The Dead Sea Scrolls refers to some 25,000 fragments of leather and papyrus discovered as early as 1947, mostly in the Qumran caves but also in other sites located in the Judean Desert.
Among other things, the Scrolls contain the oldest copies of biblical texts. Since their discovery, scholars have faced the breathtaking challenge of classifying the fragments and piecing them together into the remains of some 1,000 manuscripts, which were hidden in the caves before the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE. Today, the thousands Dead Sea Scrolls fragments are preserved by the Israel Antiquities Authority, where their condition is monitored by advanced scientific methods, in a designated climate controlled ambience.
Researchers have long been puzzled as to the degree this collection of manuscripts, a veritable library from the Qumran caves, reflects the broad cultural milieu of Second Temple Judaism, or whether it should be regarded as the work of a radical sect (identified by most as the Essenes) discovered by chance.
The Dead Sea Scrolls Unit of the Israel Antiquities Authority developed sophisticated methods to deduce information from tiny amounts of ancient DNA, used different controls to validate the findings, and carefully filtered out potential contaminations.
For the purpose of the research, the Dead Sea Scrolls Unit of the Israel Antiquities Authority supplied samples – sometimes only Scroll “dust” carefully removed from the uninscribed back of the fragments – and sent them for analysis
One of the most significant findings was the identification of two very distinct Jeremiah fragments.
The ancient DNA proves that two copies of Jeremiah, textually different from each other, were brought from outside the Judean Desert. This fact suggests that the concept of scriptural authority – emanating from the perception of biblical texts as a record of the Divine Word – was different in this period from that which dominated after the destruction of the Second Temple. In the formative age of classical Judaism and nascent Christianity, the polemic between Jewish sects and movements was focused on the ‘correct’ interpretation of the text, not its wording or exact linguistic form.”