Scholars now claim ancient documents discovered in caves near the Dead Sea will alter text of the Old Testament. Here's the truth about this latest challenge of scholarship.
THE WORLD of scholarship is once again mounting an assault against the authority of the Bible. This time their attack is aimed at the original Hebrew text of the Old Testament.
Why the Latest Challenge
For well over a century and a half Biblical scholars have labored to undermine the authority of the Greek text of the New Testament. But interest in the controversy has lagged. To stir up renewed interest in Biblical criticism, the attack has been shifted. Today the Old Testament bears the frontal assault of scholarship.
Past decades have witnessed remarkable archaeological confirmation of many passages in the Old Testament. The earliest claims of German rationalists and higher critics were exploded each time a new excavation occurred in Palestine and the Middle East. Confronting the theologians was the frightening spectre of the AUTHORITY of Scripture -- which they thought they had banished from the classrooms a century ago.
Biblical archaeology became such a fad that critics were soon aware that their attacks on the Bible would have to be bolstered by this new science. Some new archaeological discovery was needed which could be twisted to make it appear that the very text of the Old Testament was unreliable.
The opportunity to grasp at such a straw came in 1947. In that year certain ancient and tattered scrolls were made known to the scholarly world by an Arab goatherd. Almost immediately dozens of books and articles were written TO SELL the idea that the recently found DEAD SEA SCROLLS were vital for a new understanding of Christianity.
But were these scrolls really important? Did they shed a brilliant new light on Christianity as claimed?
What Was Found
The first scrolls were discovered by accident about 16 years ago. The scene was the blighted desert beside the Dead Sea. It was one of the wildernesses of Palestine in Bible times. An Arab boy herded goats -- some say sheep -- in a ravine called Wady Qumran, not far from the road to Jericho. He chanced upon a cave in the vicinity -- though there is much dispute among writers as to what led him to the cave.
Inside the cave were the crumbled remains of 2000-year-old manuscripts. They had been remarkably preserved considering their age. The scrolls had been wrapped in linen and pitch and placed in earthen jars in the cave. So small and obscure was the entrance to the cave that it had secreted these documents for nearly 20 centuries!
The Arab boy and his companions took the scrolls to Bethlehem where they attempted to sell them to an antiquities dealer. From one merchant to another they journeyed. Four scrolls were finally purchased for about $150 by Archbishop Samuel of the Syrian Orthodox Monastery in Jerusalem.
It was not until February 1948 that real interest developed in the scrolls. The Archbishop sent those which he had obtained to the American School of Oriental Research in Jerusalem. Dr. John C. Trever identified the ancient Hebrew script of the scrolls. He suspected their enormous age. The writing on the scrolls resembled that of other fragmentary manuscripts already known to have been written SHORTLY BEFORE THE BIRTH OF JESUS. (See Dead Sea Scrolls in latest edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica.)
Meanwhile, the Hebrew University at Jerusalem purchased other manuscripts found by the Arab lads in the Qumran caves -- more than one cave proved to contain the ancient manuscripts.
In all, over 40,000 fragments of leather and papyrus have been found. More than a dozen nearly complete scrolls have been recovered. The most important of these CONTAINS -- on 23 feet of leather -- THE ENTIRE OLD TESTAMENT BOOK OF ISAIAH.
What Else the Scrolls Contained
Besides the Isaiah scroll, the Qumran caves secreted The Habakkuk Commentary -- the Book of Habakkuk with a verse-by-verse misinterpretation of two chapters of the prophecy [this commentary is at the root of the unimportant but heated controversy over the sect which preserved the scrolls].
Then there is the Commentary on Genesis -- another fabulous interpretation, this time written in Aramaic. It contains among others a fabulous account of the beauty of Sarah, Abraham's wife.
There is also a Manual of Discipline -- a code which governed the life of the Qumran sect; a group of Thanksgiving Psalms -- having nothing to do with the Old Testament book of Psalms; and The War of the Sons of Light with the Sons of Darkness containing uninspired Jewish apocalyptic fables.
A number of Hebrew Apocryphal writings have also been uncovered, which belonged to this Apocalyptic Qumran Community.
Between 1949 and 1951 additional manuscripts were located in other caves near the Dead Sea. In these scrolls were 19 of the Old Testament books -- nearly all of the same character as the Isaiah Scroll. More recent discoveries have contained fragments of all the Old Testament books except one.
Some of these fragmentary scrolls differ somewhat in the text from the official Hebrew Masoretic text preserved by the Jews and used in their synagogues from the time of Christ till now. Numerous modern scholars therefore hastily jumped to the conclusion that these fragments cast doubt upon the accuracy of the fully preserved official Hebrew text of the Old Testament. Some have gone so far as to insert the SPURIOUS TEXTUAL READINGS of this heretical Qumran sect into the INSPIRED and publicly preserved Masoretic Hebrew Old Testament!
Contrary to this careless modern thinking -- and it is quite a sales point in this Christian world that wants to DOUBT the Bible -- these spurious fragments prove no such thing.
Here is WHY. There is not the least proof that the heretical sect which possessed these texts -- the sect may have been related to the Essenes -- was accurate in its copying of the Old Testament. In fact, many of their scrolls contain FABLES INTERWOVEN WITH the text of the Old Testament! The Scribes never permitted this to happen to the official and authoritative Hebrew text. The scribes taught their traditions orally and never permitted anything to be added to or taken from the text of the Hebrew Bible.
Now turn to Jesus' words in Matthew 23:2 -- The scribes and Pharisees sit on the seat of Moses. In this verse Jesus recognized that the Scribes and Pharisees, not the Qumran sect, had authority over the preservation of the original inspired Hebrew text. The Scribes' specific duty was to preserve the Old Testament text. The heretical sect centered near the Dead Sea was never appointed by God for this purpose.
Nor did they preserve with great care the copies of the Hebrew Old Testament which they possessed. In the Isaiah Scroll, for example, are minor spelling changes and misplaced words, changes that represent the carelessness of UNOFFICIAL scribes who copied on leather this text of the book of Isaiah.
In other words, the official -- and authoritative -- text, found in all Hebrew Bibles, is FAR SUPERIOR in grammatical accuracy to this newly found UNOFFICIAL copy of Isaiah made 2000 years ago. Yet it is the apostate Qumran sect that modern scholars turn to in order to find reason to doubt the POWER of God to preserve His written Word for us. This is the kind of scholarship which fills many of the books being peddled to millions who want new light on the Bible.
The Dead Sea copy of the scroll of Isaiah, just like the printed copies of Isaiah in any modern day Bible, has the SAME 66 CHAPTERS and WHOLLY AGREES IN MEANING with our present-day text. Yet many modern writers, when discussing the Dead Sea Scrolls carefully avoid recognizing this fact BECAUSE THEY DO NOT WANT TO BELIEVE THAT THE BIBLE HAS BEEN ACCURATELY PRESERVED, not only in meaning, but even in wording.
Until the 1947 find, the oldest and fullest Manuscript in Hebrew was the Codex Petropolitanus, dating from about 916 A.D. This latest find near the Dead Sea is, in fact, a confirmation of the ACCURACY with which the Jews have copied the books of the Old Testament through every century.
Scrolls of NO Great Value
Most books and articles on the Dead Sea Scrolls are also magnifying these inconsequential papyrus and leather fragments into new and astounding evidence about the origin of Christianity and the person of Jesus Christ! The fact remains that NOT ONCE IN THE NEW TESTAMENT is this small heretical Apocalyptic Qumran sect EVEN MENTIONED! Always you read of the Scribes, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Herodians and Zealots -- but never of the Essenes and kindred Apocalyptic sects such as buried these scrolls in caves bordering the Dead Sea.
In order to sell their books, some few authors have speculated that the sect which buried the scrolls constituted the followers of John the Baptist -- or even the disciples of Jesus Christ Himself! But PROOF of such ideas they have none. They have speculations to SELL -- and people ARE interested in human speculation!
One writer contends that this heretical Apocalyptic Qumran sect held doctrines which were the rich, spiritual subsoil that nourished early Christianity! If this were true, WHY IS THE BOOK OF ACTS TOTALLY SILENT ABOUT THIS SECT? Why didn't Jesus recognize its authority?
The facts are that the teachings of John the Baptist, of Jesus Christ and the apostles -- yes, of the entire New Testament -- are TOTALLY AT VARIANCE with the semi-paganized monastic life led by the Essenes and Apocalyptics.
Perhaps a helpful summary of the scrolls was given by Professor Roland Murphy, at the Catholic University: No Christian need fear the scrolls. They will shed light on two important points -- the accuracy of the Hebrew text of the Bible and the history of the Jewish movements in the time of Christ.
The Dead Sea Scrolls do throw light on these two points -- but only a VERY FAINT LIGHT!
It is time we return to common sense and quit following every scholarly whim and flight of fancy. Let's not be drawn into the whirlpool of academic speculations about the Bible. Holy Scripture is what it always has been -- the inspired and revealed Word of the Living God.