• The Shrine of the Book (The Dead Sea Scrolls). The Shrine of the Book was built as a repository for the first seven scrolls discovered at Qumran in 1947. The unique white dome embodies the lids of the jars in which the first scrolls were found | Photo: Wikimedia Commens by Gary Todd

The Discovery That Changed the World Forever

Tal Hartuv - 7 February 2023

When he arrived in Eretz Israel from Poland in the early 20th century, Eleazar Sukenik was determined to learn as much as he could about his new and beloved homeland. He enrolled into the Hebrew University to study archeology and supported himself by working as both a teacher and tour guide. 35 years after he made aliya, two extraordinary events would change history forever. While the United Nations was voting to recommend establishing two states in what was then known as “British Mandate Palestine,” archeologist Sukenik was examining fragments of ancient Hebrew scrolls.

“No one showed an interest in the fragments of the ancient Hebrew scrolls except Professor Eleazar Sukenik”

Archaeologist Prof. Eliezer Sukenik of the Hebrew University in July 1951 | Photo: Wikimedia Commons by David Eldan

The scrolls had sat for weeks at an antique dealer’s dusty shelf. No one had showed an interest in them except Professor Eleazar Sukenik. The cataclysmic world events coming to a head gave the professor a hunch that the scrolls were of global and historical impotence. They had been discovered by accident by Bedouin shepherds in caves near the Dead Sea. Knowing that the Jewish people would be interested in them, the Bedouins had cut up the scrolls so they could sell more fragments for greater profit.

Sukenik identified the same Hebrew style as the Bible, but did not recognise their source. One fragment had words of thanksgiving similar to the Psalms. The other contained a terrifying description of an end times war between the Sons of Light and the Sons of Darkness. With foresight about an up-and-coming war, Sukenik frantically sought to purchase three more scrolls.

The Holocaust had destroyed two out of every three of Europe’s Jews, and the Arabs were here on Israel’s doorstep to finish them off. Over half of those who fought in Israel’s Independence War were Holocaust survivors. Jerusalem was now under siege. Sukenik worked night and day endeavouring to decipher the scrolls under the artillery fire of the enemy.

For Sukenik, the present events were parallel to those of the distant past. 1948 was also a war between the Sons of Light and the Sons of Darkness.

“Over half of those who fought in Israel’s Independence War were Holocaust survivors”

But unlike the events of the first century, this time it was the Sons of Light who won.

After the bloody war of independence, the professor bought hundreds of other fragments. Soon these became known as the Dead Sea Scrolls. They predated the world’s oldest surviving biblical manuscript by a staggering 1000 years, and authenticated the original Biblical text by proving the faithful transference of every letter by Jewish scribes throughout millennia. For the Christian world, the Dead Sea Scrolls plucked Jesus of Nazareth out of the traditional Christianity and rooted him into the heart of a Jewish society.


The Dead Sea Scrolls are a collection of 972 texts discovered between 1946 and 1956 that consist of biblical manuscripts from what is now known as the Hebrew Bible and extra-biblical documents found on the northwest shore of the Dead Sea, from which they derive their name. They were specifically located at Khirbet Qumran in what was then British Mandate Palestine, and since 1947, what has been known as the West Bank | Photo: Wikimedia Commons by Lux Moundi

The discovery most importantly proved that the Bible read in modern times was the same as it always had been. The scholarly work of Sukenik was undertaken during the United Nations debates about the partition of the Eretz Israel, given the Jewish people their own state, and throughout the battle of Jewish independence.

Thanks to Professor Sukenik, the discovery of the scrolls and the – tongue in cheek – United Nations, these two events coincided and changed the world forever.

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