Every week, #Trending runs an excerpt from Know Your Nation, a punchy book series by Tim Mostert about the rich culture, history and geography of South Africa and other countries.

Today’s extract is about the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The Dead Sea Scrolls are considered to be one of the most significant archaeological finds of the 20th century.

In late 1946 or early 1947, Bedouin teenagers were looking after their goats near the ancient settlement of Qumran, near the Dead Sea, in what is now the West Bank. One of the boys threw a rock into an opening and heard the sound of pottery breaking. Inside the cave they found large clay jars, seven of which contained scrolls made from animal skins. They sold some of the scrolls to a shoemaker in Jerusalem. Once word of the discovery got out, treasure hunters and archaeologists found thousands of additional scroll fragments in other caves. A total of 800 to 900 manuscripts were eventually found.

The scrolls were at least 1 000 years older than the oldest surviving Hebrew manuscripts and were of immense historical value. Every book of the Hebrew Bible was represented, with the exception of the book of Esther. A complete Isaiah scroll was discovered, which put to rest controversies about how many authors there were of this prophetic book and when it would have been written.

The Dead Sea Scrolls would have been written between 150 BC and 70 AD by Jews living in Qumran. Roman troops probably destroyed their settlement around 70 AD and the scrolls could have been part of their library, which they hastily stashed in the caves to avoid destruction.

Most of the Dead Sea Scrolls are in Hebrew, but others are in Aramaic. Aramaic was the language spoken by many Jews between the sixth century BC and the siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD. One Jew who was known to speak Aramaic was the rabbi Yeshua ben Josef, who the Romans executed.

A museum was built in Jerusalem to house the scrolls, The Shrine of the Book. The museum is built in the shape of a cone, which looks like the lid on the original ancient clay jars.

One scroll, the Copper Scroll, is not written on parchment, but has carved and hammered letters on metal plates. This is most likely to make sure that it never wore out, because it describes 64 secret hiding places around Israel where gold and silver treasures from the Second Jewish Temple are buried. None of these hiding places has yet been found, but treasure hunters are still looking.

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