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THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS. Since 1947, when a Bedouin shepherd stumbled upon a cave (about seven miles S of Jericho and a mile from the Dead Sea) containing many scrolls of leather covered with Heb. and Aram. writing, biblical studies have been considerably altered by what has come to be known as the Dead Sea Scrolls.
The Discoveries. When all of the great manuscripts from this cave (known as Cave 1) were assembled in the possession of the state of Israel, they included a complete Isaiah, a partial Isaiah, a Habakkuk commentary (including two chapters of Habakkuk), The Manual of Discipline (rules for members of the religious community living nearby), Thanksgiving Hymns, a Genesis Apocryphon (apocryphal accounts of some of the patriarchs) and Wars of the Sons of Light Against the Sons of Darkness (an account of a real or spiritual war between some of the Hebrew tribes and tribes E of the Jordan).
This cache of documents stimulated exploration of some 270 caves in the vicinity of Cave 1, with the result that a total of 11 caves were found to contain manuscripts like those discovered in Cave 1. In Cave 2 there were about one hundred fragments of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Jeremiah, Job, Psalms, and Ruth. Cave 3 contained the famous copper scrolls, with directions to sites where treasure was located. To date none of this treasure has been found. Cave 4 contained fragments of about one hundred biblical scrolls representing all the OT books except Esther. A fragment of Samuel, dating to the third century b.c. and believed to be the oldest known piece of biblical Heb., came from this cave. Caves 5–10 had a variety of scroll fragments too diverse to list here. Prize pieces from Cave 11 included very fine portions of Psalms and Leviticus. The former included forty-eight psalms, forty-one biblical and seven nonbiblical. It should be noted that biblical manuscripts accounted for only a fraction of the scroll fragments; e.g., some forty thousand fragments of an unknown number of manuscripts turned up in Cave 4.
As all this material came to light, interest centered on the ruin Khirbet Qumran, located on a plateau between Cave 4 and the Dead Sea. G. Lankester Harding, director of the Department of Antiquities for the state of Jordan, and Father R. de Vaux of the Ecole Biblique in Jerusalem dug there in 1951 and 1953 to 1956. Evidently, this was the center of the religious community (largely celibate) responsible for copying and assembling the library found in the eleven caves. Many scholars have classified them as Essenes, but not all are convinced of that identification.
The general date of the scrolls is bound up with the date of the community and is established on the basis of at least five lines of evidence: (1) carbon 14 tests on linen wrappings of the scrolls (range of c. 327 b.c.–a.d. 73); (2) coins found in the community, dating from 325 b.c. to a.d. 68; (3) pottery chronology for the jars in which the scrolls were found, as well as other pottery found in the community center and the scroll caves; (4) comparative paleography (science of handwriting); (5) linguistic analysis of Aram. documents found in the caves.
Discoveries in the Qumran area sparked interest in other cave investigation. From caves in the Wadi Murabba‘at (twelve miles S of Qumran) in 1952 came fragments in Heb. of five leather scrolls: two of Exodus and one each of Genesis, Deuteronomy, and Isaiah. Bedouin later found in this area an incomplete scroll of the minor prophets and fragments of Genesis, Numbers, and Psalms. At Khirbet Mird in the Wadi en-Nar, six miles SW of Qumran, a Belgian expedition found biblical materials (dating to the fifth through eighth centuries) consisting of portions of Mark, John, and Acts in Gk. and Joshua, Luke, John, Acts, and Colossians in Syr. In 1960 an Israeli team found Heb. fragments of Pss. 15 and 16, Ex. 13, and Num. 20 in caves in the Nahal Hever gorge, about three miles S of En-gedi. They also found a considerable collection of Bar Kochba materials there. Then at Masada, Yigael Yadin found the following first-century a.d. materials: Pss. 81–85 and 150, fragments of Genesis, Lev. 8–12, Deuteronomy, and Ezekiel.
The Significance of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The big question yet to be answered is what all the magnificent discoveries near the Dead Sea have done for biblical studies. In the first place, they pushed the history of the Heb. text back a thousand years. Before the discovery of these texts, the oldest Heb. manuscript of any length dated to the ninth century a.d. The Isaiah manuscript and other materials from Qumran dated to the second century b.c. or earlier. Second, the Dead Sea Scrolls have thrown much light on the meanings of individual words often not clearly understood from their OT usage. Third, some higher critical views have been brought into question by the scroll discoveries. For example, the supposed second-century date for the composition of Daniel is difficult to support when a Dead Sea manuscript of Daniel dates to about 120 b.c. Likewise, a second- or first-century b.c. date for the composition of Ecclesiastes can hardly be maintained when part of Ecclesiastes, dating about 175 to 150 b.c., is produced from Cave 4. Moreover, the Dead Sea Scrolls do not support the existence of a deutero- or trito-Isaiah, at least during the second century b.c. The two Isaiah manuscripts from Cave 1 treat the book as a unit. Fourth, the Dead Sea Scrolls confirm the accuracy of the OT text. The new information shows that there were three or four families of texts, of which the Masoretic, or traditional Heb., text was one. But even though the Masoretic family of texts had to compete with the other textual traditions, it did not greatly diverge from them in most OT books, and the differences have a bearing only on minor points. Probably it is reasonably correct to say that there is at least 95 percent agreement between the various biblical texts found near the Dead Sea and the OT we have had all along. Most of the variations are minor, and none of the doctrines has been put in jeopardy. The Dead Sea Scrolls reveal a miracle of preservation of the text in transmission. In fact, when the Revised Standard Version translation committee was preparing that new version, they finally decided to adopt only thirteen improvements on the MT of Isaiah based on the complete Isaiah manuscript from Cave 1. Later Millar Burrows, a member of the committee, concluded that only eight of the changes were warranted. Last, the Dead Sea Scrolls demonstrate that the contents of John’s gospel reflect the authentic Jewish background of John the Baptist and Jesus and the writer, rather than an alleged Hellenistic or later Gnostic orientation.
By Howard F. Voss
bibliography: C. Rabin, The Zadokite Documents (1952); H. H. Rowley, The Zadokite Fragments and the Dead Sea Scrolls; M. Burrows, The Dead Sea Scrolls (1955); G. Vermes, Discoveries in the Judean Desert (1956); T. H. Gaster, The Scriptures of the Dead Sea Sect (1957); A. Y. Samuel, The Treasures of Qumran (1957); M. Burrows, More Light on the Dead Sea Scrolls (1958); F. M. Cross, Ancient Library of Qumran (1958); W. S. LaSor, Bibliography of the Dead Sea Scrolls, 1948–1957 (1958); J. T. Milik, Ten Years of Discovery in the Wilderness of Judaea (1959); J. M. Allegro, The Treasure of the Copper Scroll (1960); R. K. Harrison, The Dead Sea Scrolls (1961); A. Dupont-Sommer, The Essene Writings from Qumram (1962); G. Vermes, The Dead Sea Scrolls in English (1962); G. R. Driver, The Judaean Scrolls (1965); J. de Waard, ed., A Comparative Study of the Old Testament Text in the Dead Sea Scrolls and in the New Testament (1966); M. Black, The Scrolls and Christian Origins (1969); J. R. Rosenbloom, The Dead Sea Isaiah Scroll (1970); B. Jongeling, Classified Bibliography of the Finds of the Desert of Judah, 1958–1969 (1971); R. de Vaux, Archaeology and the Dead Sea Scrolls (1973); J. A. Fitzmeyer, The Dead Sea Scrolls: Major Publications and Tools for Study (1975); G. Vermes, The Dead Sea Scrolls: Qumran in Perspective (1977); J. C. Trever, The Dead Sea Scrolls: A Personal Account (1978).
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BIBLE TRANSLATION AND TEXTUAL CRITICISM
BIBLICAL STUDIES / INTERPRETATION
CHRISTIAN APOLOGETIC EVANGELISM
CHURCH ISSUES, GROWTH, AND HISTORY
 Howard F. Vos, “The Dead Sea Scrolls” ed. Merrill F. Unger and R.K. Harrison, The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1988).