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The Dead Sea Scrolls - and accuracy of the Old Testament
Until just a few years ago, the oldest Hebrew manuscript dated from the ninth century A.D. There were many others dated a little later, but the present Hebrew Bible is based primarily on texts from the medieval period in the ninth century. Although most Bible scholars believed them to be accurate, there was no way to demonstrate that they had been transcribed accurately over a one thousand to fifteen hundred year period.
In the 1948 printing of his book Our Bible and Ancient Manuscripts, textual scholar Sir Frederic Kenyon, wrote:
"There is indeed no probability that we shall find manuscripts of the Hebrew text going back to a period before the formation of the text which we know as Massoretic. We can only arrive at an idea of it by a study of the earliest translations made from it . . ."11
Amazingly, at the same time his book was being printed, discoveries began in 1947 that would render any further statements like Kenyon's impossible. Until this time, the oldest complete copy of the Old Testament in Hebrew was Codex Babylonicus Petropalitanus from A.D. 1008, more than 1,400 years after the Old Testament was completed. Egyptian papyri also existed to help researchers understand background information on the Bible, since no ancient Old Testament manuscripts were known to have survived. The revolutionary discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls, in the caves at Qumran, were made by a shepherd lad. Eventually, this find would yield over 40,000 fragments representing hundreds of scrolls and including every book of the Old Testament except Esther. Since the sheep-herders revealed that some had been in the habit of using these scrolls to kindle fires we can be truly astonished that so much survived and has been used so effectively in silencing the deluge of criticism which had been building over the last century. The surviving materials have been examined with great anticipation and care because some of the fragments represented scrolls that had been written 150 years before Christ. Manuscripts more than a thousand years older than any previously known are now available for study. Careful examination and comparison of the Qumran scrolls, against existing medieval manuscripts, revealed a consistency in textual integrity which was unbelievable. There was very little, if any, noticeable difference between the texts written in 150 B.C. and those written in A.D. 800-900. This demonstrates the accurate preservation of the text. Also, the scroll of Isaiah shows no noticeable division between chapters 39 and 40. It is safe to say, without any hesitation, that in our present Bibles, we possess the original Words of God as they were faithfully preserved by godly and exacting scribes down through the centuries.
The Dead Sea Scrolls demonstrated unequivocally the fact that the Jews were faithful in their transcription of biblical manuscripts. This reverence for the Scriptures was summed up long ago by the first century Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus:
"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"12
The attitude that Josephus related is borne out by the comparison of the Massoretic text, which is the basis of our Hebrew Bibles, and the scrolls from the Dead Sea. Thus any appeal to the Dead Sea Scrolls as casting doubt on the Bible's reliability is invalid.
Charles Pfeiffer had this to say:
"It should be noted that, while negative higher critical views of the Bible cannot be refuted by a study of the Qumran scrolls . . .there is no evidence from Qumran to justify a major reassessment of the traditional views of the origin of biblical writings. . . .The Old Testament books from Qumran are those which we find in our Bibles. Minor textual variants occur as they do in any document which depends on hand copies for multiplication, but the biblical texts may be regarded as essentially reliable"11
Therefore, the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls only supports the critical but traditional conservative approach to the Old Testament, and lends no support to those who hold to the modern "higher criticism" or "reconstruction" hypotheses.
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