|Volume 17 Number 2 February 2015||
Likely you have heard of the Dead Sea Scrolls. What are they, and why do they still cause a stir in the religious world? The Dead Sea is a lake in Palestine (bordered by present day Jordan on the East and Israel on the West). It is the lowest point on earth, about 1,300 feet below sea level. It receives water from the Jordan River, but since it has no outlet, it is over eight times saltier than the ocean. Nothing lives in its waters, hence its name.
Reports tell of a Bedouin shepherd lad who while looking for a lost animal threw a stone toward a cave in the region northwest of the Dead Sea. When the stone produced a breaking sound, his curiosity led him to investigate a cave high on the cliff. The stone had struck and had broken a pottery jar containing an ancient manuscript. Eventually this first cave yielded a number of scrolls, including a nearly complete copy of the Book of Isaiah. This initial discovery made in 1947 sparked a frenzy that eventually led to the discovery of 11 different caves. Cave #4 contained over 15,000 text fragments comprising over 500 different documents. In all, this “library” of data includes about 800 books. The dilapidation, fragmentation and sheer volume of material makes reassembly an almost insurmountable task. On top of that is the tedious work of paleography, the science of deciphering ancient writings.
Before the Dead Sea scrolls discovery, the oldest copy of the Hebrew Bible dated back to roughly 1,000 A.D. However, the Dead Sea documents are from about 250 B.C. to about A.D. 68. This means that the Dead Sea Scrolls provide us with copies of the biblical text which are over 1,000 years older than anything we had before!
[Editor’s Note: Specifically, the ancient manuscript of the Book of Isaiah among the Dead Sea Scrolls is 1,000 years older than the manuscript from which our English version of that Bible book was translated. Yet, aside from the equivalent of typos and similar clerical errors, the older copy does not differ at all from the latter copy from which our English translation of Isaiah was made. Providentially, God preserved His message for mankind, and we can rely on the Bible as the Word of God. ~ Louis Rushmore, Editor]
Pfeifer, Charles F. The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Bible. New York: Weathervane Books, 1969.
Shanks, Vanderkam, McCarter, Jr., Sanders. The Dead Sea Scrolls after Forty Years. Symposium at the Smithsonian Institution. Washington, DC: Biblical Archaeology Society, 1991.
The Dead Sea Scrolls, as they are gradually pieced together and deciphered, are providing ancient witness to the amazing preservation of the biblical text. Skeptics seem bent upon saying they never have enough proof to believe. Some religions, whose beliefs are contrary to the Scriptures, of necessity must argue that the text of our present Bibles has been corrupted over time so that it cannot be trusted. In discussing the Dead Sea Scrolls and the integrity of the Scriptures, Charles Pfeifer affirms that this library of materials is “in all essential details” the “same as the Bible which we have regarded as authoritative.” If great discrepancies had been found between these scrolls from nineteen centuries ago and our modern day Bible, the claims of “corruption” might deserve an ear. In reality, the corruption ploy is used by religious groups who propagate anti-biblical teachings.
Through the centuries, the Old Testament Scriptures were meticulously copied by Jewish scribes. In an effort to keep human errors to a minimum, elaborate methods of checking were employed. “They counted the number of times each letter was used in a book. They noted verses which contained all the letters of the alphabet, or a certain number of them, etc. They calculated the middle verse, the middle word, and the middle letter of each book.” (Lightfoot)
The accurate preservation of the biblical text is necessarily tied to man’s accountability to God. Jesus said, “He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my sayings, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I spake, the same shall judge him in the last day” (John 12:48). How can God in fairness hold us accountable for either accepting or rejecting the words of His Son, if we no longer have His Son’s words?
[Editor’s Note: The point, of course, is that we do have the words of Jesus Christ and what God the Father and the Holy Spirit determined that mankind should have. Therefore, we humans have the responsibility to study (2 Timothy 2:15; Acts 17:11) the divine message and apply it to ourselves (Matthew 7:21; Luke 6:46). ~ Louis Rushmore, Editor]
The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Bible, Charles F. Pfeifer, Weathervane Books, New York: 1969.
How We God the Bible, Neil R. Lightfoot, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids: 1963.