The dramatic story of the discovery of the first Dead Sea Scrolls has been re-told in numerous publications with some variations. The following summary provides some of the basic information underlying the intrigue. The first seven scrolls were found in 1947 by a Bedouin goat-herder, Muhammed "ed-Dib" ("the wolf") Ahmad al-Hamid, when his search for a lost goat led him and two companions to a cave in which they found a number of unusual clay jars, including some that contained scrolls. They brought the scrolls for appraisal to a Bethlehem merchant and antiquities dealer, Khalil Iskander ("Kando") Shahin. Kando purchased four of the initial seven scrolls, which he then sold to the Metropolitan Mar Athanasius Yeshue Samuel, head of the Syrian Orthodox Monastery of St. Mark in Jerusalem. The other three scrolls were purchased on behalf of the Hebrew University by Professor Eliezer Lipa Sukenik, a specialist in archaeology and ancient Hebrew script, who was the first expert to recognize the antiquity and significance of the finds.
In 1948, John C. Trever, then acting director of the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR) in Jerusalem, acquired permission to photograph three of the four manuscripts in the possession of the St. Mark's Monastery: a complete manuscript of the book of Isaiah, the Manual of Discipline (now called the Rule of the Community), and a commentary on the book of Habakkuk. The fourth scroll, which could not be opened at that time, later became known as the Genesis Apocryphon. Later that year, Sukenik published preliminary surveys of the three scrolls he had obtained: the War Scroll, a Psalms-like composition known as the Thanksgiving Scroll (Hodayot), and a second copy of Isaiah.
Little research could be done at the time of discovery due to the hostilities between the newly founded State of Israel and its Arab neighbors. In light of the unstable situation, Mar Samuel chose to remove his precious scrolls from the country. Bringing them to the United States, he advertised them for sale in the Wall Street Journal. In 1954, Yigael Yadin, the son of Sukenik, arranged to purchase the scrolls for the State of Israel, through an American mediator, for $250,000. In 1955 Yadin brought the scrolls to Israel.
For a full chronology of the Qumran discoveries, see the Timelines tab. The following is a brief overview:
1947: Cave one is accidentally found
1949: Cave one is identified by archaeologists and excavated under the supervision of Roland de Vaux
1951-6: Five seasons of archaeological work at the Qumran site
1952-6: Ten more manuscript caves are discovered
1955-8: Archaeological search between Qumran and Ein-Feshkha
1967: The Temple Scroll is acquired by Yigael Yadin
From 1948 to 1967, the Jordan Department of Antiquities had political responsibility for excavations and scroll research, apart from those scrolls which were in the possession of the Hebrew University. The scroll fragments were housed in the Palestine Archaeological Museum, also known as the Rockefeller Museum (for John D. Rockefeller, Jr., who originally funded its establishment). At first, the team responsible for publication of the Dead Sea Scrolls consisted of De Vaux’s colleagues at the École Biblique—Pierre Benoit, Jozef T. Milik, and Maurice Baillet. The discovery of an enormous number of fragments from Cave 4 led to the formation of the so-called “International Team”—Milik was joined by his compatriot Jean Starcky, Americans Frank Moore Cross and Patrick Skehan, John Marco Allegro and John Strugnell from Britain, and Claus-Hunno Hunzinger from Germany.
In the aftermath of the 1967 Six Day War, control over the Rockefeller Museum passed to Israel. At first, Israel retained the status quo, leaving responsibility for the publication of the scrolls in the hands of the original scrolls team, and accepting the exclusion of Jewish and Israeli scholars. As the delay in publication began to arouse increasing conflict and controversy, however, the publication team was expanded (see Publication and Controversy). In 1980, Emanuel Tov and Elisha Qimron became the first Israeli scholars to work on the scrolls. John Strugnell, as head of the international team from 1986–1990, expanded the team still further to include a number of younger scholars. In 1990, Emanuel Tov became editor-in-chief for the scrolls publication project, increasing the number of scholars on the scrolls team to more than sixty, and seeing the project through to its completion. 2008 saw the virtual completion of the 40-volume official publication series, Discoveries in the Judean Desert (DJD) published by Oxford University Press (volume 32 is soon to be released).
For more information on published Dead Sea texts and translations, see Scholarly Editions and Translations.