When these scrolls were first found in 1947 in 11 caves at Qumran, the word ‘revolutionary’ was used to describe their significance. Nowadays, such an emotive word has been replaced by a more mature assessment.
The opinion at present is that the scrolls have mainly provided an insight into the history and beliefs of the Dead Sea Community of Essenes at Qumran. New fields of scolarship have been brought into being, the study of Hebrew manuscripts and orthography from the 3rd Century BCE to the 2nd century CE.
The scrolls have extended knowledge of the written Old Testament back by over a thousand years – a Book of Samuel manuscript from Cave 4 is said to date from 225BCE. The 11 caves have yielded something from every book of the Old Testament, varying from one small scrap to a complete scroll. The only exception is possibly Esther. 29 copies of Deuteronomy were found and 21 copies of Isaiah. The scrolls were also written in different languages such as Hebrew and Aramaic.
Many copies of the Pseudepigrapha, Jewish religious compositions written between 200 BCE and 100 CE that weren’t accepted into the canon of scripture, were also found such as the Book of Enoch and the Book of Jubilees, so extending this area of study and increasing the understanding of Jewish history and religion in the age prior to the formation of the New Testament.
No New Testament fragments were found at Qumran.