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Until 1947, scholars had only the clay tablets of Babylon and the Egyptian papyri to help them understand background information on the Bible, since no ancient Old Testament manuscripts were known to have survived.  However, all this changed with the discovery of over 800 papyrus and parchment texts in caves along the northwest corner of the Dead Sea.  These scrolls gave the world manuscripts of Old Testament books 1,000 years older than any previously in existence. 

As the importance of the find was realized, the world waited to find out if the scrolls would prove that the Bible had been handed down and translated accurately through the generations.  The answer is a resounding yes.

Regarding the faithful transcription of biblical manuscripts by the Jewish scribes, Jewish historian Flavius Josephus said the following:

We have given practical proof of our reverence for our own Scriptures.  For, although such long ages have now passed, no one has ventured either to add, or to remove, or to alter a syllable; and it is an instinct with every Jew from the day of his birth to regard them as the decrees of God, to abide by them, and, if need be, cheerfully to die for them. 

Time and again ere now, the sight has been witnessed of prisoners enduring tortures and death in every form in the theaters, rather than utter a single word against the Laws and the allied documents.

The Dead Sea Scrolls confirm that from the ninth centuries A.D., the Jewish scribal copying of the Old Testament Scriptures was accomplished with remarkably few errors.  With the exception of minute copying errors here and there, the Dead Sea manuscripts exhibited virtually identical readings to their counterparts of the ninth century.  They proved that the many scholars who expressed doubts concerning the accuracy of the Massoretic text were unfounded. 

John Allegro, not a Christian sympathizer, said this of the discovery:

Excitement had run high among scholars when it became known in 1948 that a cave near the Dead Sea had produced pre-Massoretic texts of the Bible.  Was it possible that we were at last going to see traditions differing seriously from the standard text, which would throw some important light on this hazy period of variant traditions?  In some quarters the question was raised with some apprehension, especially when news-hungry journalists began to talk about changing the whole Bible in view of the latest discoveries, but closer examination showed that, on the whole, the differences shown by the first Isaiah scroll were of little account, and could often be explained on the basis of scribal errors, or differing orthography, syntax, or grammatical form.

Millar Burrows, a scholar of exceptional stature reveals his attitude toward the Dead Sea Scrolls:

It is quite true that as a liberal Protestant I do not share all the beliefs of my more conservative brethren.  It is my considered conclusion, however, that if one will go through any of the historic statements of the Christian faith he will find nothing that has been or can be disproved by the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Dead Sea Scrolls Facts

  1. The Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 11 caves on the upper northwest shore of the Dead Sea. The area is 13 miles east of Jerusalem, and is -1300 ft. below sea level (Jerusalem is +2400 ft. above sea level). 

  2. The Isaiah Scroll is the oldest complete manuscript. of a Hebrew scripture yet discovered and was found in Cave 1 at Qumran in 1947 and purchased by the Syrian Orthodox archbishop of Jerusalem.  The Isaiah scroll was acquired by Israel in 1954 and has been the central exhibit in Jerusalem's Shrine of the Book since 1965.

  3. In all, scholars have identified the remains of about 825 to 870 separate scrolls.

  4. Only Caves 1 and 11 have produced relatively intact manuscripts. Discovered in 1952, Cave 4 produced the largest find. About 15,000 fragments from more than 500 manuscripts were found.

  5. Fragments of every book of the Hebrew canon (Old Testament) have been discovered except for the book of Esther.

  6. There are now identified among the scrolls, 19 copies of the Book of Isaiah, 25 copies of Deuteronomy and 30 copies of the Psalms .

  7. Also found with the scrolls were nonbiblical writings along the order of commentaries on the OT, paraphrases that expand on the Law, rule books of the community, war conduct, thanksgiving psalms, hymnic compositions, benedictions, liturgical texts, and sapiential (wisdom) writings.

  8. The Scrolls appear to be the library of a Jewish sect. The library was hidden away in caves around the outbreak of the First Jewish Revolt (A.D. 66-70) as the Roman army advanced against the rebel Jews.

  9. Near the caves are the ancient ruins of Qumran. They were excavated in the early 1950's and appear to be connected with the scrolls.

  10. The most commonly held belief is that the Dead Sea Scrolls were written by the Essenes during the period from about 200 B.C. to 68 C.E./A.D. The Essenes are mentioned by Josephus and in a few other sources, but not in the New testament. The Essenes were a strict Torah observant, Messianic, apocalyptic, baptist, wilderness, new covenant Jewish sect. They were led by a priest they called the "Teacher of Righteousness," who was opposed and possibly killed by the establishment priesthood in Jerusalem.

  11. The enemies of the Qumran community were called the "Sons of Darkness"; they called themselves the "Sons of Light," "the poor," and members of "the Way." They thought of themselves as "the holy ones," who lived in "the house of holiness," because "the Holy Spirit" dwelt with them.

  12. The last words of Joseph, Judah, Levi, Naphtali, and Amram (the father of Moses) are written down in the Scrolls.

  13. One of the most curious scrolls is the Copper Scroll. Discovered in Cave 3, this scroll records a list of 64 underground hiding places throughout the land of Israel. The deposits are to contain certain amounts of gold, silver, aromatics, and manuscripts. These are believed to be treasures from the Temple at Jerusalem, that were hidden away for safekeeping.

  14. The Temple Scroll, found in Cave 11, is the longest scroll. Its present total length is 26.7 feet (8.148 meters). The overall length of the scroll must have been over 28 feet (8.75m).

  15. The scrolls contain previously unknown stories about biblical figures such as Enoch, Abraham, and Noah. The story of Abraham includes an explanation why God asked Abraham to sacrifice his only son Isaac.

Qumran near the site where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found


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