“And we have heard from our teachers that the heretic Anan and his friends used to write down heresies and lies and hide them in the ground.
Then they would take them out and say: This is what we found in ancient books.” – Rabbi Moses Taku*
To much fanfare, Google and the Israel Antiquities Authority announced this week that they have made the Dead Sea Scrolls accessible online. The Dead Sea Scrolls have some implications for research into the origins and theology of Karaite Judaism. The first modern discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls occurred in late 1940s; but, by all appearances, some of the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in the ninth century. [Editor’s Note 12:49 p.m. (pacific): See the first comment below for a reference to an even earlier discovery.]
What is interesting, from a Karaite perspective, is the clear connection between some of the writings of the Dead Sea Scrolls and some of the writings of medieval Karaites. This similarity is what prompted Rabbi Moses Taku, a thirteenth century rabbi, to relate a Rabbinic view that Karaites of the eighth century wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls and buried them for the sole purpose of later supporting the antiquity of the Karaite movement. (Of course, history has proven this view to be nonsense.)
For most Karaites, whether (and to what extent) our movement is supported by documents found in a cave is not important. It matters only that our theology is rooted in the Tanach. But many scholars – to say nothing of the Karaite community itself – have been fascinated by the connection between the Dead Sea Scrolls and Karaism.
Professor Daniel J. Lasker, who organized the Karaite Studies: The State of The Field workshop we’ve written about here and here, suggested that “two basic possibilities [exist] for explaining the similarity between the Scrolls and medieval Karaite writings.” Lasker wrote:
One view maintains that the Karaites are the direct biological or spiritual descendants of the Dead Sea sect, whose writing were preserved (underground as it were) from the first until the eighth or ninth centuries until the flowering of what is known today as Karaism . . . . The other possibility is that some Scrolls were discovered in the ninth century, as is recorded by the Catholicus Timothy, and their contents influenced the newly formed [Karaite] movement.
(D. Lasker, The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Historiography and the Self Image of Contemporary Karaites, Dead Sea Discoveries, Vol. 9, No. 3 (2002), pp. 281-294).
According to Dr. Lasker, the bulletins of the Karaite Jewish community of Israel contained several articles about the connection between Karaite Judaism and the Dead Sea Scrolls. (Id.) One of those articles was entitled “We and the Hidden Scrolls;” another, “Karaism and the Dead Sea Scrolls.”
Now that the scrolls are online, everyone can see the similarities (and differences) for themselves at the Leon Levy Dead Sea Scroll Digital Library.
*S. Lieberman, “Light on the Cave Scrolls from Rabbinic Sources,” Proceedings of the American Academy for Jewish Research, Vol. 20. (1951), pp. 395-404 (emphasis in article).