The most significant biblical find of the century is undoubtedly the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS), discovered in the 1940s by the Dead Sea, not far from Jerusalem. The scrolls contain many religious writings, including partial or complete biblical texts from every book of the Old Testament (except Esther), and these date to the 3rd century BC. For a load of information about the scrolls, please see Steve Kinnard's Digging Deeper, at this website. You will find many articles explaining the significance of the scrolls! Before this incredible discovery, the oldest surviving mss (manuscripts) were from a thousand years later! Their significance for establishing the accuracy of the biblical text obviously cannot be underestimated!
Twice I have had the opportunity to visit the caves with Steve Kinnard, who became familiar with the "Qumran" community and their legendary library during the year his family resided in Israel (1997-1998). A real highlight was climbing up to Cave 6 with Steve and fellow friend Mike Fontenot! The majority of the manuscripts were found, however, in Cave 4.
The most famous scroll, however, is 1QIsa. This shorthand means Scroll A of Isaiah, found in Cave 1. This nearly flawless copy of the biblical book of Isaiah is on show in the Israel Museum and, like the other manuscripts and manuscript fragments, is published.
Is it true that the DSS are the subject of a grand conspiracy, perpetrated by those who would hide the truth from believers? Not at all! While personal motives, occasional confusion, and a certain sense of possessiveness have at times characterized the entire enterprise of the reconstruction, translation, and publication of the DSS, at this point the corpus of the DSS is available for inspection to all who are interested! I would like to recommend two helpful books to those who care to dig deeper:
* Michael Wise, Martin Abegg, Jr., and Edward Cook, The Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Translation. San Franscisco: HarperCollins, 1996.
* Hershel Shanks, Understanding the Dead Sea Scrolls. New York: Random House, 1992.
For those who would like to follow the ongoing discussion, you may wish to consider subscribing to the journal Biblical Archaeological Review. If you would prefer a more compact, one-shot overview of the subject, see the logos CD-ROM The Dead Sea Scrolls Revealed (Pixel Multimedia and Aaron Witkin Associates, 1994).
The DSS are not the oldest surviving biblical MSS. Several others have been discovered several centuries older, though not in the abundance of the DS find.