Posts Tagged ‘cave 12’

The History of the Dead Sea Scrolls 

The Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) are the greatest archaeological find of the 20th century. That still stands to this very day. For thousands of years the Judean Desert held secrets buried in its sands, only to be revealed by a young Bedouin shepherd in 1947. The discovery of these ancient treasures initiated a modern-day adventure into the past, revolutionizing our understanding of history and religion. What one Bedouin shepherd boy found would make archaeological history and would forever solidify the veracity of the Bible and over 2,000 years of history.

The initial announcement about the scrolls prompted feverish searches in the area of the original discoveries. An official archaeological expedition was begun in 1949 which eventually resulted in the discovery of ten additional caves in the surrounding area also containing scrolls. The archaeologists then directed their attention to a small ruin nearby called by its Arabic name – Khirbet (ruins of) Qumran. The scrolls had been stored in haste in the caves as the community fled the encroaching Roman army, which was in Judea to put down the Jewish Revolt of AD 66-70.

The Qumran Caves are a series of caves, most natural, some artificial, found around the archaeological site of Qumran in the Judaean Desert. The caves are only accessible via the Qumran plateau where archaeologist Roland de Vaux discovered pottery kilns in the 1950’s that were used to fire the scroll jars and a two-story building that contained the remains of writing benches & ink wells. Dr. Randall Price has served as Director of Excavations on the Qumran Plateau in Israel since 2002. During the course of his excavations, he discovered remains of ritual meals and deposits of 24 animal bones overlaid with broken pottery that were buried in a ritual manner. The bones and vessels were then buried because they were considered ritual meals and therefore sacred- never to be used again. In other words, these vessels were used in honor for the meal; not for everyday use. So everything was buried together afterwards. These discoveries fully support the connection between the scrolls and the site of Qumran.

Those seven original scrolls were just the beginning. The years between 1951 and 1957 were marked by accelerated activity in both the search for caves and the archaeological excavation of the Qumran site revealing 10 additional scroll caves.  Over 900 scrolls and thousands of fragments have been discovered since in the 11 caves of the Qumran area.

The scrolls are thought to be what my friend & fellow archaeologist Bruce Hall calls them- “God’s Library”. One of the most important contributions of the Dead Sea Scrolls is the numerous Biblical manuscripts which have been discovered. Fragments of every Old Testament book except Esther have been found, as well as many other non-Biblical texts such as the Book of Enoch, the Book of Jubilees, the Book of Tobit, and the Wisdom of Sirach.

The texts are composed in three languages- Hebrew, Aramaic, & Greek. Aramaic was the common language of the Jews of Palestine for the last two centuries B.C. and of the first two centuries A.D. The discovery of the Scrolls has greatly enhanced our knowledge of both the Hebrew & Aramaic languages.  Until those discoveries at Qumran, the oldest manuscripts of the Hebrew Scriptures were copies from the 9th and 10th centuries AD by a group of Jewish scribes called the Massoretes. Doubts about translation errors were settled with the discovery of the entire book of Isaiah found in Cave 1 dated to 125 BC. This is 1,000 years older than the Aleppo Codex (935 AD) which itself was 1,000 years old. When the two texts were compared, the Isaiah scroll was an identical to the later version of Isaiah in more than 95% of the text. The other 5% were spelling variations. This high level of accuracy was also confirmed among the other DSS. As a result, this closed a thousand year gap just a generation from the original scriptures. The witness of the scrolls testify to its preservation throughout the millennia. We can now place great confidence in the veracity of the Old Testament.

Modern Efforts

In 1993, Operation Scroll was launched to survey some 300 remaining caves in the region.  In the course of their surveys, cave 53 was included with its own survey and a small excavation in the floor of the cave. Nothing of major significance was discovered and after a few days, other caves were then surveyed. But there have been no major excavations in the Qumran caves in the last 60 years.  This position would change however when fragments of new DSS were showing up recently on the black market. According to Israeli law, all artifacts found on land or at sea belong to the state. Over the past 15 years there has been an increase in the number of Dead Sea Scroll fragments offered for sale on the black market. Some 300 looters in the last three years (about 100 per year) have been arrested looking for these artifacts in these caves. Most are fined; some are sent to jail.  In 2014, six people who were plundering “the Cave of Skulls” were arrested & jailed.  This has prompted a new initiative by the IAA (Israeli Antiquity Authority) to re-launch Operation Scroll to excavate the other caves as part of a national campaign to recover as many artifacts as possible, particularly scrolls, before they are found by thieves.

Cave 12 Discovery


Dr. Price served as director of the Qumran Plateau excavations for 10 years and because of its close proximity to Qumran and the other 11 caves, he chose cave 53 to excavate as it had the best potential for new cultural Dead Sea Scroll material. Proper permits were obtained and because of the IAA’s renewed interest, a high priority was placed on our site rolling in their efforts of Operation Scroll into our excavation. Despite a cursory survey of the cave in 1993, there was no major archaeological excavation of the cave itself.  For the first time in over 60 years, new excavations began in the Qumran caves in January 2017 led by Israeli archaeologist, Dr. Oren Gutfeld and co-directed by Dr. Randall Price of Liberty University.


Over the course of the excavation, numerous pottery shards, neolithic flint tools and arrowheads were excavated in the layers of dirt in the cave floor. A beautiful, decorated stamp seal made of carnelian, a semi-precious stone, was discovered dating the cave was used as far back as the Chalcolithic and the Neolithic periods.


Until now, it was believed that only 11 caves had contained scrolls until our team made a surprising discovery at the site.  During the final days of the excavation, 3 major broken scroll jars were found hidden in niches deep inside a long tunnel at its rear along with numerous storage jars and lids from the Second Temple period in the east entrance of the cave.  A pair of iron pickaxe heads dating from the 1950s (stored within the tunnel for later use) proving the cave had been looted in the past. All the vessels were broken and their contents removed sometime in the 50’s. There are no records about these scrolls and they seemed to be lost to history by Bedouins raiders.


However, a broken but complete store jar was discovered with a 7cm leather scroll found in-situ that was once rolled up inside the vessel in the east room of the cave. No archaeologist in the past has ever found a scroll jar with a scroll inside. It was taken to Hebrew University for analysis. After initial analysis, no writing was seen. Nevertheless, this discovery is extremely unique & never before seen by archaeologists.

This small scroll was probably a new mezuzah scroll ready to write on. But this is my theory. They were about 2 1/2” long with a passage from Exodus or Deuteronomy and placed in the entrance of the door or gate. Our scroll is 2.7” long (7cm).  For whatever reason, the people who placed the scrolls here could not return to retrieve it; nor any in the other 11 caves in the Qumran area.


Although the small scroll is blank, Israeli archaeologist can use it to help deter looters and detect modern forgeries of ancient documents. Much of the document material is supplied by looters who in recent years have been aggressively targeting the Dead Sea caves. It is now known that many of the fragments that entered the black market since 2002 appear to have been forged.

Recently, an article was published by Biblical Archaeology Society (BAS) that seems to refute the designation of the newly designated Cave 12 since no scroll with writing was found. Therefore, the article concludes it must not be a scroll cave. This conclusion, however logical, is a rather hasty generalization of the facts. Nonetheless, the question is valid. What constitutes a Dead Sea scroll cave? The assumption is that you have to find a scroll with writing for a cave to be designated a scroll cave. But is that necessarily true?

Let’s examine the archaeological evidence:

1. Store jars excavated in-situ in six different locations.

2. Linen wrappings that once covered the scrolls.

3. Numerous pieces of leather discovered for tying the scrolls. 

4. a 7cm scroll found within a broken store vessel. 

Cave 3 is the only cave where the evidence is similar to Cave 12 where a niche was cut in the side of the cave where the copper scroll was discovered.  All the other Dead Sea Scrolls with the exception of fragments found in Caves 2, 4, & 8 were all obtained on the antiquities market after the Bedouins had sold them. Empty store jars were found in Cave 8 but no scrolls were found-only five badly damaged fragments left by the Bedouins in the dirt.

Experts who came to this new cave saw these jars, linen wrappings and the numerous pieces of leather in situ. For the first time it was possible to view the jars where they had been placed 2,000 years ago. No archaeologist in the history of Qumran cave excavations have ever found scroll jars with even one scroll inside.  These experts included Marcello Fidanzio, author of the Caves of Qumran (Brill 2016), Pnina Shor, the head of the scroll conservation and preservation lab at the Israel Museum, and Dr. Weston Fields, Executive Director of the Dead Sea Scroll Foundation. Even without a scroll with writing, as Prof. Fidanzio has stated, this cave fits the pattern of the other manuscript caves and their is no doubt this is a scroll cave. Cave 12 is certainly unique and the first to produce this kind of evidence & material culture ever seen by archaeologist or scroll scholars. This cave is the first to document such evidence in situ. Therefore, this cave has received its new designation as Q12 (Q = Qumran standing in front of the number to indicate no written scrolls were found).


However, the work at Cave 12 is not entirely complete. With ongoing excavations, it is indeed possible to find a scroll with writing. But is it necessary for the designation? The answer is no. The archaeological evidence confirms this cave was indeed a scroll cave repository and designated as such by the Israeli Antiquity Authority in February 2017.

Aaron Judkins, Ph.D.

Biblical Archaeologist




New expedition journal: “In Search of Dead Sea Scrolls: Cave 12” by Aaron Judkins now available at