The Dead Sea Scrolls
The Dead Sea Scrolls
[ The discovery of
the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947 was of considerable importance in the research on
the history of Jewish Religion and the Origins of Christianity as well as the
Masonic tenets, legends, traditions and practice. The learned author has
digested and has presented in this article a condensed version of the huge
amount of research papers on the Dead Sea Scrolls. Modern scientific technology
has revealed that those Scrolls are of the period three centuries before
Christian Era and some are of Six decades after Christian Era. The learned
author deserves considerable praise for this highly enlightening article and we
are indebted to him for permitting us to post the article in this website.
Please read on …..]
During centuries, the only known references about the
Essenes were a few brief mentions in the writings of Plinius, Philo and Flavius
Josephus. Only in April 1947 this situation changed, when an Arab shepherd,
looking for a stray goat, found several large ceramic jars hidden in a cavern,
up the hill near the northern shore of the Dead Sea. The jars contained some
rolls of parchment wrapped in cloth. These are the famous Dead Sea scrolls,
which since their discovery and decipherment had caused a profound revolution in
the thinking about the history of the Jewish religion in the crucial period of
early first century of the C.E. and thrown new light on the origins of
in other near-by caves resulted in the discovery of other rolls and numerous
parchment fragments. The total number of scrolls, when they were intact, is
estimated to have been over one thousand; until now, 870 different parchments
have already been identified. The fragments differ in size, some of them are no
larger than a thumbnail. In one cavern alone (N° 4) some 15,000 fragments were
Although we refer to the Dead Sea manuscripts as
parchment scrolls, some were written on papyrus, and one is written, or rather
inscribed on a copper foil. This is the scroll, that describes the hiding places
of the Jerusalem Temple’s treasures, removed from the Temple by the priests in
Bar Kochba’s time, to save them from the Roman legions led by Titus.
The scrolls are
written in several Semitic languages, although for the most part in Hebrew.
point to remember is that until the discovery of these scrolls, scholars were of
the opinion that in the beginning of the Christian era Hebrew was a dead
language, used only by the educated few, such as Latin was in the Middle Ages of
Europe. The Rabbinical Hebrew used in the literature of the years 200 and later
was regarded as a scholastic invention, not a language of daily use. This belief
led historians to conclude that the Gospels could not have been written
originally in Hebrew or Aramaic.
The discovery of the scrolls refuted these opinions.
It became clear that the Jews of the Second Temple period (after the return of
the Babylonian exile) used simultaneously both Hebrew and Aramaic. These two
languages are closely related. In writing, however, the ancient Hebrews
preferred using the Biblical language, that is Hebrew.
The history of
the discovery of these documents and their vicissitudes until finding suitable
repository at the hands of archeologists could serve to write a novel. I shall
try to summarize very briefly the main course of events.
mentioned, at the end of Spring of 1947, some Bedouin shepherds of the Taamire
tribe discovered by chance the jars containing scrolls. One of the parchment
bundles, later denominated the “Isaiah Manuscript”, was offered for
sale to an Arab antiquities merchant in the town of Bethlehem.
what happened then we must remember that at the time Palestine was still under
the rule of the British Army, while the United Nations discussed the fate of the
British Mandate that was reaching its conclusion. There was still contact
between the Arab and Jewish communities in Palestine, but venturing into certain
sectors had become hazardous, and violent confrontations were becoming more
frequent from day to day.
The Arab merchant did not assign much importance to the old
parchment, believing it had no great value, and he refused to pay the sum asked
by the Bedouin: twenty English pounds. The Bedouin then turned to a merchant
belonging to the Syrian Orthodox community, living in Bethlehem, and this made
contact with his friend, a Jerusalem merchant. In this roundabout way, the
discovery of the scrolls came to the attention of the Syrian Orthodox
Metropolitan (equivalent to an archbishop) of the Saint Mark monastery, in the
old city of Jerusalem. After a short while, the archbishop, Monsignor Atanasios
Samuel, bought four of the scrolls. He then showed them to several persons,
among them some members of the Biblical and Archeological College of the
Dominicans, in Jerusalem, who also considered the manuscripts as being of recent
origin, and having little value.
Around the month of August of 1948, Bishop Samuel informed a
Jewish physician, Dr. Brown, about the discovery of the scrolls and asked his
opinion, Dr. Brown communicated this information to Professor Yehuda Magnes,
President of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who in turn transmitted the
news to the University Library and asked that some manuscript experts examine
the scrolls. Two envoys from the University Library visited the Syrian monastery
and the bishop showed them some of the manuscripts, not revealing their source.
The library clerks, after examining the manuscripts, concluded they lacked the
necessary expertise to determine their antiquity, and proposed a further
examination by somebody better qualified for the task. However, before the
Hebrew University could send its experts, Bishop Samuel decided to return to
Syria, taking the scrolls with him.
That took place during a turbulent period of armed struggle
between Arab and Jewish groups, resulting in numerous casualties.
Let’s go back
in time. On 25 November 1947 a Jerusalem antiquary showed to Professor Eliezer
Sukenik, of the Hebrew University, a parchment fragment written in the old
“square” Hebrew alphabet, which Sukenik immediately identified as similar to
the inscriptions on sarcophagi dating from the Hashmonean era, that is, the two
centuries before and the first century following the birth of Jesus.
To make the
story short, on 29 November Sukenik bought three parchment rolls, and also two
of the ceramic jars that contained them. On that same day, the United Nations
voted the end of the British Mandate and the partition of Palestine. Arab armies
immediately invaded the country from all sides, and Israel’s war of
independence started. This caused the complete break of relations between the
Arab and Jewish communities in Palestine. Nevertheless, Professor Sukenik
succeeded in maintaining contact with the Arabs involved in the matter.
At that time, one of the workers in the University
Library related to Professor Sukenik the episode with the Syrian archbishop, and
Sukenik immediately realized that those parchments had the same origin. He tried
to visit the Monastery of Saint Mark to examine the manuscripts, but the
monastery was already cut off from the Jewish sector of Jerusalem and travel
between the two sides was impossible. At the end of January 1948, Sukenik
received a message from Anton Kiraz, a member of the Syrian community, who
communicated that he had in his possession several old parchments and wanted to
show them. Sukenik managed to find a neutral place to meet with Kiraz. After
some negotiations, they finally met in the Y.M.C.A. building, close to the Old
City but still within the Jewish sector. When Sukenik examined the scrolls
brought by Kiraz, he realized they belonged to the same group of those he had
already purchased. He took three of the scrolls to be examined by other experts,
and they all concluded they were authentically old.
negotiation now started to purchase the scrolls. David Ben-Gurion, then
President of the Jewish Agency, and later Israel’s first Prime Minister, was
approached and his approval was secured to allocate the necessary funds,
although the war made more urgent demands on the scant resources of the Jewish
population. Meanwhile, however, the Syrian Orthodox decided to wait until the
end of hostilities, to get a better price, and then, through the American
College of Oriental Studies in Jerusalem, the manuscripts were transferred to
the United States.
On 11 April of
that same year (1948) a publication in the United States disclosed that the
Americans scholars in Jerusalem had identified for the first time some of the
Dead Sea manuscripts as belonging to a period preceding the destruction of the
Jerusalem Temple, in the year 70 C.E.
These news evoked great interest in scientific
circles. Sukenik then decided to publish a first study on the parchments, a
booklet that appeared with the title “The Hidden Scrolls” (Hameguilot
this story, Professor Sukenik purchased three scrolls, while his son, the
archeologist and army general Yigael Yadin, eventually bought in New York the
four scrolls owned by he Syrian archbishop. An eighth scroll, the important Temple
Parchment, was purchased by Yadin after the end of the Six Days War of 1967,
when Jerusalem was finally reunited.
original scrolls are now exhibited in the Museum of the Book, part of
Jerusalem’s Israel Museum. They are the following: Manual of Discipline,
presently known as Character of a Sectarian Jewish Association, Histories
of the Patriarchs, Psalms of Thanksgiving, A Commentary on Habbakuk, the War
between the Sons of Light and the Sons of Darkness, and two copies of the
book of Isaiah.
Apart from the scrolls, as I mentioned, thousands of
parchment fragments have been discovered, whose translation and publication has
taken many decades and caused sharp disputes in scholar circles. They are kept
at present in Jerusalem’s Rockefeller Museum, and their publication has been
completed only recently.
of the Dead Sea scrolls was conclusively proven when some samples were tested in
April 1991 in a Swiss laboratory, dating them around the beginning of the
Christian era. Archeologists, basing themselves on the writing, had already
reached the same conclusion, that the parchments could not be later than the
year 68, when Roman legions reached Qumran and the settlement there was
The importance of the scrolls for our understanding of
the evolution of Rabbinical Judaism in that crucial period of the end of the
Herodian rule, the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple and the birth of
Christianity cannot be overstated.
The last section of the Hebrew Bible, the Book of Daniel,
dates to about 150 B.C., while the earliest Rabbinic writing is the Mishnah,
redacted in about 200 A.D. The period between these two dates was a blank hole
until the discovery of the scrolls. A measure of their importance for
scholarship can be judged by the number of Dead Sea Scroll studies published. A
bibliography of publications between 1970 and 1995 lists about six thousand
Approximately a quarter of the Dead Sea Scrolls are biblical
manuscripts, including fragments of every book of the Hebrew Bible except
What interests us in to take a look at the content of the
scrolls, written two thousand years ago, and to advance some theories about
their possible connection with Masonic legends and traditions.
First, let as learn something about the people who wrote the
scrolls, the circumstances when they were written, and this will help us to
judge their significance.
caverns where the scrolls were found are the ruins of Qumran, a structure that
has been identified by archeologists as the first known monastery in the Western
world. There is little doubt that the place was inhabited for a long period of
time, lasting over a century. The first archeologist to make scientific
excavations in the place, Father De Vaux, of the Biblical School of Jerusalem,
arrived to the conclusion that this was a meeting place for the Essenes, and
since the settlement is not very large, De Vaux assumed that most of the members
of the sect lived in the nearby caves, and came down to the main building only
to meet, shared the meals, take ritual baths and pray together.
In the course of years, this theory was disputed by other
researchers, but the latest discoveries of archeologist Magen Broschi (who was
for many years Curator of the Dead Sea Scrolls in the Israel Museum) and Dr.
Hanan Eshel of Bar-Ilan University, confirmed irrefutably De Vaux’s
assumption. These archeologists discovered paths leading from the Qumran ruins
to the caves, and found there 2000-years old sandal nails, as well as coins of
the epoch and pottery.
Who were the inhabitants of Qumran, who wrote or preserved
these parchment documents in the Dead Sea caverns?
The Essenes were one of the minor factions of the
Jewish people in the Hashmonean period. The main groups, as we know, were the
Pharisees and the Saducees.
conquest of the Middle East by Alexander the Great, and after his death in the
year 323 B.C.E., Palestine became a battleground between two of his generals:
Seleucus, who governed Syria, and Ptolomy in Egypt. A descendant of Seleucus,
Antioch Epiphanes IV, tried to impose paganism on the Jews, introducing the cult
of Zeus and the other Greek gods. This resulted in the revolt of the Maccabees
in the year 165 B.C. After a cruel war, the Jews, under the leadership of Judah
Maccabee (Maccabee in Hebrew means “ The Hammer”) defeated the Greek
generals and achieved independence. Although Judah Maccabee died in battle, his
descendants, beginning with John Hircanus, continued the Hashmonean dynasty,
marked by continuous fraternal wars and the growing menace of Roman power.
It was in this
tempestuous period of history that the Essenes separated themselves from the
main current of Judaism, constituting what today would be called an
ultra-orthodox sect. The considered that the end of the world was near (the
apocalypses), and they tried to observe strictly all the prescriptions of the
Torah, that is, the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible. Some writers
indicate that Saint John the Baptist may have been a member of the sect, and
even Jesus has been mentioned as a possible member.
The name Essene (issi in Hebrew) means pious. The
Essenes were ascetic, practicing frequent fasts and daily ritual baths. They
studied the holy writings assiduously and they conducted themselves
Among the Dead Sea scrolls there are two, in
particular, that throw light on the organization and principles of the Essenes.
This is the scroll called “Manual of Discipline” and the "Zadokite
Document”. The first is included among the Qumran scrolls, while a copy of the
second was discovered at the end of the 19th century by Solomon
Schechter in the Gnizah (storeroom) of the Ezra synagogue in Fostat, the old
quarter of Cairo. It’s a known fact that old Hebrew religious texts are not
destroyed, because the name of God appears on them, but they are stored in a
special repository or storeroom of the synagogue, the Gnizah.
The community rule
We shall now
examine some of the rules of the Dead Sea community, and decide whether they
bear some resemblance to Masonic traditions.
When a person desired to join the community, that they
themselves called the Yahad (Together), he had to undertake to respect
God and men, practice virtue and avoid evil. This is quite similar to a passage
in the opening ritual of the lodge in the First Degree of the Scottish Rite.
When the question is asked, for what purpose are we assembled, the answer is
“to raise temples to Virtue and dig dungeons to vice”. Also, in the
initiation ritual the candidate is enjoined to choose the path of virtue and not
that of vice. The statement of belief in the Supreme Being is also a required
part of the initiation ceremony.
The community examined the background of the
candidate, his character, and his fulfillment of religious precepts. Each person
was then inscribed in a particular rank, coming under the authority of a
Believers were known as the Children of the Light. [Weiss,
Abegg, Cook, p. 125] This is an important detail. Masons are also known as
“Children of the Light”. The followers of Jesus are likewise referred to as
“the sons of the light” (John 12:35-36). In the parable of the unjust
steward, Jesus also spoke of the “sons of light”. We must remember that the
Gospels of Luke and John were composed about two hundred years after the Manual
of Discipline. Receiving the light is the crucial point of the initiation
ceremony. The sun, and its light, plays a prominent role in Masonic rituals, the
sun and the moon, symbols of day and night light, are displayed prominently in
the Masonic temple.
At the crucial moment of the initiation ceremony, after the
candidate pronounces his solemn oath, he is asked what is his most fervent wish.
His answer (instructed by his conductor) is: Light!
In the Yahad, when the candidate was initiated
in the community, the priests pronounced a special blessing. The members of the
community were divided into three classes: the priests (Cohanim), Levites and
the people. This brings to mind the division between Apprentices, Fellow-Crafts
and Master Masons.
Every year, the progress of every member of the community
was assessed, from the oldest to the youngest initiate. Each one was classified
anew, “so that no one may be reduced in his state or exalted above his
Members of the community took meals together, prayed
together and held debates. “In the presence of the priest, all take seats
according to their respective ranks, and the same order is adopted to speak.”
This is also
the tradition in Lodge, where the Brethren take their seats according to their
degree, and in the Scottish Rite lodges, they are granted the right to speak
also following a set order determined by rank.
In the community’s debates, all could take part, following
their order, but no one could interrupt another, nor speak before his turn,
according to his rank. Nobody could speak about matters other than those of
interest to the entire community.
This reminds us of the procedure of Masonic debates,
and the “raisings”, or “General good” part in the ritual, when the
brethren are invited to speak up.
If a person wanted to join, he was interrogated by the
Superintendent concerning his intelligence and his behavior. Then, if considered
suitable, he was presented to the general assembly, where every one gave his
opinion, and his admission or rejection was decided by vote. One of the rules
concerning admission to the community specifies that “no person with a
physical defect, crippled on both legs or arms, lame, blind, deaf, dumb, or
having a visible physical defect, can join”.
A similar restriction appears in the old Masonic documents.
If the candidate was accepted and took an obligation
to comply with the rules of the community, he was admitted on trial for a year,
during which time the initiate could take part in the discussions only as an
Observer. After this first year, he was again examined to verify his progress.
If this was considered adequate, he was allowed to continue for a second year,
but then he had to bring his belongings and the tools of his trade, which were
turned over to the “Minister of Work” for safekeeping. Only after the second
year, following a further examination, he was formally accepted, sworn in and
inscribed in the register of the Brethren of the Community.
This succession of trial periods and examinations are
reflected also in the practices in our Lodges. The candidate is examined before
initiation, and later, before advancing to each further degree.
The neophyte had to imitate the purity of his masters, that
is, practice the rules of decency and walk in perfect sanctity. He undertook to
follow a long road in search of enlightenment.
The congregation counted twelve brothers and three
priests well versed in the Law, called “of perfect sanctity”. This brings to
mind the three “pillars” of the Christian church: James, Cephas and John
(Galatians 2:9) and the twelve apostles. Of course, the numbers three and twelve
appear frequently in Masonic rituals. In the Scottish Rite lodge the Master and
the two Wardens are called the “lights” of the Lodge. The Royal Arch meets
under the banners of the twelve tribes of Israel, etc.
An interesting passage is the following: “They [the
members of the community] will be a precious cornerstone”. This phrase recalls
verses 16-17 in chapter 28 of Isaiah: “Behold, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested
stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation... I shall make justice a
measuring line and righteousness the plumb line”.
In Masonic initiation, the neophyte is placed in a
particular position within the lodge and told that he is regarded as the
cornerstone of the ideal Temple we are building. Furthermore, an entire Masonic
degree (Mark Master) refers specifically to the cornerstone.
The measuring line in verse 17 is no other than a ruler, or
it can be taken as representing the level, while the plumb line is the
perpendicular. Both symbols of the Wardens.
After the Council meetings, that ended with public
confession and a new collective blessing to the newly initiated, they devoted
themselves body and soul to the Great Work, to fulfill the congregation’s
statutes (Numbers 15:15: “The community is to have the same rules ...
this is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come”).
The Masters inculcated in their disciples mental discipline
so that they could distinguish between good and evil, between light and darkness
(cf. 1 Kings 3:9: “So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your
people and to distinguish between right and wrong”. This lesson is imparted to
the candidate during the Masonic Initiation ceremony, more specifically in the 1st
Degree ritual of the Scottish Rite, when the candidate is made to sip a sweet
drink, that later turns bitter.
They also taught the principles of morality, tolerance and
human solidarity. These are mainstays of Masonic teachings. The masters also
inculcated liberal and democratic ideas, to walk the path of honor and justice,
to defend the innocent and the downtrodden, to protect the widow and the orphan,
and above all, to assist the needy.
All these are precisely the virtues close to the hearts of
They also taught to dedicate themselves to work, combining
individual effort with meditation and study, to achieve a high level of wisdom
within a fraternal and just society. The members of the sect were educated in
the art of meditation, reflecting on the meaning of life and the notion of
loving one’s neighbor.
It is interesting to note that in the Qumran ruins have been
found numerous stone vessels. Stone, according to Jewish religion, because it is
a natural material, not adulterated by human transformation, such as the firing
of clay, is not ‘contaminated’ by the food, and therefore does not have to
be ritually cleansed, like earthen or metallic vessels.
The initiates, whose ages varied between 25 and 50 years,
learned to “love justice and abhor evil”.
They regarded themselves as heirs of the priest kings,
symbolized by Melchizedek and Solomon. Some, like John the Baptist, made a vow
as Nazirites. They must not be confused with the Nazarenes, those natives of
The Nazirite (from “nazir”: separated or
consecrated) consecrated himself fully to pious practices during a given period
of time; he then abstained from wine or any fermented drink, did not eat grapes
or raisins, did not shave or cut his hair, and could not come near a corpse, not
even of his closest family. When his period of separation had ended, he had to
come to the entrance of the Tabernacle and present an offering to the priest.
Then, the Nazirite cut his hair, could drink wine and bathe himself.
The Zadoquite Document contains a special section on the
functions of the “mefaqueah” or “Supervisor”. The Hebrew word “mefaqueah”
is the exact equivalent of the Greek “episkopos”, which is the origin of the
word “bishop”. The Supervisor was charged with educating the people, and
make them understand the works of God. He had to explain in detail
the history of the past and show to them the same compassion that a father shows
to his children. He also had to examine each neophyte regarding his conduct,
intelligence, strength, courage and possessions, to give him the appropriate
His function was, in great measure, equivalent to that of
the Wardens in a Masonic Lodge.
Finally, I would like to mention that some Jewish writers
maintain that a section of the Essenes was called the Banaim, that is,
the builders. It is not known why they were called with that name, but there is
a reference in the Talmud that “the Masters in Israel are Builders (banaim)”.
From all this, we shouldn’t jump to the conclusion that
Masonry may be a successor of the Essenes. The points of coincidence we have
noted are significant, but do not prove filiation. What does appear evident is
that both the Essenes and the speculative Masons obeyed certain norms of conduct
shared by all human beings who have reached a certain stage of spiritual
The writer Aldous Huxley, in his book The Perennial
Philosophy, presents a good argument to demonstrate the coincidence of
mystic traditions in different times and cultures.
The Dead Sea manuscripts are much more extensive than what I
have described here. There are interesting passages about the end of time,
Biblical commentaries, hymns of praise, and much more.
My purpose has been to focus only on some aspects of
coincidence with Masonic rituals, particularly the Ancient and Accepted Scottish
Rite, that has received and kept major influence from esoteric traditions,
alchemy and Cabbala.
Freemasonry was not born in one piece, like the goddess
Athena, but rather developed in an evolutionary process, absorbing symbols and
legends from various sources. The Essenes, though distant in time and space,
appear to have been one of the remote precursors of our Royal Art.
The Holy Bible.
Josephus, Flavius, Antiquities and Wars of the
Gaster, Theodor H., The Dead Sea Scriptures.
Luria, Ben-Zion, Meguilat Hanejףshet Mimidbar Yehudב
(In Hebrew: The Copper Scroll of the Judean Desert),
Vermes, Geza, The Dead Sea Scrolls in English, 3rd
ed., London, Penguin, 1990.
Shanks, Hershel, The Mystery and Meaning of the Dead Sea
Scrolls, Vintage Books, New York, 1998.
Sukenik, Eliezer, Otzar Hameguilot Hagnuzot (in
Hebrew: Collection of the Hidden
Sussman, Ayala and Ruth Peled, Scrolls from the Dead Sea,
Library of Congress, Washington,
Wise, Michael, Martin Abegg, Jr. and Edward Cook, The
Dead Sea Scrolls - A new translation, HarperCollins, New York,
1996 (p/b 1999)
Wynn Wescott, W., “Freemasonry and its relation to the
Essenes”, Ars Quatuor
Coronatorum, Vol. 28 (1915), pp. 67-79