Friday, November 16, 2001

The Dead Sea Scrolls, a collection of world-famous biblical texts discovered 54 years ago in Israel, finally are being published, the project’s editor in chief announced yesterday.

“It’s a very happy moment that we can say today that all this is completed,” Emmanuel Tov said at a ceremony at the New York Public Library.

Mr. Tov, who is also a professor at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, said the project had ended after years of “excitement, expectation, tribulation, much criticism and a little praise.”

One of the scrolls, which contained a Hebrew song of thanksgiving, was dedicated to New York City in honor of its steadfastness following the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.

Aided by about 100 scholars, Mr. Tov’s team, along with the Israel Antiquities Authority, has issued 28 volumes published by Oxford University Press and titled “Discoveries in the Judean Desert.” Two more volumes still are being written.

Ever since the first set of 800 scrolls was discovered in 1947 in caves overlooking the western shores of the Dead Sea, confusion and misunderstanding has accompanied the way they were handled. At first it was thought the texts would produce discoveries damaging to Christianity and Judaism. Instead, the ancient texts nearly mirrored current translations, giving credence to recent biblical scholarship.

Their authors were the Essenes, a monastic sect that lived before and concurrently with Jesus Christ but about whom there was no mention in the New Testament. Most of the scrolls, written from 200 B.C. to 70 A.D., are the oldest surviving copies of the Old Testament. Only the books of Esther and Nehemiah are not included.

The archeological find also included originals of several ancient Jewish texts such as the Book of Enoch, Jubilees and the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs. Military dispatches and legal writs also were found. The most spectacular find was a nearly complete text of the Book of Isaiah 1,000 years older than the previous earliest-known manuscript.

When they were discovered by shepherd boys, they were and still are considered one of the 20th century’s greatest archeological finds. Official translation teams, first of Jordanians and then of Israelis, labored over them, then sat on their discovery for 30 years.

The scripts are in Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic.

•This article was based in part on a wire service report.

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