Dead Sea Scrolls Qumran

The History of the Scrolls

In 1947, a Bedouin shepherd named Ahmed el-Dhib was searching for his lost goat and came upon a small opening of a cave in the Qumran desert. Thinking that his goat was inside, he threw rocks into the cave to scare out the goat. Instead, he heard a sound like the shattering of clay pottery. Entering the cave, the shepherd discovered several sealed jars. Opening them, he found the jars contained leather scrolls. He brought several of the scrolls to an antiquities dealer in Bethlehem named Khando. Khando, in turn, brought them to a Syrian Orthodox Archbishop named Mar (Athanasius) Samuel. Mar Samuel then brought the scrolls to John Trevor at the American School of Oriental Research. Trevor contacted the world’s foremost Middle East archaeologist, Dr. William Albright, and together these men confirmed the antiquity of the scrolls and dated them to sometime between the first and second century B.C.

Dead Sea Scrolls - IsaiahAfter the initial discovery, archaeologists searched other nearby caves between 1952-1956 and found ten that contained thousands of ancient documents. These documents came to be known as the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Age of the Scrolls

Until the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947, the Masoretic Aleppo Codex (dating to A.D. 935) [1] was the oldest Hebrew text of the Old Testament.

Three tools were used to date the scrolls: Three types of dating tools were used: tools from archaeology, paleography and orthography, and the carbon-14 dating method. All of these methods arrived at the same conclusion; that the scrolls date as early as the third century B.C. to the first century A.D.[2]  archeologists now had manuscripts that predated the Masoretic Text by at least one thousand years.

The Contents of the Scrolls

Anxious to see how the Dead Sea Text would match up with the Masoretic Text, the Dead Sea Scrolls were found to be almost identical with the Masoretic text, which lead scholars to conclude that the Dead Sea Scrolls give substantial confirmation that the Old Testament has been accurately preserved.

Hebrew Scholar Millar Burrows writes, “It is a matter of wonder that through something like one thousand years the text underwent so little alteration. As I said in my first article on the scroll, ‘Herein lies its chief importance, supporting the fidelity of the Masoretic tradition.’”[3]

Old Testament scholar Gleason Archer examined the two Isaiah and wrote, “Even though the two copies of Isaiah discovered in Qumran Cave 1 near the Dead Sea in 1947 were a thousand years earlier than the oldest dated manuscript previously known (A.D. 980), they proved to be word for word identical with our standard Hebrew Bible in more than 95 percent of the text. The five percent of variation consisted chiefly of obvious slips of the pen and variations in spelling.”[4]

The Significance of the ScrollsDead Sea Scrolls 1

The Dead Sea Scrolls have proven to be significant in confirming the accurate preservation of our Old Testament text and thereby reinforcing the validity and the historical claims of the Bible.

[1] Randall Price, Secrets of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Eugene, OR.: Harvest House, 1996. 280

[2] James Vanderkam and Peter Flint, The Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls (San Francisco, CA.: Harper Collins Publishers, 2002), 20-32.

[3] Millar Burrows, The Dead Sea Scrolls (New York: Viking Press, 1955), 304, quoted in Norman Geisler and William Nix, General Introduction to the Bible (Chicago: Moody Press 1986), 367.

[4] Archer, Gleason. A Survey of Old Testament Introduction. Chicago: Moody Press, 1

[4] Archer, Gleason. A Survey of Old Testament Introduction. Chicago: Moody Press, 1985. 25