Why Bury the Texts in a Jar?
Who buried the texts at the base of the Jabal al-Tārif mountain? And why? Several religious historians have pointed out that a Christian monastery stood not far from Nag Hammadi. The monastery took its name from a man named Pachomius, who became a Christian after being forced to serve in the Roman army. He sought to live the life of a hermit, but decided that solitary life was inferior to community asceticism and ended up establishing six or seven cenobitic religious communities (monasteries and nunneries) over-seen by an abbot/abbess where men and women lived monastic lives, sharing their possessions instead of living alone as hermits. He never became a priest, nor did his monks, but his cenobitic communities became popular and eventually housed thousands of spiritual seekers.
Who was Saint Pachomius?
Pachomius, also called Abba Pachomius, was an Egyptian Coptic Christian founder of cenobitic monasticism. He was born in circa
Some experts theorize that the monks at St. Pachomius buried the jar containing the books, possibly to preserve them from destruction from the orthodoxy. Those monks perhaps felt a special connection with the books or simply did not want that part of their library destroyed in the event that one day the books could be returned. But the truth is that no one knows for certain who buried the books or why. What is known is that the desert sand acted like a drying agent. If someone had attempted to preserve them, it seems that they considered the possible hazard of insects and the elements.
Other Sacred Texts Buried in Jars
The Judean Desert is home to historical sites like Qumran, Ein Gedi, Hebron, and Masada and holds the promise of perhaps more discoveries like those already found at Qumran and Masada. The desert runs from Jerusalem at the northernmost part south to the Negev Desert and then extends west of the Dead Sea.
The Dead Sea Scrolls, which are not considered Gnostic but more correctly Jewish texts, were found near Wadi Qumran and the Dead Sea. They represent another spectacular cache of biblical and non-biblical texts found amid pottery shards and in earthenware jars. Someone had hidden the scrolls in eleven caves. The discovery of the scrolls between 1947 and 1956 yielded over 800 documents. Scholars speculated that the scrolls were hidden at a time when the Romans targeted Jewish and Christian writings for destruction. The scrolls included a diversity of writings but most date from 250
The Essenes at Qumran
Subsequent expeditions and surveys made of the eleven caves turned up more pottery shards and scroll fragments, enough to reveal a working theory (which later proved to be true) that the settlement at Qumran was most likely an Essene community. Perhaps it was known to John the Baptist, relative of Jesus, whom some considered to have been an Essene because of the many parallels between John's life and the Essenes.
The Essenes, a Jewish sect observant of the Torah, had split from the type of Judaism associated with the Jerusalem Temple. They took refuge in the desert at Wadi Qumran to live their lives in alignment with their mystical beliefs. Experts like James Robinson, previously mentioned as a Gnostic scholar of the New Testament and early Christianity and editor of the The Nag Hammadi Library, expressed the notion that the discovery facilitated scholarly understanding of not only that separatist sect but also the pluralistic ways Judaism was expressed in the ancient world. The Dead Scrolls do not mention Jesus or Christianity. The authors were copyists and commentators. Their writings raised the question about whether or not the Essenes were a Jewish Gnostic sect. Robinson noted how the Essenes embraced ideas that seemed more in keeping with dualism and Gnosticism — and, moreover, that the codices found at Nag Hammadi picked up where the Dead Sea Scrolls left off.
The Essenes — or Essenoi, as ancient Jewish historian Josephus called them — led a simple communal life but one that included celibacy. They chose a leader whom they obeyed, practiced collective ownership and strict vegetarianism (fruits, roots, and bread), refrained from swearing oaths, did not sacrifice animals, and carried weapons only for self-protection. They shunned immoral activities and believed their souls were immortal.
The Essenes held Messianic and apocalyptic beliefs. Baptism was an important ritual. They called themselves “Sons of Light” and the “Holy Ones” (because they believed the Holy Spirit was present and dwelt with them) and referred to their leader as “Teacher of Righteousness.” They broke away from Temple Judaism because they thought people were becoming too worldly; they believed that the “end-times” were near and that they were the chosen ones to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord. Some say Jesus may have either been an Essene or had contact with them.
Writings from Masada
Other writings of antiquity have been found at Masada and other nearby sites. Masada was a great fortress that housed two palaces of Herod the Great. The fortress sits above the Judean Desert and the Dead Sea on a flat mesa. It was the site of a battle between the Romans and a sect of the Jewish people revolting against them. The Jews held off the Romans for three years and then, when capture seemed imminent, all 967 committed suicide rather than be taken. In 1963 to 1965, several large-scale excavations were conducted on the Masada site in a joint venture of the Hebrew University, the Israel Exploration Society, and Israel's Department of Antiquities. Archeologists discovered many fragments from twelve first-century scrolls. Some contained writings from certain books of the Hebrew scriptures, including Genesis and Leviticus. Also found were fragments from other biblical and apocryphal books.
Writings from Nag Hammadi, the Dead Sea Scrolls, Masada, and elsewhere represent discoveries in the land of the Nile, but through the centuries many other manuscripts have been found. Such finds of antiquities aid tremendously in the scholarship of the ancient world and its beliefs.
Papyrus, Parchment, and Jars
The ancients used papyrus and parchment for writing surfaces. The papyrus was a common type of reed growing in the Nile Valley. The long-stemmed, bulbous reed was valued for its high durability. After the reed was cut into several long strips and placed flush together in rows, other strips were placed across the rows. The papyrus “page,” after being wetted with water and weighted down, was put in the sun to dry. Once dried, the page was burnished with shells to make the surface solid enough for writing.
Parchment was the dried skin of any number of animals found in ancient times, including calves, donkeys, goats, and sheep. By the end of the third century, parchment was preferred over papyrus among scribes intending to make books. Folding the parchment into two, they could cut the folds and get four writing pages. A book consisted of a grouping of these pages, or leaves, into quires.
The Dead Sea Scroll book of Isaiah that heralds the prophecy of John was found in a jar that stood a little under two feet tall and nine inches in diameter. This type of jar has only been found in the caves at Qumran; thus the jar represents a piece of linkage between the Dead Sea Scrolls and possibly the Essene library.
The voice of him that crieth out in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain … the Lord hath spoken it. — Isaiah 40:3–5
The Baffling Copper Scroll
The Copper Scroll found in 1952 and designated as 3Q15 was among the Dead Sea Scrolls' most curious finds. It had nothing to do with religious ideas or doctrine, but may have described the Temple treasure, and huge quantities of it at that. The scroll was found in Cave 3 at Khirbet Qumran. While many of the Dead Sea Scrolls were found by the Bedoin, the Copper Scroll was discovered by archeologists. The oxidized metal scroll was too brittle to be unrolled, and it took scholars roughly five years to figure out how to manipulate the copper to be able to decipher it. Experts finally agreed to cut it into twenty-three strips, each forming a circle. Reading and translating the text proved difficult, since the script was in ancient Hebrew and scholars did not know many of the vocabulary words found on the scroll. In addition, the experts could not decipher the directions (although they were fairly precise and specific) to the treasure's location. According to scholarly commentary, some of the places had different names and some places no longer existed. Opinion is divided between whether the treasure belonged to the Jerusalem Temple (prior to its destruction) or to the Essenes at Qumran. Finally, there are those who think the scroll's description of treasure was nothing more than a work of fiction.