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The Shepherds, the Shoemaker, the Professor & the Scrolls

In the spring of 1947, a teenage Bedouin shepherd searching for a lost goat tossed a stone into a virtually inaccessible cave on the chance the goat might have somehow strayed into it. He heard the sound of pottery breaking. Pulling himself up to the cave's entrance, he saw giant terra-cotta jars in which he imagined there might be an Arabian Nights' treasure, but instead, found them filled with rolls of old leatherlike parchment. His family broke off some of the scrolls and took them to the shop of Kando, the shoe repairman in Bethlehem, who often sold oddities and ancient objects found by Bedouin in the desert. If nothing else, Kando might be able to use the old leather filled with strange writing for shoe repairs. Kando himself had no idea of the meaning and value of what the Bedouin had brought him.

Prof. E. L. Sukenick, of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, noticed broken fragments of the scrolls while browsing at Kando's, and was shown some complete scrolls. The professor almost fainted in amazement. Acting on a feeling that the scrolls might be far, far older than any others known to be in existence, Professor Sukenick risked his life to return to Bethlehem a few weeks later and purchase as many of the scrolls as he could afford on the very day in November 1947 when the United Nations in New York was voting to partition Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab State. Rioting had erupted throughout British Mandate Palestine, and West Jerusalem was virtually under siege. According to his journal, when he stepped off the bus from Bethlehem in Jerusalem clutching the scrolls in a paper bag, Professor Sukenick said the prayer one recites on escaping death. He was probably the last Jew to visit Bethlehem until after the Six-Day War in 1967. During the Battle for Jerusalem, the scrolls remained in Professor Sukenick's house, while shells landed throughout the neighborhood. When Israel's War of Independence ended, the fragile scrolls were unraveled, in some cases using surgical instruments. Only then was it learned that the only scrolls of the Bible to survive from the time when The Temple stood in Jerusalem had been restored both to the Jewish people and to the world.

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