Like many Jews and other Christians, Latter-day Saints (Mormons) were excited when news spread of the discovery of ancient Jewish texts near the Dead Sea beginning in 1947. Eventually, eleven caves yielded their treasures—manuscripts dating from about 200 BC through AD 66; collected, copied and made by a group of Jews living in anticipation of a cosmic conflict between the “sons of light” and the “sons of darkness.” These manuscripts, including numerous fragments, are known today collectively as the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS).

Book of MormonAt first, like many lay people, sensational stories about the content of the scrolls and related conspiracy theories about their suppression caught the attention of some Latter-day Saints. Rumors and misinformation about the scrolls spread rapidly in the popular media and found an attentive audience. Eventually, as competent scholars cautiously and methodically completed their work, Latter-day Saints and others learned that the scrolls were in fact a real treasure even though most, if not all of the sensational stories about them proved not to be true.

In the end, the scrolls are considered to be the most important archeological find in the twentieth century. They reveal much about the period just before and during the ministry of Jesus Christ; including information on one of the Jewish groups that flourished at the time, the Essenes.

More importantly, the scrolls provide the oldest extant copies of the Hebrew Bible, except for the book of Ester; allowing scholars to study how the books of the Bible was transmitted. In addition, copies of ancient Biblical commentaries and Aramaic translations (the common language of the first century Jews living in Judea and Galilee) were also discovered—providing insights about how some Jews during the time understood and interpreted the Old Testament.

Because the scrolls also include writings not included in the Hebrew Bible canon (which was established at the end of the first century AD), including the earliest copies of books from the Apocrypha and other Jewish texts, such as the book of Enoch, the scrolls also reveal something about attitudes regarding the nature and composition of the Jewish sacred library.

Mormons have not only been interested in the scholarly reports about the scrolls but have actively participated in scroll research. For example, four Brigham Young University (BYU) professors served as editors of volumes in the official publication series, Discoveries in the Judean Wilderness. Additionally, BYU funded and participated in various collaborative efforts to preserve, record, and interpret the significance of the scrolls.

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