Christianity and the Dead Sea Scrolls-Do the Scrolls Help us Understand Early Christianity?
As far as I'm concerned, the Scrolls simply confirm that "early Christianity" was simply...
...a form of Judaism.
TTWSYF : Do get the real feel of the early Christian Church you could [should] consult the church fathers and their writings. That is the real deal on what the early church was all about. It's important to remember that the bible followed the church [like 350 years later], the church didn't follow the bible [like it does for so many later Christian orgs]. Below is a copied/pasted article on a few early church fathers from Wikipedia. Notice that their writings are still preserved and available.
Sorry, no comment on the dead sea scrolls
I could not agree more, that to build an understanding of the early church we also need to consult the writings of the so-called 'fathers' of the church.
And, on that issue, may I recommend the Oxford University Press publication, "After the New Testament - A Reader in Early Christianity," edited by Bart D. Ehrman. It contains sample of the writings on 14 major topics of importance in understanding the development of the early church.
BTW, have you considered that use of the word 'development' implies that the church did not spring fully formed from the mind of Jesus.
Study of the Qumran scrolls, permits us to see (for the first time) a kind of parallel development of a Jewish sect that had many similarities to the Jesus sect. The scrolls allow some insight as to what topics were on the minds of fervent Jewish worshippers of YHWH.
For example, "The Didache," (literally, the teaching) understood to be the teachings of the 12 Apostles. It is if you like, the first "Church manual," or in a JW context, the first set of instructions to elders (or, whatever they now call it). Its background is that in the beginning (it seems) the recognised Apostles set the rules and made decisions on new issues. (quite a standard procedure in the development of most organisations- a central authority making up rules as they go along).
Here you will find much, that backgrounds both the conventional church and the JW variant. As an example, consider the instruction in Section 15, verse 3:
" Furthermore, do not reprove each other angrily, but quietly, as you find it in the gospel. Moreover, if anyone has wronged his neighbour, nobody must speak to him, and he must not hear a word from you, until he repents."
You'll appreciate that point as a hot-button issue for most ex-JWs. But we can see that it was likely a rule in the early church.
Was there anything similar in the form of Judaism in the first centuries BCE and CE?
Checking the Qumran scrolls we find:
"Whoever has murmered against the authority of the Community shall be expelled and shall not return." ( 1QS vii, 17).
It becomes clear as you read these scrolls that there was a complex network of rules governing offenses "against" the community (organisation).