It was a normal day in November 1946 for Mohammed edh-Dhib and his two cousins.
The boys’ job was to watch the sheep in the sparsely grassed area not too far from a place known as Cliff Springs (Ein Feshkha) in the southern part of what is now the West Bank area of the Jordan River and near the sea. When you spend all day with the sheep, day after day, you begin to create things to do to pass the time. Sheep aren’t that much trouble, after all, and predators were few in that area. So, the boys created games for themselves to have something to do while the sheep grazed on the brown grasses.
The rocky soil meant that “ammo” for throwing was plentiful. The boys knew better than to throw at the sheep. Besides, they loved the sheep. No, the boys looked to the cliffs around them for places to throw rocks to see who had the best aim. Jum’a, Mohammed’s cousin and best friend, had the best throwing arm, but that didn’t keep the other two boys from trying to show him up and prove that they weren’t so bad themselves.
The cliff sides were littered with holes and caves, carved out by centuries of water running through the soft stone. The challenge for the boys was to hit the mouth of a specific cave with a rock. Sometimes, the sound of the rocks landing inside the caves echoed inside the opening and resounded down the cliffsides.
It was that hot November day that Jum’a’s thrown rock found the opening of one particular cave. Instead the the usual sound of bouncing stone on stone, the boys heard another, unfamiliar, sound.
The three boys exchanged surprised glances. The rock had hit something unusual. It was Mohammed who was the first to clamber into the opening to see what Jum’a’s rock had struck. Mohammed shielded his eyes to help them adjust to the darkness inside. When he could see clearly, he yelled out to his cousins what he found: Clay jars. Several of them. Lined up agains the side of the cave not too far into the entrance. It was sheer luck that the rock had found the jar’s side. The rock had cracked it.
The boys took some of the jars back to their encampment to show the adults what they’d found. There was some discussion among the grown-ups about what should be done with the jars. Finally, it was decided that the jars should be sold. The boys were asked if they thought they could maybe find more of the jars. Mohammed admitted that he didn’t venture much more into the cave, that there might have been more jars deeper in.
The jars were sold to a market in the old town of Bethlehem. The Bedouin shepherds fetched about $350 in today’s money for the jars. They felt they’d made a good deal, sort of pulling one over on the purchaser.
They didn’t care that inside the jars found by Mohammed and his cousins were the Dead Sea Scrolls.