Imagine war coming to your hometown. Your country and now your city have been invaded. You know that it is just a matter of time before it reaches your doorstep. The odds are impossible, and you know that there is only one chance at survival–you have to run. You have to hide. You have to pray that you can find a place where the invaders will not find you.
You tell your family that you have to travel quickly, so they must bring only what is essential. You may be hiding out for days or weeks or months. What is it that you would hastily throw into your pack? Food, water, maybe a change of clothes, a weapon if you have one. And, if you are like me, you would find room in your small duffle for your Bible. Can you imagine being separated for a long period of time from the Word of God? Particularly if you are in a crisis situation, you will need the peace and assurance that comes from reading the Scriptures.
This is the situation in which many second century Judean Jews found themselves. A man named Simon bar Kokhba led a rebellion against the Roman Empire. The revolt went great until it didn’t. Emperor Hadrian dispatched one of his greatest generals, Julius Severus, all the way from Britain to deal with the troublesome Judeans once and for all. This Severus did with brutal efficiency.
When Severus arrived, those who could fight fought. Those who couldn’t fight fled. As they packed what little they could carry, they included amongst their few items scrolls containing the written words of the Lord. They couldn’t imagine leaving them behind because of their reverence for God’s Word and the necessity of its truth in their lives. Stashing the scrolls into their bags they fled for the caves of the Judean desert.
Almost nineteen centuries later, these scrolls emerged from the arid darkness into the outside world to bless a whole new generation of those who love the Lord. In the first such discovery in 60 years, these new Dead Sea Scrolls were found in the cave where these fleeing refugees had hidden them. Four years ago, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) recognized that hundreds of caves were under threat from looting and destruction. They began a systematic survey campaign to explore these many potential hideaways.i Many amazing antiquities have been uncovered, including coins and arrowheads, a perfectly preserved large woven basket dated well before the time of Abraham, and the 6,000-year-old mummified remains of a child.ii
The highlights of the IAI’s artifacts are 80 fragments of Scripture containing portions of the twelve minor prophets. Although the originals were written in Hebrew, these scrolls were copied in Greek. This is because Greek was the lingua franca of the time. Everyone spoke it. Aramaic was the common language amongst the population of the region. Hebrew was the language of the priestly class. But Greek was the language of the empire. No matter what part of the Roman civilized world you lived in, you would likely understand it. However, even though these scrolls were in Greek, whenever the name of the Lord was used, it was respectfully written in the original Hebrew.iii
Through a meticulous process of unfolding and separating layers, eleven lines of text were revealed. The passages had been penned by two different scribes and contained words from the prophets Zechariah and Nahum.iv
These are the things you shall do:
Speak each man the truth to his neighbor;
Give judgment in your gates for truth, justice, and peace;
Let none of you think evil in your heart against your neighbor;
And do not love a false oath.
For all these are things that I hate,’
Says the LORD. (Zechariah 8:16-17)
The mountains quake before Him,
The hills melt,
And the earth heaves at His presence,
Yes, the world and all who dwell in it.
Who can stand before His indignation?
And who can endure the fierceness of His anger?
His fury is poured out like fire,
And the rocks are thrown down by Him. (Nahum 1:5-6)
Those who fled with the scrolls didn’t survive. Despite hiding out in a cave that can only be reached by repelling 80 meters down a cliff, they were still discovered by the Romans. The speculation is that rather than coming down after them, the soldiers just set up camp at the top of the cliff trapping the refugees inside. Knowing the violence that was awaiting them if they surrendered, the small band remained in the cave, eventually dying of thirst. The skeletons of 40 men, women, and children were found in what has come to be known as the “Cave of Horror”.v
i Corbett, Glenn. “New Scrolls Hidden During Bar Kokhba Revolt Discovered.” Biblical Archaeology Society, 17 Mar. 2021, www.biblicalarchaeology.org/uncategorized/new-scrolls-hidden-during-bar-kokhba-revolt-discovered/.
ii Ben Zion, Ilan. “Israeli Experts Announce Discovery of More Dead Sea Scrolls.” AP NEWS, Associated Press, 16 Mar. 2021, apnews.com/article/new-dead-sea-scrolls-israel-19844d3eb208190914182e78d9d79aac.
iii Tercatin, Rossella. “Biblical Manuscripts Dating Back 2,000 Years Discovered in Israel.” The Jerusalem Post | JPost.com, 17 Mar. 2021, www.jpost.com/archaeology/israel-finds-2000-yr-old-biblical-manuscripts-662148.
iv Eames, Christopher. “New Dead Sea Scroll Discovered in ‘Cave of Horror’: Nahum and Zechariah.” Watch Jerusalem, 16 Mar. 2021, watchjerusalem.co.il/1185-new-dead-sea-scroll-discovered-in-cave-of-horror-nahum-and-zechariah.