Okay, none of the stories that recently appeared on the web about a recent discovery in the Judean desert bore quite the headline above, but it’s not too far off from the tone of some of the reports. As posted on the National Geographic website among other places, archaeologists have found a twelfth cave in addition to the eleven previously excavated near the famous ruins in the vicinity of the Wadi (i.e., “dry stream-bed”) Qumran, a stone’s throw from the northwest shore of the Dead Sea.
Inside the cave these excavators found the remains of ancient clay jars, the pickaxes used to smash them in the mid-twentieth century by previous (and less scrupulous) explorers, and scraps of the material originally stored in the jars, including no actual scrolls but only the linen in which they would have been wrapped, plus some blank parchment. Biblical scholars, and scholars in general, are stereotypically sober and cautious types, not easily excited. What, then, would lead one scholar who knows the Qumran site well to characterize such a seemingly mundane find as “hard to believe,” “truly exciting,” and “truly significant”?