More than 60 years ago, they were found in a cave. Now the Dead Sea Scrolls mystery solved? Researchers had attributed the ancient parchments to the Essenes, a Jewish sect which lived near Qumran, a settlements close to the caves were the scrolls were discovered. Now a cryptic cup and ancient tunnels in Jerusalem may hold the answer to their origin.

NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 17:  A two thousand-year-old fragment of the The Book of Tobit from the Dead Sea Scrolls is seen on display at The Jewish Museum September 17, 2008 in New York City. 'The Dead Sea Scrolls: Mysteries of the Ancient World' will be displayed at the museum through early 2009, featuring fragments of six scrolls, three of which are being exhibited for the first time.   (Photo by Chris Hondros/Getty Images)


As researchers and archeologists decode the writing on the cup, clues point to the scrolls being written by several Jewish sects. They may be among those who fled Jerusalem in 70 A.D. when Roman forces attacked and destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem. Rome was reacting to a Jewish revolt that climaxed at the Battle of Masada.

According to the new findings, the scrolls may have been important documents once held in the Ark of the Covenant! That they were spirited away from the Temple in Jerusalem before the Romans sacked it. Archeologist Robert Cargill says “Jews wrote the Scrolls, but it may not have been just one specific group. It could have been groups of different Jews.”

The cup itself was discovered at Mount Zion in Jerusalem. Said to be some 2,000 years old, a phrase inscribed on it’s sides was recently deciphered “Lord, I have returned”. The code is similar to that used to write the Dead Sea Scrolls. Experts are now leaning to a new theory that the Scrolls may have been written by religious leaders in Jerusalem, some who escaped the Romans and fled to Qumran.

The Essenes themselves may have been the priests at the Temple of Jerusalem. They may have fled to Qumran and wrote the Scrolls using the same code as found on the newly discovered cup. Or, the Scrolls were written in Jerusalem, part of the treasure of the Temple. The fleeing priests took them as to prevent these documents from falling into Roman hands.

The Scrolls themselves consist of some 900 documents, many including texts from the Hebrew Bible. From 1947 to 1956, the Scrolls were discovered in a series of eleven caves near Qumran along the West Bank of the Dead Sea. A Bedouin Palestinian, Muhammed edh-Dhib and his cousin discovered the caves first and their hidden treasure. The documents were written in several languages, Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek.

At first, the Scrolls were being sold to collectors. But by 1948, the scientific community became interested and several expeditions were launched searching the caves. An ad for the sale of the Scrolls even appeared in the Wall Street Journal. They were eventually sold at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York for $250,000 to Professor Benjamin Mazar of Hebrew University.

A number of theories on the origins of the Dead Sea Scrolls added to their mystery. Since the 1990s, the Essene theory has been the dominant one. They were a very religious sect, refraining from marriage and focused on piety and devotion to God. The Essenes practiced communal living and voluntary poverty. They were a very strict lot whom were also fiercely independent and considered by other sects to be rebels, though they practiced non-violence.

The discovery of the cryptic cup in Jerusalem may indeed hold the key, is so, then the Dead Sea Scroll mystery is solved. Researchers, historians and archeologists will explore and debate the implications for years to come.

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Dead Sea Scrolls at the Library of Congress