There have been many discoveries throughout history both archaeological and otherwise. “Among the most important apologetic witnesses to the textual transmission of the Old Testament and the integrity of the Gospels are the Dead Sea Scrolls.”1 This designation, Dead Sea Scrolls, has been given to manuscripts discovered in and around the area of the Dead Sea since 1947. The Scrolls were such an amazing discovery, in that they were in excellent condition, and had remained hidden for so long (over 2000 years). The purpose of this paper is to present the facts, history and apologetical uses of such an important artifact as the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Simply the Facts
The Dead Sea Scrolls, as mentioned previously, are manuscripts discovered around the Dead Sea in 1947. However, they are much more than that. As one can see from the following list, there are many facts concerning the Dead Sea Scrolls:
1. They were found by accident; Bedouin Sheppard’s looking for lost sheep threw a rock into a cave and heard something shatter.
2. They are written in Hebrew, Aramic and Greek; possibly by the Essenes.
3. The dates for them are possibly during the Qumran and Early Roman period; 250 B.C. to A.D. 70.
4. They were discovered in eleven caves along the northwest shore of the Dead Sea.
5. Prior to the discovery of the Scrolls some of the earliest manuscripts of the Old Testament were dated around AD 900 to 1000.
6. Every book in the Old Testament is included, except the Book of Esther.
7. A commentary, on the Book of Habakkuk, was also found; the earliest existing Biblical commentary.
8. They provide a basis to compare our other manuscripts from 1000 years before they were written.
9. The Dead Sea scrolls provide no commentary on the Apocrypha, but do provide commentary on some of the Jewish Old Testament books.
So what does all of this mean? It could possibly depend on who one would ask. There are many differing views on the importance of this discovery.
1 Hindson, Ed and Caner, Ergun, The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics, Harvest House Publishers, Eugene OR., 2008
It would seem some feel this is one of the most vital discoveries of all times, while others simply think it is an over exaggerated find of something we already had. “These scrolls have taught scholars an enormous amount about apocalyptic Judaism in the first century AD, although it is unlikely that anything in them has any direct bearing upon either Jesus or Christianity.”2
Although there could possibly be many more facts than listed here, the point for this discussion has been established well enough to provide a foundational look at the rest of our focus; beginning with a look into the history of the scrolls, along with the apologetical use in defense of the Word of God, both the Old and New Testament. First the History…
A Look Back
When it comes to Biblical history, it would appear the burden of proof lies with the Christian side, while in reality, it would seem it should be just the opposite. This is an entirely different paper and discussion. So, for the purposes here, we will keep it simple, in that history is simply that, history. In this section the focus turns to Old Testament manuscripts, and the Dead Sea Scrolls. In particular, the historical value of the scrolls, and the impact of the discovery of the scrolls.
Again, the purpose of looking at the history of the Old Testament is to establish a foundation for the significance of the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. “The oldest surviving list of the canonical scriptures of the Old Testament comes from about AD 170, the product of a Christian scholar named Melito of Sardis, who made a trip to Palestine to determine both the order and number of books in the Hebrew Bible. It is important to remember that the Old Testament was more than a thousand years in writing – the oldest parts being written by Moses and the latest after the Babylonian exile.”3 Our Bible today follows the Latin Vulgate, with the content of the Hebrew Bible. This is the beginning of why the scrolls are of such importance. Many question the validity of the Bible in and of itself, yet when one simply looks at the history of the Old Testament, we can see why. First of all most proclaim there is no historical evidence of Moses, and that much of the writings in the Old Testament were borrowed from other historical myths or religions. This will be discussed more in the apologetic section.
2 Hill, Jonathan, Handbook to the History of Christianity, Lion Publishing Plc., Grand Rapids MI., 2006
3 Elwell, Walter A., Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd edition, Baker Book House Company; Grand Rapids MI., 2001
“A helpful way to look at the Old Testament’s textual history is to compare it to other documents of antiquity. For most ancient documents, we have about a thousand year gap between the writing of the document and the first available copy that archaeologists find. For example, with a Roman historian called Tacitus, our first manuscript copy of his work comes from around 1100 A.D. and we have 20 total manuscript copies today. Interestingly, Tacitus actually wrote his works around 100 A.D. Most historians do not doubt that we have a really good idea what Tacitus actually wrote, even though we only have about 20 total partial or complete manuscripts and the earliest manuscript comes about 1,000 years after the original writing. In comparison, our first manuscript copy of the Old Testament (dates from 250 B.C.) comes about 150 years after the original book was written (i.e. probably Malachi about 400 B.C.). Also, we actually have over 10,000 Old Testament manuscripts.”4 However, with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, we now have exact copies of very early dated manuscripts containing all of the Books from the Old Testament, except Esther, as mentioned previously.
As for the scrolls, “the most important manuscripts are those found in eleven caves overlooking the Wadi Qumran – apparently the remnants of the library of a religious community which had its headquarters at Khirbet Qumran between ca. 145 B.C. and A.D. 68 (with a break of thirty years ca. 34 – 4 B.C.).”5 In fact, hundreds of both Biblical and non biblical scrolls and fragments have been found, including the Books of Deuteronomy, Psalms and Isaiah. We list the Book of Isaiah last due to the importance of this particular book. The first notable point of Isaiah is the dating of the book; that being 1000 years earlier than the earliest of any existing copy. “Perhaps the most interesting discovery was an almost complete Isaiah scroll. When scholars compared the Isaiah scroll to our earliest copies of Isaiah previous to then (900 to 1000 A.D.), they found that there were only about 13 textual variations. Regarding Isaiah 53, which predicts the suffering and death of Jesus, they only found one variation in the entire chapter that had any possible significance.”6 While we are not arguing the truth or historical value of the Bible one can already begin to see that Christianity is not a blind faith religion, but actual facts, able to provide logic and reason to our faith. Unfortunately, in today’s politically correct world, even facts are sometimes not accepted as truth.
4 Elwell, Walter A., Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd edition, Baker Book House Company; Grand Rapids MI., 2001
5 http://www.carm.org last accessed 05/31/2013
And to go along with the same thoughts, many, if not most, of professing Christian’s feel that we can lead people to Christ by simply loving them, “like Jesus did”, inviting them to church, or giving our personal testimony. Please do not hear what I am not stating, all of these things are nice, but the bottom line is we are not prepared to “…give an answer for the hope we have…”. It is discoveries like the Dead Sea Scrolls, which confirm the faith we already have. But again, believers must be taught, or exposed to such information for it to be useful in our everyday lives.
Yes, the scrolls are an amazing discovery, especially for the condition in which they were found, (excellent), and the time in which it took to find them. But there are always two sides to every story, and this one is no exception. The actual find was not everything some made it out to be, as far as, what was actually there. There are not any “lost” books of the Bible, or any other copies or manuscripts that had not already been discovered. In fact, the significance of the find is the dating, because everything else was mainly copies of the Hebrew Old Testament, of which we already have.
“The Dead Sea Scrolls can also give us confidence in the reliability of the Old Testament manuscripts since there were minimal differences between the manuscripts that had previously been discovered and those that were found in Qumran. Clearly this is a testament to the way God has preserved His Word down through the centuries, protecting it from extinction and guarding it against significant error.”7
Apologetics - From the Greek “apologia” which means to give a reason or defend. Christian apologetics provides a rational defense against various attacks on the historic Christian faith.8 We begin this section with the definition of apologetics to give an understanding of why this writer feels the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls is so important. Thus far we have looked at some facts concerning the scrolls, where, when and other information concerning the scrolls. We then provided an overview of the history of the scrolls, basically a more in depth look at the facts, concerning different aspects of their authenticity, different books contained within them, and the importance of knowing the information. In this portion of our discussion we will put it all together and provide practical uses for the information gleaned thus far.
7 http://www.carm.org last accessed 05/31/2013
8 http://www.ratiochristi.org last accessed 05/31/2013
As stated in our definition of apologetics, the Dead Sea Scrolls help provide a reason, or defense of the Christian faith. Some may ask, “if ones faith is true, then why must it be defended”. While in a sense the answer to such a question lies within the question itself. Why would anyone ask if it is true to begin with, and if ask, they are expecting a reason or defense of why we believe what we believe. The Dead Sea Scrolls help provide such answers.
Much of the information provided can be used in apologetics concerning the Bible, and the Old Testament in particular. Typically, when involved in these types of conversations, as mentioned earlier on how things should be, the burden of proof lies on the one questioning, or doubting Christianity. Many times a lot of individuals seem to feel the lack of evidence is the proof, while in reality the absence of evidence is not absence of proof. With the Dead Sea Scrolls there is no lack of evidence either way, thus we have an entire copy of the Old Testament, yet people still seem to question the validity of claims concerning God, the Bible, etc.
Norman Geisler, in his book, When Skeptics Ask, states, “the Dead Sea Scrolls provide a basis of comparison from 1000 years before our manuscripts were written. That comparison shows an astounding reliability in transmission of the text. One scholar observed that the two copies of Isaiah found n the Qumran caves, “proved to be word for word identical with our standard Hebrew Bible in more than 95 percent of the text. The 5 percent of variation consisted chiefly of obvious slips of the pen and variations in spelling.”9 The reason for such accuracy lies in how serious the Jewish writers took the importance of getting the copies correct. In fact, traditionally, there was a ceremony each time the word God was written. They went as far as to make sure of what type of materials were to be used, to how many words and columns were to be on a page. This type of accuracy provides us with enough confidence that there have been no changes to the Old Testament in the last 2000 years, and if so very little. “Many critics of the Bible had previously claimed that an incalculable number of mistakes must have entered into the biblical text during this transmission period and that the later form and content of the Bible must have been significantly altered from the time of its original authors. Taking from their point of comparison the Great Isaiah Scroll (designated IQI saa), a completely intact copy dated 125 B.C., it was found to have 95 percent agreement with the Masoretic Text. This fact justifies confidence in the Bible’s textual transmission and in the modern translation of the Old Testament that are based upon it.”10 ______________________________________________________________________
9 Geisler, Norman L., When Skeptic Ask, Baker Books, Grand Rapids MI., 2008
10 Hindson, Ed and Caner, Ergun, The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics, Harvest House Publishers, Eugene OR., 2008
We have discussed the significance of this particular discovery in regards to the Old Testament. But what about the New Testament. While the New Testament has plenty of evidence for itself, the Dead Sea Scrolls provide insight and historical information for it also.
The discovery of the scrolls has given scholars a look at the Jewish people during the time of Jesus, the church, and writing of the New Testament. The Qumran people, as mentioned earlier and where the scrolls were discovered, kept records of conflicts that helps verify, or matches the writings of the gospel writers. “These documents also provide previously unknown information about legal practices and social customs only dimly echoed in much later rabbinic writings (Talmud, Mishnah)”11 The scrolls also provided scholars with the original Hebrew and Aramic writings, in which up to this point they only had Greek, Syriac, or Coptic to compare.
The apologetic evidence provided by the scrolls is almost overwhelming. And in fact, many if not most, do not know the impact of the scrolls on the New Testament, much less on what this writer feels could be the most important information this discovery reveals. As this discussion has focused on the writings, of the Old and New Testament, the scrolls also provide critical information concerning the entire focus of the Bible: The Messiah.
Critics have made a point of arguing the Messiah was made up “by Christian theologians after the church had left its Jewish roots and come under the influence of the pagan mystery religions of the Greco – Roman world.”12 Yet, when the scrolls were discovered, it became apparent that the concept of a Messiah was indeed an expectation of Jewish theology. There are actually four significant texts from the scrolls which are messianic in context. Each of these present how Jesus was indeed connected to the Judaism of His time. It also demonstrated that Christian words such as “predestination”, “justification”, and “original sin” represented a Jewish concept as well. By far the highlight connecting the Old Testament with the New through the scrolls would be the crucifixion of Jesus. The crucifixion has been criticized as a mistake in the gospels because the Jews would never kill someone in this horrific manner. When n fact, “the Temple Scroll, a sectarian document that treats the subject of building a future temple, contains a section of Deuteronomy 21:22-23, in which the punishment of hanging a man on the tree is mentioned and related to the crucifixion.”13
11 http://www.carm.org last accessed 05/31/2013
12 Hindson, Ed and Caner, Ergun, The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics, Harvest House Publishers, Eugene OR., 2008
Since Jesus claimed to be the Messiah, and was charged with such, he was judged and found guilty on the basis of Jewish law. This particular law called for the punishment of crucifixion, and thus the Jews cannot claim to have had no involvement in the killing of Jesus. Absolutely amazing facts when one takes the time to read and study how much information can be obtained to defend our faith, or reason with others concerning our faith, n a loving and gentle way as instructed, (1 Peter 3:15). And this just the tip of the ice berg as some may say. One historical artifact has given us so much information concerning the Bible, its facts, history and apologetic usage, that one could almost live without faith, yet God has designed it that by faith we are saved, though revealing Himself through such things as His Word, and the Dead Sea Scrolls.
The purpose of this paper has been to show the facts, concerning the scrolls, their history and the apologetic use that the Dead Sea Scrolls have provided. More recent developments concerning the scrolls to be considered would be the slowness of the release of the original writings. It wasn’t until 1991 that the originals were released to the public. However, the many theories, controversy, or other claims concerning the scrolls it remains, “Used as an aid to the proper understanding of the origin of the church, the scrolls are an invaluable asset to the defense of Christian truth.”14 And at the same time “it is a step in the right direction to understand that the Temple Scroll and documents which came to public view later clarify that the Dead Sea documents are to be read essentially for information about Pre-Rabbinic Judaism.”15