years in the Qumran caves overlooking the Dead Sea. It seems almost a miracle that these caves in which the Essenes stored their scrolls were very nearly the perfect environment for the preservation of the documents.

Despite the capabilities of modern science, it is difficult, if not impossible, to reproduce precisely this environment in a Jerusalem museum. Although only a thirty-minute drive from Qumran, Jerusalem is 2500 feet above sea level, while Qumran is about 1300 feet below sea level. Jerusalem has 20 inches of rain a year, compared to one or two inches in the Judean Wilderness of Qumran. But even if we could recreate the Qumran caves our problems would not be solved.

Before the scrolls arrived at the museum, the bedouin who discovered them and the merchant middlemen who bargained with the scholarly world for their purchase, exposed the scrolls to a humid environment from which they absorbed moisture. This upset a 2000-year equilibrium and irreversibly altered the parchment on which the scrolls were written.

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