Mission Lab 2018

Baptists contribute to historic Dead Sea Scrolls cave discovery

February 10th, 2017 / By: Rob Collingsworth / comments

Baptists contribute to historic Dead Sea Scrolls cave discovery

Archaeologists work at a potential 12th cave at Qumran, the area where the historic Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered 60 years ago in the Judean Desert. Photo by Lamar Cooper

QUMRAN, West Bank—Working alongside a team directed by archaeologists from the Hebrew University, Criswell College professor Lamar Cooper assisted in the discovery and excavation of a cave at Qumran that represents a milestone in Dead Sea Scrolls research.

Ever since Bedouins first discovered the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947, scholars have believed that only 11 caves at Qumran contained scrolls or scroll fragments. Based on discoveries in this cave, researchers proved that scrolls were once stored there and have suggested it be numbered as Cave 12 (Q12).

“This exciting excavation is the closest we’ve come to discovering new Dead Sea Scrolls in 60 years. Until now, it was accepted that Dead Sea Scrolls were found only in 11 caves at Qumran, but now there is no doubt that this is the 12th cave,” said Oren Gutfeld, archaeologist at Hebrew University and team leader. “Finding this additional scroll cave means we can no longer be certain that the original locations (Caves 1 through 11) attributed to the Dead Sea Scrolls that reached the market via the Bedouins are accurate.”

Gutfeld was assisted in the effort by Ahiad Ovadiam, also of Hebrew University; Randall Price, distinguished research professor and curator of the Liberty Biblical Museum; David Graves of Liberty University; and Criswell’s Lamar Cooper. Bruce Hall, an M.A. in Archaeology student at Southwestern Seminary and bi-vocational Texas pastor, was part of the cave discovery last January and found a storage jar intact containing parchments with no writing on them.

Cooper began teaching at Criswell College in 1978 and has served as the dean of graduate studies, vice president for academic affairs, executive vice president and provost, and interim president. He worked on his first site in Israel in 1969 and began working on Qumran excavations in 2006 at the invitation of Price.

“When I went through seminary, I listened to all of the things that were told me by scholars—some of whom didn’t hold Scripture in very high regard,” Cooper said. “When I got here, all of [the discoveries] showed me that what is in the Bible is true because what we were bringing out of the ground were things that relate to the Bible.”

Based on the contents of the cave, the team determined Bedouins looted it for any scrolls and other antiquities sometime during the middle of the 20th century. Although no scrolls were found, they did discover broken jars and lids, fragments of scroll wrappings, a string that tied the scrolls, and a piece of worked leather that had been part of a scroll.

“Although at the end of the day no scroll was found, and instead we ‘only’ found a piece of parchment rolled up in a jug that was being processed for writing, the findings indicate beyond any doubt that the cave contained scrolls that were stolen,” Gutfeld said.

Cooper, who worked to catalogue the items found in the cave, said the find was a monumental step not only for Dead Sea Scrolls research but also for Criswell, a school founded on the primacy and inerrancy of Scripture.

“Because we stand strong on the Bible—the authenticity of Scripture—it’s been a thrill for me to be associated with everybody who works here because we all believe that the Bible is the Word of God,” he said. “I’ve kept plugging at this for that reason because whatever I do and whatever I find—every dig that I’ve gone to—tells me more and more that everything that happened at that place is what the Bible says.”

The dig was supported by the Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, and the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) in conjunction with the IAA’s “Operation Scroll,” which plans to systematically excavate and survey more caves in the Judean Desert.