Longtime Criswell professor contributes to historic Dead Sea scrolls discovery

Rob Collingsworth | February 9, 2017
Excavation team members work alongside the newly discovered Cave 12 (top right).
Excavation team members work alongside the newly discovered Cave 12 (top right).

Working alongside a team directed by archaeologists from the Hebrew University and Liberty University, Criswell College professor Lamar Cooper assisted in the discovery and excavation of a cave at Qumran last month that represents a milestone in Dead Sea scrolls research.

Ever since the last Dead Sea scroll cave was discovered in 1956, 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 his student Ahiad Ovadiam, co-director Randall Price of Liberty University, and Criswell’s Lamar Cooper.

Cooper began teaching at Criswell College in 1978 and has served as the dean of graduate studies, vice president for academic affairs, and executive vice president and provost, as well as two separate tenures as 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 to Israel, 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.”