The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in the caves of Qumran along the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea constitutes the most exciting discovery affecting biblical studies in this century.  It was in February or March, 1947, that an Arab Shepherd boy by the name of Mohammed discovered the ancient documents.  It was said that he was looking for a lost goat when he tossed a rock into one of the caves and heard the sound of breaking pottery.  Out of curiosity, he climbed into the cave to see what was there. Once inside, he found some old pots with the scrolls intact.  Either he or members of his family took the scrolls to the city of Bethlehem and sold them to a merchant for what amounted to a couple of dollars.  Thus began the story of the Dead Sea Scrolls.  What makes this find so valuable is that they were older by a thousand years than any biblical manuscripts of the Old Testament in existence.  The oldest Old Testament manuscripts up until that time dated back to A.D. 900.  These were derived from the medieval Jewish centers in southern Russia.  But the Dead Sea Scrolls from Qumran brings us one thousand years closer to the original text – to as early as 150 B.C.  From 1947 to 1955, at least ten caves were discovered, each containing fragments of early Jewish writings.  Cave 1 contained two scrolls of Isaiah – one complete and the other damaged.  There was also a commentary on Habbakuk, a series of sectarian

The Great Isaiah scroll that was found in cave 1.

documents, and the scroll of the War of the Sons of Light against the Sons of Darkness, which gives a very detailed and complex plan for the order of the battle of the Jews and their last great apocalyptic struggle against the heathen and the infidels of Rome. Cave 2 yielded a copy of the apocryphal book of Jubilees, a description of the apocalyptic Jerusalem in the Aramaic language, and a number of biblical and apocryphal fragments. In Cave 3, there were found several hundred fragments in Hebrew and Aramaic and two copper scrolls.  These strange documents contained information on the amounts and whereabouts of a fabulous treasure.  Cave 4 is easily visible from the ruins of the monastic dwelling of the Essene people.  It is at the top of a narrow ridge that juts out into the wadi, or the dry river bed.  The inaccessability kept it secret for 2,000 years.  From cave 4 have come the largest number of fragments yet uncovered.  There are fragments in the ancient Hebrew script of Genesis, Exodus and Job.  Fragments of more than fourteen different manuscript copies of Deuteronomy, and fragments of other biblical books with texts similar to the Septuagint were found.  It is estimated that nearly 500 different titles may be preserved in fragmentary form.  Caves 5 and 6 contain more fragments,  but in lesser quantity than the thousands of pieces from cave 4.  Cave 7 was discovered in mid-March of 1955, and that brings us to the most startling discovery of all.  You have been told over the years of the various documents that have been found in the caves of Qumran.  You have been told about the discovery of Isaiah and that among the caves were found all of the Old Testament books with the exception of the book of Esther.  But what you were not told was that in cave 7 near Qumran, a startling discovery of New Testament fragments were found. Portions of the Gospel of Mark, a portion of the book of Acts, a portion of the epistles to the Romans, a fragment of Paul’s first letter to Timothy, a fragment from 2 Peter and a portion of the book of James – nine fragments in all – that prove to the world of biblical scholarship that there were Christians among the Essene people at Qumran. Furthermore, these portions of the New Testament constitute authentic evidence that the words and works of Jesus were recorded and widely known throughout first century Palestine.  The events of the Gospels were openly witnessed and were committed to writing while the participants and the observers still lived.  There are many liberal theologians who believe that the New Testament is merely a collection of mythological stories which had been handed down for at least 200 years before they were committed to writing.  Liberal theologians believe that the words and works of Jesus were stretched out of all proportion, thus making the miracles of the New Testament merely a collection of legends that were put to writing during the second and third centuries A.D, when in fact, the fragments that were found in cave 7 at Qumran prove that portions of the New Testament, which had been considered legendary, were actually written before the Romans destroyed Jerusalem in A.D. 70.  They were written, then, during the lifetimes of the people who witnessed those miracles.  Evidently,  these early New Testament books were copied by scribes and distributed widely throughout the known world.  The observers and participants of those New Testament miracles had ample opportunity to refute any exaggeration that may have been in the writing.  It proves that the miracle of Jesus recorded in the New Testament are true.  It also proves that the traditional view that the New Testament is a self-contained collection, or a canon, is vindicated.  The proximity of so many fragments from so many different authors, even some being in Rome, bolsters the view that the collection of the New Testament was well underway within the lifetimes of it’s authors.


An example of the twisted view that many modern theologians take of the Bible can be found in the Interpreters Bible.  Note what is written concerning the gospel of Mark: “To all intents and purposes, we must study the gospel as if it were anonymous, like most of the books of the Bible, not a product of personal literary authorship.  The book, Mark, cannot have been written by an eyewitness.  It is a conpendium of church tradition, not the personal observations of a participant.”  The discovery of the fragments of the Gospel of Mark found in cave number 7 at Qumran dating before A.D. 70 proved that this statement made by a liberal theologian to be incorrect (what else is new).


The Gospel of Mark, traditionally thought to represent the stories and sermons of Peter, was written as a continuous narrative at such an early date that the original must have been written before the other Gospels and soon after, if not during, the public ministry of Jesus.  Though the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumaran is revered by the Jewish people as authenticating the Jewish culture of the Essene people, what is even more astounding is that portions of the New Testament were also found in those caves.  The fragments were found in cave 7 in March, 1955.  Biblical scholars at that time searched through the Septuagint version of the Old Testament in an attempt to identify the portion of scripture from which these fragments came. Finally,  after an exhaustive study of the Old Testament, the fragments were published as being unidentified.  It was not until 1971 that they were finally recognized as being from the New Testament.  It was late Autumn, 1971, in Barcelona, Spain, that a gray-haired middle aged scholar poured over his treasure of ancient books.  He was a man who had spent his entire lifetime studying the distant past.  While modern Spain passed through all of the violent episodes of the 20th century, he had concentrated on studying the ancient languages of Hebrew, Greek and Latin.  His name was Jose O’ Callaghan.  He was busy preparing a catalogue of ancient fragments from the Greek version of the Old Testament.  He traced one tiny piece of papyrus after another through the massive books by noted archaeologiests.  For many years, O’ Callaghan had traveled throughout Europe, Israel and Egypt seeking seeking the time-worn documents from the early days of Christianity.  One day, while routinely going through the publications of hundreds of ancient fragments, he turned to the third

Dr. Jose O’Callaghan was a Spanish Jesuit Catholic priest, papyrologist and Biblical scholar. He is known for his identification of the 7Q5 papyrus of Qumran with a text of Mark 6, 52-53.

volume of a book called “The Discoveries of the Judean Desert of Jordon, and as he studied this volume, O’ Callaghan came upon the discussion of the fragments from an Exodus passage found in cave 7 at Qumran.  He looked at pictures of the Exodus fragments and then became intrigued by another caption on the same page.  It read, “Fragments not identified.”  Then, he caught sight of fragment 5.  His eye fell on the combination of the Greek letters nu, nu, eta and sigma.  He then noted the editor’s comments that this was probably the common Greek version of the form ege [nnes]en, which means to “beget” or “be father of.”  The root of this word appears in our English word “generate” or “generation.”  The word appears frequently in the genealogical passages of the Old Testament.  For example, in Genesis 4:18 the Bible says:  “And unto Enoch was born Irad:  and Irad begat Mehujael:”  The word “begat” is the Greek word “ETEN.”  Since the Greek letters represented by the English “nu, nu, eta, sigma” are not a common combination in the regular Greek vocabulary, this suggestion of the editors seemed promising.  But Mr. O’ Callaghan searched through his Greek Old Testament in vain.  As he checked each passage that contained the word “igenosin,” he looked for the key letters on the fragments that preceded the nu, nu, eta, sigma for the third line above the nu, nu, eta sigma is the word “KAI” (kappa, alpha, iota), the Greek word for our English conjunction “and.”  For the second line, he needed the letter combination TN (tau, nu) and for the fifth line he needed to find the Greek letter H (eta).  Since the identifications of Fragments 1 and 2 revealed that the original text ran from 16 to 20 letters per line, O’ Callaghan hazarded the guess that the fragment might be comparable.  If he could match it with a biblical passage and maintain about 20 letters or so per line, he would have an important bit of confirming evidence, but every Old Testament passage he checked simply did not meet these requirements.  Even the easiest word to find, KAI (kappa, alpha, iota), usually appeared too near or too far from the nu, nu, eta, sigma or there was no logical reason for the space before the KAI as it appears in Fragment 5.  Of course, there was the difficulty of finding the proper letters in the second and fifth lines.  Jose O’ Callaghan had classes to teach, had administrative responsibilities to fulfill and books to complete, so he put the matter aside, and from time to time he returned to the fascinating question of Fragment 5.  However, he kept going back over in his mind the odd combination nu, nu, eta, sigma along with the KAI (cappa, alpha, iota) on the line above.  As O’ Callaghan tells it, one evening a few days before Christmas, he relaxed after a busy day.  His mind ranged over the day’s activities, and he thought again of the tiny fragment and the nu, nu, eta, sigma.  Suddenly, a new word came to him – not the Old Testament ege[nnes]en, but the familiar place name Ge[nnes]-aret.  But as soon as the thought struck him, he realized it was impossible. Gennesaret is a New Testament word.  How could Fragment 5 by any stretch of the imagination be from the New Testament?  No, he told himself, it was impossible – absolutely impossible.  The tiny scrap had been dated between 50 B.C. and A.D. 50.  It could not possibly correspond to something from the New Testament – after all, Qumran is famous for it’s Old Testament finds.  As much as some scholars have wanted to prove otherwise, there seemed to be no particular link between the early followers of Christ and the Essene community that lived and worked at Qumran.  No Christian literature whatsoever had ever turned up in these caves.  Furthermore, there was no archaeological evidence that Christians had ever used the Qumran caves.  Nevertheless, O’ Callaghan left his Old Testament search and turned to his Greek New Testament.  Gennesaret is an Aramaic place name brought into the vocabulary of the early Greek-speaking Christians because of it’s role in the ministry of Christ.  It appears once each in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke.  In Matthew 14:34 and in Luke 6:53 the story is given of the feeding of the 5,000 and of Christ’s return to the village of Gennesaret on the northeastern shore of the Sea of Galilee.  The two passages are almost exact parallels.  O’ Callaghan must have been excited about the Matthew text, for a KAI (kappa, alpha, iota) appears approximately the right distance before the nu, nu, eta, sigma of GE[nnes]aret, but O’ Callaghan still had to locate the letter H (eta) for the last line of the fragment, and there was none in the Matthew

Fragment 5 from Cave 7 of the Qumran Community in its entirety

account.  He knew it was phenomenal to have come that close to matching the four lines, so he turned quickly to Mark 6:53.  His anticipation soared as he laid out the lines to the approximate measure of 20 characters to the line.  This length is used in Fragment 1 and appears frequently on other papyri.  This time, an eta appeared just as required in the last line.  Furthermore, all of the other letters on the fragment could be reconciled to the passage, including the tiny trace of an epsilon or a short e on the first line.  Everything fitted perfectly.  As a papyrologist, the identification was evident. Equally astounding was the fact that within a few more hours of checking other New 7Q5 gospel of mark fragmentTestament text, O’ Callaghan was able to identify eight more of the fragments of the cave 7 fragments.  Hidden among the minute scraps of the Dead Sea Scrolls was the earliest portion of the New Testament ever found – Mark 4:28, Mark 6:48, Mark 6:52-53, Mark 12:17;  then the book of Acts 27:38 and Romans 5:11-12, 1 Timothy 3:16 and James 1:23-24.  Apparently, the Essene Jewish scholars who lived at Qumran in A.D. 70 had accepted Jesus Christ as their Messiah.  On March 18, 1972, news media around the world carried the story that a fragment of the Gospel of Mark had been found among the Dead Sea Scrolls.  The identification was made by Mr. O’Callaghan and was made public by him in a talk in that city.  Newspapers across the United States picked up the story.  The NEW YORK TIMES reported, “If O’ Callaghan’s theory is accepted, it would prove that at least one of the Gospels, that of St. Mark, was written only a few years after the death of Jesus.”  The CHICAGO TRIBUNE  stated, “If this theory is accepted by scholars, biblical research would be revolutionized.”  The LOS ANGELES TIMES wrote, “Nine New Testament fragments dated A.D. 50 to A.D. 100 have been discovered in a Dead Sea Cave and, if validated, constitute the most sensational biblical trove uncovered in recent times.”  The announcement of the New Testament fragments found among the Dead Sea Scrolls hit the world of biblical scholarship like a spiritual atomic bomb.  The first and immediate reaction was a distant frustration, and it seemed for a number of months that the entire establishment of biblical scholarship had been caught without any prior expectation that a first century portion of the New Testament would ever be found.  A quick criticism of O’ Callaghan was difficult because he had neither found nor dated the fragments, thus there was no reason to dispute the date.  The mood of quiet did not last long, however.  By the fall of 1972, an enormous protest had broken out over the tiny fragments from cave 7.  One modern theologian wrote in reply, “O’ Callaghan’s identification is perhaps possible.  It seems to me to be most highly improbable.  In any case, the find can never be used with certainty, and the discussion as to the date of Mark’s Gospel is very much where it was before O’ Gallaghan’s discovery.”  Professor Ernest Wright, a liberal theologian from Harvard University wrote , “Clearly, in every field of research intuition and speculation are legitimate and even fun.  But it is advisable not to draw conclusions from them until they are backed by facts.”  Another reaction was given by Mr. C.H. Roberts.  He wrote, “Identifications on this scale are an exercise not in scholarship, but in fantasy.”  Why should the world of biblical scholarship, mostly liberal, take such awesome offense at the possibility of the oldest fragments of the New Testament ever found?  The answer points out the tremendous importance of O’ Callaghan’s identification and the serious challenge it presents to the basic view of scripture held by many modern theologians and biblical scholars, a view that has cast doubt on the authenticity and historicity of the New Testament.  To answer this question, we will have to review the history of the study of the New Testament text, and we will have to understand the positions taken by contemporary scholars regarding the New Testament.  The New Testament was written in Greek and passed on by means of handwritten copies up until the Renaissance.  After the invention of the printing press in the 14th century, the Latin Vulgate Bible was published, but it took another century and a half before a Greek text was finally printed in 1516.  As early as 1600, there were scholars in England and Germany who questioned the miracles and other supernatural elements in the Bible. Slowly, over the years, these views became dominant in the university circles of Germany.  Many scholars set out on what became known as the quest for the historical Jesus.  This was an attempt to strip away from the New Testament those elements that were thought to be either theological or mythological additions in an attempt to find what was felt to be the true human Jesus of history.  This view of scripture, which sought to strip away the supernatural, was supported by the so-called “higher criticism” which started in the early 18th century.  The events of World War 2 brought about profound changes in liberal theology and resulted in the rediscovery of Soren Kierkegaard and the development of dialectic theology.  The solitary giant of European Christianity was Karl Barth, and the watchword of the hour was “ecumenism.” Dialectic theology permits the continued use of such terms as sins, salvation, atonement and sanctification to mention only a few, yet radically reinterprets each one of them so that they no longer present a true biblical theology, but instead convey man made philosophies.  Millions of churchgoers continue to believe that the words of Jesus in the New Testament were actually spoken by him, but the professors in the seminaries apply the twisted logic of the 18th century German philosopher Immanuel Kant and disguised their basic unbelief in the credibility of the New Testament with their layers of academic but intelligible jargon.  The accomodation of liberal theology by mainline denominations was moving into it’s second and third generations when O’ Callaghan dropped into it’s midst what has since proved to be an enormous problem and embarrassment to many liberals.  This is why biblical scholars took offense at his discovery and greeted it with jeers and criticism.  As if the stirring up of these waters was not enough, the identification of fragment number 5 from cave 7 at Qumran also caused unrelieved tensions in another touchy area – the troubled balance of forces in the state of Israel.  The Israeli experts fought long and hard to establish the authenticity and the early date of the Dead Sea Scrolls.  However, they would just as well be satisfied if their were study of this material for purely Christian ends.  Into this uneasy balance of forces, O’ Callaghan dropped his intellectual bomb.  From this discovery of New Testament fragments among the Dead Sea Scrolls, some conclusions must be drawn.  First of all, the Gospel narratives constitute authentic evidence that the words and works of Jesus were recorded and widely known throughout first century Palestine.  The events of the Gospels were openly witnessed and were committed to writing while both the participants and the observers lived.  Then second, it must be concluded that as early as A.D. 70, the writings of early church leaders were being compiled into a New Testament collection.  A complete New Testament was soon to come.



Add yours

  1. More evidence demanding an obvious verdict. Hand written scriptures of Mark, dated between 50 and 70 a.d. There is reason and now evidence indicating pure motive of these early believers. They did suffer and or die for an historical, first hand witnessed experience of the risen Messiah.

    Liked by 1 person

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