Two years before Israel became a nation in 1948, the first ancient scrolls were discovered by Bedouin shepheds in the caves of Qumran, near the Dead Sea.
Nearly a thousand scrolls were eventually uncovered by archeologists, covering most of the Old Testament, commentaries on those texts, other religious documents, and even some information about the community that lived in Qumran before it disappeared into the sands of time.
Who these people were dwelling in the Qumran caves near the Dead Sea continues to be a topic of debate. It is believed many of the scrolls were placed in clay jars in the caves during the Great Jewish Revolt in the late 60s and early 70s A.D. They wanted these documents preserved from the ravages of war with Rome.
Two lessons spring to mind. First, the scrolls themselves provide a stunning testimony to the power of devoted transcription. These ancient copies of even more ancient texts mirror the translations we use today.
Second, the people at Qumran – the Essenes? a sect of Sadducees? – clearly wanted to preserve these writings, the fundamentals of their faith. They did so the very best way they could.
Even in an age of text messages and emjois, we can relate. Original copies of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution sit in special cases at the National Archives, set to drop safely into special chambers at a moment’s notice of a natural or manmade disaster. We do this for the same reason they did: to preserve the words that define who we are.
It’s not that thousands upon thousands of copies of the Constitution don’t exist. (I have three different copies within arms’ reach as I type this!) No, we protect those original copies because they are meaningful representations of what we believe and who we are as a self-governing people.
Before the discovery of the scrolls at Qumran, it was very fashionable to question whether the translations we read today were authentic. We preserve important literature for the same reason we are thankful the people of Qumran did.
Words matter, and maintaining faithful translations and copies of important works remain as important today as 2000 years ago.