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ershel Shanks 

© 2007 Biblical Archaeology Society 3 

About the Biblical Archaeology Society 

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© 2007 Biblical Archaeology Society A 


Part I — The Complex History of the Dead Sea Scrolls 


Part II — What Do the Scrolls Tell Us about Christianity? 


Part III— What Do the Scrolls Tell Us about the Hebrew Bible? 


Part IV — What Do the Scrolls Tell Us about Early Judaism? 


© 2007 Biblical Archaeology Society 5 






What Th 


ershel Shanks 

The Dead Sea Scrolls have been called the greatest archaeological find of the 20th century. And 
they are. Everybody knows of the Dead Sea Scrolls. I was once in a taxi cab in Kansas City and 
the driver had no idea that I was in any way connected with the Scrolls, and he raised the subject. 
Although everyone knows of the Dead Sea Scrolls, almost no one can tell you what they say. 
What do they really tell us? What do we know that we didn't know before? That's the question 
that I'm going to try to answer. 

In fact, I'm going to try to answer three questions: 

1. What do the Dead Sea Scrolls tell us about the development of Early Christianity? 

2. What do the Dead Sea Scrolls tell us about the Hebrew Bible? 

3. What do the Dead Sea Scrolls tell us about the history of Judaism? 

But before I do that, I would like take a trip with you to the site where the Dead Sea Scrolls 
were found, on the shores of the Dead Sea in the Judean Desert. 

© 2007 Biblical Archaeology Society 7 

The Dead Sea Scrolls— What They Really Say 

Part I— The Complex History of the Dead Sea Scrolls 

We're going to start from Jerusalem. 
This is a view of Jerusalem, which you 
can hardly see because it's on the top 
of a ridge. As we come down on the 
east side of Jerusalem, we are in the 
Judean Desert. The rains that come 
from the Mediterranean rise up to the 
highest ridge in the country and drop 
all of their water there. There is no 
water left for the eastern side. This 
produces the desert you see. 

This ridge is like a backbone up the 
central part of the country. If you 
want to go north/south in the central 
part of the country, you really have to 

stick to this ridge. Otherwise, if you go to the east or to the west, you will be going up and down 

these huge wadis (dry riverbeds), as you see in the picture. 

As we go further into the desert, we can still 
see Jerusalem receding on the ridge, with a herd 
of sheep in the foreground. Unfortunately you 
see fewer and fewer sheep these days, and you're 
more likely to see a Bedouin driving a truck than 
riding a camel. 

Only 15 minutes from Jerusalem, you 
come upon a monument marking sea 
level. We're halfway from the highest 
point in the country to the lowest point on 
the face of the earth. And in another 15 

minutes we are at the Dead Sea itself. Unfortu- 
nately, you can no longer see the salt mounds that 
you see in this picture. The Dead Sea is receding 
by 3 feet a year because too much water is being 
siphoned off before it gets to the Dead Sea. 

© 2007 Biblical Archaeology Society 8 

The Dead Sea Scrolls— What They Really Say 

This view of the Dead Sea 
shows a small coastal plain 
covered with vegetation. Be- 
hind that plain, we see the 
limestone cliffs. At a more 
southerly point on the shore 
of the Dead Sea, the cliffs go 
all the way down to the water. 
There is not coastal plain. 

This is a closeup of the limestone 
cliffs, and you can see it's pock- 
marked with caves. In one of the 
caves pictured here, the first Dead 

Sea Scrolls were found by two 

Here we are inside one of these caves. You might imagine that all you had to do to rescue 
the Dead Sea Scrolls was to find them in a cave like this. But that's not true. The scrolls them- 
selves were often buried under a 
meter or more of debris and bat 
guano. The ceilings of the caves had 
often caved in from seismic distur- 
bances, burying the fragments still 
further. This is in the Great Rift Val- 
ley, which goes all the way south to 
Africa and north to Lebanon and 
Syria. There are frequent earth- 
quakes, which have their effect on 
the interior of caves like this. They 
are dark and smelly and generally 

© 2007 Biblical Archaeology Society 9 

The Dead Sea Scrolls— What They Really Say 

This cave overlooks the ruins 
of Qumran and the Dead Sea. 
Beyond are the mountains of 
Moab on the other side of the 
Dead Sea, today modern Jor- 

These are the two Bedouin, 
including Mohammad edh- 

Dhib ("The Wolf"), on the right, who are said to 
have discovered the first seven intact scrolls 
from what has become known as Cave 1. Sup- 
posedly edh-Dhib was searching for a lost 
sheep; he threw a stone into a cave, thinking 
that the sheep might be in there and be scared 
and come running out. But instead of bleating 
sheep, he heard the cracking of pottery. When 
he went in, he discovered pottery jars in which 
were some ancient scrolls. 

What happened then is obscure, but 

what we know is that in one 



another the scrolls and, more impor- 
tantly, the scrolls that would be subse- 
quently discovered, found their way to a 
Bethlehem antiquities dealer nicknamed 
Kando. Kando was the middleman for 
the Bedouin. 

© 2007 Biblical Archaeology Society 


The Dead Sea Scrolls— What They Really Say 

Three of the seven scrolls were ac- 
quired by the Israelis through a pro- 
fessor of archaeology at Hebrew 
University named Eleazer Lipa 
Sukenik, pictured here, who trav- 
eled to Bethlehem on a bus during a 
very violent time before the end of 
the British Mandate over Palestine — 

November 28, 1947. In Bethlehem 
Sukenik acquired three of the seven 
Dead Sea Scrolls, including a scroll 
of the book of the prophet Isaiah. 

When Sukenik returned to Jeru- 
salem, with the three scrolls in a 
paper bag, the place was in pande- 
monium. The Jews were celebrat- 
ing, singing and dancing in the streets because the United Nations had just voted by a two-thirds 
vote for the partition of Palestine into a Jewish state and an Arab state, creating a Jewish republic 
for the first time in 2,000 years. Sukenik saw that as almost messianic: to recover a 2,000-year-old 
scroll, from the time the Jews last had their own state, on the same day that a Jewish state was 
again being created was a moving spiritual experience for Sukenik. 

The other four original scrolls came into the posses- 
sion of the Metropolitan Samuel, the Syrian Christian 
cleric who led that community in Jerusalem. He 
attempted to sell the scrolls, but when he couldn't sell 
them, he brought them to the United States in the 
hope of increasing their value and finding a buyer 
there. They were displayed in the Library of Congress. 
But he still couldn't sell them. So in desperation, the 
Metropolitan Samuel placed this ad in The Wall Street 
Journal, advertising four Dead Sea Scrolls for sale. 





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Dead Sea 

Biblical Manuscripts dating 


least 200 
sale. This would 



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an educational or 

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Long Establis 

© 2007 Biblical Archaeology Society 


The Dead Sea Scrolls— What They Really Say 

As it turned out, Sukenik's son, the great 
archaeologist Yigael Yadin, was in the 
United States at the time. Someone pointed 
out to him the ad in The Wall Street Journal. 
Here is a picture of Yadin, with his bald 
head, watching as another scholar tries to 
pry apart some small fragments of ancient 
scrolls. Having seen the ad in The Wall 
Street Journal, Yadin made a clandestine 
effort to purchase them. He was purchas- 
ing them on behalf of Israel, but he was 
fearful that if the Metropolitan Samuel 
knew that he represented Israel the Metro- 
politan would not sell them to him. So 
Yadin used some fronts and in that way 
negotiated the purchase — four intact Dead 
Sea Scrolls for $250,000, which was an 
enormous bargain even then. 

Did the Metropolitan Samuel know that 
he was selling them to Israel? I think he 
did. The reason that he couldn't easily sell 
them to anyone else was that he couldn't 
show good title. Qumran was then con- 
trolled by Jordan, so Jordan had a claim, which it asserted, to title to the Dead Sea Scrolls. The 
Metropolitan must have suspected that only Israel would buy them. Israel wouldn't be con- 
cerned with that difficulty of getting good title. So Yadin purchased them on Israel's behalf. 

The sale had an unfortunate consequence for the Metropolitan Samuel and his Syrian community 
in the United States, who lived largely in New Jersey. The papers were badly drawn, and the United 
States sued the Metropolitan Samuel, claiming that the sale was a taxable transaction. Most of the 
money from the sale of the four Scrolls went to the United States government. 

With the purchase by Yadin, all 
seven of the intact Dead Sea Scrolls 
found by the Bedouin were now in 
Israeli hands. A special museum, 
the Shrine of the Book, was built to 
house them. The architecture mim- 
ics certain aspects of the Scrolls. 
The white dome is shaped like the 
lid of the scroll jars in which the 
scrolls were found. The contrast 
between the black slab and the 
white dome is meant to echo the 
Wars of the Sons of Light against 
the Sons of Darkness, the subject of 
one of the scrolls. 

© 2007 Biblical Archaeology Society 12 

The Dead Sea Scrolls— What They Really Say 

We have looked at pictures of the Dead Sea, of the 
coastal plain and of the precipitous and almost unin- 
habitable limestone cliffs behind the plain. But 
between the limestone cliffs and the small plain by the 
sea is a marl terrace of much softer rock. It is on this 
marl terrace that Qumran was originally built. In this 
aerial view we see the ruins of Qumran. The marl ter- 
race sits beside a wadi, or a valley (nahal in Hebrew, wadi in Arabic) through which a day or two 
a year the winter rains flow down to the sea. We see the wadi on one side of the picture, as well 
as some finger-like protrusions of the marl terrace in which are caves. These are man-made caves 
in which thousands of scroll fragments were found. 

This is the Wadi Qum- 
ran in the spring of the 
year when the flowers are 
out. We are looking up at 
those same fingers in the 
marl terrace. The holes at 
the top of the fingers are 
the caves, including the 
famous Cave 4, which 
had more than 500 differ- 
ent scroll manuscripts in 
it. Visitors are not allowed 
to go into Cave 4 today, 
but we were permitted, 
and here I am crawling 
down a hole in the top of 
the cave into Cave 4. 

© 2007 Biblical Archaeology Society 


The Dead Sea Scrolls— What They Really Say 

This is the inside of Cave 4. It's much 
cleaned up since the days when it was exca- 
vated and the 500 manuscripts were found 
in it. Incidentally, they were all in tiny frag- 
ments, not an intact scroll among them. One 
theory is that this was the library of the sect, 
an Essene library. You can see holes in the 
wall at various levels. It's been suggested 
these were the fittings for shelves, which 
were placed around the cave and on which 
the scrolls were stored. Eventually these 
shelves broke and the scrolls fell down and 
were covered with debris and bat guano and 
rocks from the earthquakes. By the time they 
were found in the 20th century, they were all 
in small fragments, chewed on by rodents. 

This next photo shows you the condition in 
which these fragments came to the scholars — 
little bits and pieces, sometimes in cigar boxes 
purchased from the Bedouin through Kando. 
When the fragments were cleaned and placed 
under glass, they looked like jigsaw puzzles 
with 90 percent of the pieces missing, as we 
see in this example. 

M ^CV J*^ a In ■■< t •■ i 

This is the complete Isaiah Scroll, which was found 
in Cave 1 by the Bedouin and is known as Isaiah A. It 
is open to Chapter 40, verse 3, which states, "A voice 
cries out in the wilderness: Prepare a way for the 
Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our 
God." This passage is quoted in all three Synoptic 
Gospels, Mark, Matthew and Luke. 

© 2007 Biblical Archaeology Society 


The Dead Sea Scrolls— What They Really Say 

Part II-What Do the Scrolls 
Tell Us about Christianity? 

Now that we're all familiar with the site of Qumran, and the cliffs and the caves 
where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found, we can begin to answer the questions that 
I posed at the outset. 

I'm going to give you the quick and simple answer to all three questions: 
what the scrolls tell us about Christianity, about the Hebrew Bible and about 
Judaism. And the simple, quick answer is that all of these questions must be 
answered in the context of other questions of other scholarly disciplines. In 
other words, there's really nothing that you can point to in the Scrolls and say, 
"Aha, this is astounding! We didn't know this before!" On the other hand, there 
is almost no question that you can ask, beginning at about 300 B.C.E. to 300 C.E., 
a six-hundred-year period, about which the scholar doesn't have to ask, "Do the 
Scrolls have anything to say about my question?" That's what I mean by context. 
The scrolls are important and may be important in asking every conceivable kind 
of question in this 600-year period, from shortly before the earliest Scrolls were 
written, through the beginning of the rabbinic period of Judaism. 

Incidentally, this places a tremendous burden on scholars. Imagine a New Tes- 
tament scholar who speaks Greek like you speak your mother tongue. He's an 
expert in the New Testament, and suddenly you tell him, "If you really want to 
understand this, go learn Hebrew and Aramaic and study the Dead Sea Scrolls 
to see if they have some bearing on the question you are asking." So the first and 
basic point I want to make is that the Scrolls become important in the context of 
other questions. 

Now I'm going to consider a couple of representative questions in each of the 
three categories that I mentioned, Christianity, Hebrew Bible and Judaism of this 
period, to illustrate how the Dead Sea Scrolls are important to almost any ques- 
tion that you can ask in these areas. 

First, Christianity. I suppose that in a sense the Dead Sea 
Scrolls do undermine a certain kind of what I might call a naive * " e Scrolls provide a context 
Christian faith. I remember talking to a great Catholic Dead Sea f or the search for what scholars 
Scroll scholar, Father Joseph Fitzmyer. He told me that the Scrolls call the Historical Jesus. 

are no threat to the "mature Christian." But, in a sense, they do 

undermine what I call a naive understanding of Christianity. It's 
the faith that believes that when Jesus came down he brought with him a new 
message that stunned his listeners — something unlike anything people had heard 
before. This view of Christian doctrine is really no longer valid. The scrolls 
demonstrate very clearly the Jewish soil out of which Christianity grew. Not the 
message, but the life of Jesus is unique and remains unique in history. But the 
message has parallels; it has roots in Jewish history. 

So the Scrolls provide a context — you remember the word "context" — for the 
search for what scholars call the Historical Jesus. That's a growing research area in 
modern scholarship. And in the attempt to reach an understanding of the Histori- 
cal Jesus, scholars paint very different pictures of the man. Some see him as a 
prophet, others see him as a revolutionary, and still others see him as a reformer. 

© 2007 Biblical Archaeology Society 15 

The Dead Sea Scrolls— What They Really Say 

Some see him as a rabbi. Another prominent scholar sees him as a Cynic philoso- 
pher. So there are different portraits of Jesus, but they all agree on one thing: That 
he was thoroughly Jewish. All scholars agree that he lived his life here on Earth 
as a Jew. It was not just incidental that Jesus happened to be born Jewish. If you 

want to know about Jesus, you have to know about the Jewish 
world in which he lived. And that's where the Dead Sea Scrolls 

What does it mean to be come in. The Dead Sea Scrolls provide the Jewish context of 

the Son of God? The early Christianity. 

Egyptian Pharaohs were Let's see if we can be more specific. I'm going to turn now to a 

deified as the sons of God. Dead Sea Scroll fragment. Almost all the Dead Sea Scrolls were 

The kings of Israel were fragmentary; not more than a dozen are intact in any sense of 

also the sons of God. the word. I'm going to talk about one of the fragmentary scrolls 

that has a very sexy name: It's called 4Q246. If that's too hard to 

remember, you can think of it as the Aramaic Apocalypse. 
4Q246 or the Aramaic Apocalypse provides the context for a scholarly examina- 
tion of the concept of the Son of God. 4Q246 says: 

Affliction will come on Earth . . . He will be called great . . . 'Son of God 7 he will be 
called and 'Son of the Most High' they will call him . . . His kingdom will be an 
everlasting kingdom . . . He will judge the Earth in truth and all will make peace. 

This was written a hundred years before Jesus was born. Luke 1:34-35, the famous 
Annunciation scene in which the angel Gabriel tells Mary that she will bear a son, 
reads as follows: 

He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High ... of his kingdom 
there will be no end ... he will be called the Son of God. 

I don't want any one to jump to conclusions. It's most unlikely that Luke 
copied the Dead Sea Scrolls; rather they both came out of the same Jewish soil. In 
short, the Dead Sea Scrolls help us to understand the Jewish context out of which 
Christianity grew. 

Let's talk about the Son of God for a minute. What does it mean to be the Son of 
God? Again, you have to look at the Jewish context. The Egyptian Pharaohs were 
deified as the sons of God. The Roman emperors were deified as the son of God. 
And now I'll tell you something that may surprise you. The kings of Israel were 
also the sons of God. In Psalm 2:7, the Lord tells the king, "You are my son/Today 
I have begotten you." 

It's very important that we focus on the word "Today I have begotten you." The 
word is ha-Yom in Hebrew. The king of Israel became the son of God when he was 
installed as king. Scholars call this the Adoptionist Theory. In this sense of the 
concept of son of God, the king was not born the son of God but was adopted as 
the Lord's son when he became king. There are other sources in the Hebrew Bible 
in which the king is referred to as the son of God. For example, in 2 Samuel 7:14, 
the Lord says to King David through the prophet Nathan, "I will be a father to 
him, and he shall be a son to me." 

In another context, all of Israel is the son of God. Look at Psalms 89:26: "You are 
my father, my God, the rock of my salvation." Or look at Hosea 11:1, "When Israel 
was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son." 

© 2007 Biblical Archaeology Society 16 

The Dead Sea Scrolls— What They Really Say 

You may say that these are figurative uses of the concept of son of God; they're 
not literal, you may say, as in the New Testament. Well, yes and no. There are 
some differences, but there are also some similarities. As a matter of fact, in the 
New Testament itself, we see a development of the concept of the son of God. For 
example, Paul, whose letters are the earliest documents of the New Testament, 
knows nothing of the virgin birth. In Paul, Jesus becomes the son of God at his 
resurrection. Read Paul's letter to the Romans, where Jesus was "declared to be 
the son of God, with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection of the 
dead" (Romans 1:3-4). 

This comes very close to the Adoptionist Theory that we saw in the Hebrew 
Bible. This same concept is reflected in the Book of Acts, where Jesus becomes the 
son of God as a result of his resurrection. In Acts 13:32-33, Paul declares after the 
resurrection, "What God has promised to our ancestors he has fulfilled for us . . . 
by raising Jesus." Then Paul quotes Psalms 2:7, mentioned above, in which the 
Lord calls the king of Israel his son, and says, "Today I have begotten you." In this 
text from Acts, Jesus becomes the son of God "today" — when he is resurrected. 

Elsewhere in the New Testament, however, Jesus becomes the son of God at an 
earlier point. Instead of becoming the son of God at his resurrection, he becomes 
the son of God at his baptism in the Jordan River by John the Baptist, which, inci- 
dentally, occurred a stone's throw from where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. 

As the New Testament recounts in the Gospels of Matthew 

Sermon on the Plain. 

3:17, Mark 1:11 and Luke 3:22, a voice from heaven proclaims at v t , 4 t i < 

T , t . . //x , i ! i „ a i . iou don t have to be a scholar 

Jesus baptism, You are my beloved son. According to some , , . t 

versions of these Gospel passages, the text then quotes the pas- ... « r> . * • 

f1) i or7//rf, TUU H „ t i similar to the Beatitudes in 

sage of Psalms 2:7: Today I have begotten you. Jesus becomes \/i u ' G u 

the son of God at an earlier stage, not at the Resurrection, but at , . t . T i , 

, . , Mount and in Luke s 

his baptism. 

Finally, in the Infancy Narratives in Matthew and Luke, Jesus' 
status as the son of God is pushed back to his conception. This 
doesn't mean, however, that divine sperm was somehow inserted into Mary. 
What divine sonship really means is that Jesus had a special relationship to God 
from the very beginning, and it suggests that these Infancy Narratives are not 
intended to be taken literally. Otherwise, why would the Gospels trace Jesus' line- 
age to King David through Joseph? 

Let's look at another central concept of Christianity and see how the Dead Sea 
Scrolls help us to understand the Jewish concept of the Messiah, Moshiach in 
Hebrew. Another fragmentary Dead Sea Scroll, called 4Q521, says, "The heavens 
and earth will listen to his Messiah . . . Over the poor his spirit will hover and will 
renew the faithful . . . He . . . liberates the captives, restores sight to the blind, 
strengthens the bent [compare Psalms 146:7-8] . . . He will heal the wounded and 
revive the dead and bring news to the poor [compare Isaiah 35:5-6; 61:1]. 

You don't have to be a scholar to see that this language is very similar to the 
Beatitudes in Matthew's Sermon on the Mount and in Luke's Sermon on the 
Plain: "The blind receive their sight and the lame will walk, lepers are cleansed 
and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up and the poor have good news 
preached to them" (Matthew 11:5 /Luke 7:22). 


© 2007 Biblical Archaeology Society 17 

The Dead Sea Scrolls— What They Really Say 

If we want to plumb the original understanding of the Christian messiah, we 
must look at the Jewish understanding of the concept from which the Christian 
concept developed. Moshiach in Hebrew literally means "anointed." Kings and 
priests were anointed in their office by having oil poured on them. At that time 
they became the Moshiach, the anointed one, the messiah. The word had no other- 
worldly connotations originally. After the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem 
and the Temple of Solomon in 586 B.C.E., the concept of Messiah, or Moshiach, 
became attached to the idea of the restoration of the Davidic dynasty, which had 
lasted for 400 years but which had ended with this devastating defeat. The idea 
that the Messiah would return as a descendant of King David is reflected in the 
Christian tradition mentioned earlier, which sees Jesus as being a descendant of 
David (incidentally, through his father Joseph). 

Some scholars believe that this is what lies behind Jesus' birth in Bethlehem. 
Many scholars believe that Jesus was actually born in Nazareth. He was always 
called Jesus of Nazareth, never Jesus of Bethlehem. Other scholars, however, 
maintain that he was in fact born in Bethlehem. But those who say he was born in 
Nazareth are faced with the question, why does the story tell us that he was born 
in Bethlehem? The answer that they give is that Bethlehem was where David was 
born and Jesus, the messiah in the Davidic sense of the word, will be a scion of 
David and come from the town that David came from. 

When in Jewish history the Davidic Messiah never appeared and the return to 
political independence seemed but a dream, the idea of the Messiah changed. It 
became a kind of spiritual messiah and an apocalyptic messiah who will come to 
rule at the end of time and relieve Israel's troubles. It is in this later development 
of the Jewish concept of Moshiach, the Messiah, that we must understand the 
nature of Jesus' messiahship. 

There are many other similarities between Christianity and the Judaism of 
Jesus' time and earlier. I've already mentioned the Beatitudes. The way that the 
Qumran sectarians, the Essenes perhaps, interpret scripture is 

Tr t i < very much the way the New Testament interprets Hebrew 

It we want to plumb the J J r 

. . t j / j- r.t Scriptures. Both apply words of the ancient Hebrew text to the 
original understanding ot the r \ rj . 

r^i ^ i A present-day, as if the Hebrew writer were speaking of the fulfill- 

Uhnstian messiah, we must r J r ° 

t i ^ ^ t • t_ ment of the Hebrew scripture at the time that the interpreter 

look at the Jewish r r 

j A j- r.t ^ lived. The idea of the coming of the end of time, the dualism of 

understanding ot the concept ° 

r l • i. ^- r^t- • A - the sons of light and the sons of darkness, the communal meals, 

trom which the Christian ° 

M j i j the importance of bread and wine — all these aspects of early 

concept developed. r r J 

Christianity are also to be found in the Dead Sea Scrolls. 

There are more than 900 different manuscripts that have been 
found in Qumran. Almost all are very fragmentary. Of the 900, more than 200 are 
manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible, so obviously there is more than one copy of 
many of the texts. The three most popular books are the Book of Psalms, the Book 
of Deuteronomy and the Book of Isaiah. Thirty-nine copies of the Book of Psalms 
have been found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, 36 copies of the Book of Deuteron- 
omy and 22 copies of Isaiah. Interestingly, these are the three most frequently 
quoted books in the New Testament; the most important books to the Qumran 

© 2007 Biblical Archaeology Society 18 

The Dead Sea Scrolls— What They Really Say 

sectarians were apparently the most important books to the writers of the New 
Testament as well. 

I don't mean to imply that there is any direct link between the Dead Sea Scrolls 
and Christianity. The Dead Sea Scroll sectarians were not early Christians. I've 
called attention to many similarities, but there are also many differences. The 
Qumran sectarians placed heavy stress on the Law, especially the purity laws. 
They were rigorous in their observance. It's easy to exaggerate the similarities 
between the Qumran sectarians and the early Christians. There is no direct link. 

Part III-What Do the Scrolls 

Tell Us about the Hebrew Bible? 

Now I'll try to answer the second question raised at the outset: How do the Dead 
Sea Scrolls help us to understand the Hebrew Bible? 

As noted earlier, more than 200 Biblical manuscripts have been discovered at 
Qumran. They include every book of the Hebrew Bible except Esther and Songs 
of Songs (although there may have been a kind of version of Esther). But to talk 
about the Hebrew Bible is in a sense anachronistic. This was at a time before the 
Hebrew Bible. At this point in history there was no fixed canon, no authoritative 
list of sacred books. There was Torah (the Five Books of Moses), there were pro- 
phetic works, there were other works that became part of the Bible later and other 

very similar books that did not. For example, books like Jubilees, 

Enoch, the Temple Scroll, Judith, Tobit and Ecclesiasticus never 

Tn talk ahnnt tfir Hphrrw 

made the final cut. They were rejected as canonical texts. Some l x aooui me neDrew 

of them were included in what became the Catholic Bible and Dime is in a sense 

are known as the Apocrypha (or Deutero-canonical). On the anachronistic. This was at a 

other hand, the Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes and Daniel did make time bef ore ttie Hebrew Bible 

the final cut and were included in what was to become the 
Hebrew Bible. 

But there is another kind of question that we ask of these books. Were there dif- 
ferent editions or had they already been standardized? The answer is they had not 
been standardized, so at Qumran we have different versions of the same book. 
This is true of almost all the books and is especially true of books such as Exodus 
and Jeremiah. So the Biblical texts at Qumran were neither established as canoni- 
cal nor standardized as texts. 

To understand the contribution of the Dead Sea Scrolls to Biblical textual criti- 
cism, we have to review the situation before the discovery of the Scrolls. Before 
the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the oldest texts of the Hebrew Bible were in 
two manuscripts from the 10th or possibly the early 11th century known as the 
Aleppo Codex and the Leningrad Codex. 

These manuscripts — the Aleppo Codex, which was recovered partially after a 
fire and somehow brought to Jerusalem, and the Leningrad Codex, which is now 
in St. Petersburg — both of these nearly identical texts are what scholars call the 
rabbinic recension. If you want to know the precise text of the Hebrew Bible you 
have to go back to this rabbinic recension about 1000 C.E. This text is the work of 

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The Dead Sea Scrolls— What They Really Say 

the Masoretes in Tiberias, who sought to standardize the various then-existing 
manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible. This rabbinic recension is referred to as the 
Masoretic Text, or MT for short. It is the basis for all Hebrew Bibles since then. 

However, several earlier manuscripts of the Hebrew scriptures have survived, 
but not in Hebrew. These other texts have survived in Greek and are known as the 
Septuagint. The name comes from the legend that 72 scholars were assigned the 
task of translating the Hebrew scriptures into Greek for the Greek-speaking Jews 
of Alexandria beginning about the third century B.C.E., and supposedly all of 
them came up with an identical text. (The name Septuagint comes from the Greek 
word for 70). 

The three most famous of these Septuagint manuscripts date from the mid- 
fourth to early fifth century C.E. and they're named Vaticanus, for the one in the 
Vatican; Sinaiticus, for the one found at the Mt. Sinai monastery (and now mostly 
in the British Library); and Alexandrinus for the one that came from Alexandria 
(and also now in the British Library). There are many thousands of variations 
between the Greek Septuagint and the Masoretic text of the Hebrew Bible. Which 
variations are to be preferred? Before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the 
answer was clear: the Masoretic Text. That was the official textus receptus (received 
text) of Judaism. The Greek Septuagint was treated with suspicion. It could have 
been a bad translation, or the Greek translators could simply have changed the 
Hebrew text. 

The Dead Sea Scrolls have changed all that. Among the Hebrew manuscripts 
found at Qumran are what we might call proto-Septuagintal manuscripts; that is, 
these Hebrew manuscripts are the base texts that were ultimately translated into 
the Greek Septuagint. 

What we learn by comparing the Hebrew base text to the Greek text of the Sep- 
tuagint is that the translators were very good and faithfully translated the 
Hebrew text. Why, then, are there differences between the Septuagint and the 
Masoretic text? The answer is that the Septuagint is a translation of a slightly dif- 
ferent Hebrew text than the Masoretic text. In a sense, this gives greater authority 
to the Septuagint. As a great Biblical text scholar and editor-in-chief of the Dead 
Sea Scroll publication team, Emmanuel Tov, has remarked, "The Masoretic text is 
no longer the center of our textual thinking." 

In many cases, where there's a variation, the text of the Septuagint is to be pre- 
ferred. Let's take a couple of outstanding examples. In Deuteronomy 32, the Maso- 
retic text talks about how God is distributing land to the various nations. According 
to the Hebrew text in its Masoretic version, God is distributing these lands accord- 
ing to the sons of Israel. This doesn't make much sense because some of the geo- 
graphical areas are obviously not Israelite and the distribution seems to be occurring 
before there was an Israel. The Septuagint, however, does not read, "according to 
the sons of Israel" but "according to the sons of God." This makes a lot more sense, 
but it's not hard to understand that it would be objectionable to the later rabbis. 
For most scholars, however, the reading of the Septuagint is to be preferred. 

Another example: At the end of 1 Samuel 10, we read about Nahash, king of 
the Ammonites, who attacked the Israelites and the city of Jabesh Gilead. When 
the people from the city sued for peace, Nahash said he would accept the Israelite 

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The Dead Sea Scrolls— What They Really Say 

surrender only after gouging out the right eye of the Israelite men. This is curious 
because the text gives no reason for this gratuitous cruelty In a copy of 1 Samuel 
10 from Qumran, however, we have an entire paragraph that 

explains why Nahash proposed this gruesome penalty as his -rt_ r^ ^ jj \ -r 

r J i T i i i i ii i 1 he vJumranites didn t care it 

condition for surrender. Some Israelites who had rebelled D . u . « x < 

one Biblical text was exactly 

against Nahash had fled to Jabesh Gilead. Gouging out the right j * , 

eye was the standard punishment for rebels. 

Apparently at one point the Hebrew scribe lost this entire 
paragraph as a result of what scholars call homeoteleuton . When the scribe was 
copying this text, he saw the word Nahash, and when he looked again his eye lit 
on its later appearance in the paragraph. The paragraph has been recovered from 
the manuscript at Qumran. 

The Biblical Dead Sea Scrolls manuscripts are also important because they 
reflect tolerance for a variety of textual variants. This period was marked by what 
scholars call textual fluidity. The Qumranites didn't much care if one text was 
exactly like another. Variations were accepted. Some manuscripts are similar to 
what became the Masoretic text, what we might call proto-Masoretic. Others were 
similar to the Greek Septuagint, what we might call proto-Septuagintal. Still oth- 
ers were similar to neither. 

Some texts at Qumran try to harmonize variations. For example, in the com- 
mandment to observe the Sabbath, Exodus and Deuteronomy give different rea- 
sons for the commandment. In one it's because the Lord brought the Israelites out 
of Egypt. In the other it's because God created the heaven and Earth in six days 
and rested on the seventh day. In one manuscript from Qumran, these two texts 
are harmonized so that the rationale for Sabbath observance is both the Exodus 
from Egypt and the fact that God rested on the seventh day. 

Some people might feel that the Bible is threatened by this kind of analysis. For 
me it is enriched. Whether or not we accept the divine origin of the text as it has 
come down to us, it bears the marks of man — struggling as always to produce a 
divine text. The result is riches beyond measure. 

Part IV-What Do the Scrolls 
Tell Us about Early Judaism? 

Now we come to the third question: What do the Dead Sea Scrolls tell us about 
early Judaism? In a way, the answers to the previous two questions, what the 
Scrolls tell us about early Christianity and what the Scrolls tell us about the Bible, 
are really also addressed to this third question. Everything that the Dead Sea 
Scrolls have to say illuminates the history of Judaism. The Dead Sea Scrolls are the 
principal Jewish religious literature between the end of the Biblical period and 
the Mishnah — a period of about 350 years from the Book of Daniel, in about 150 
B.C.E., to the compilation of the Mishnah, in about 200 C.E. 

One thing that the Dead Sea Scrolls emphasize about Judaism is its enormous 
variety. Some time ago, scholars talked about normative Judaism. They don't do 
that much anymore, although they talk about common Judaism. But this implies 
that there were a number of other Judaisms and Jewish movements. We knew 

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The Dead Sea Scrolls— What They Really Say 

about the Pharisees and the Sadducees. We also knew about the Essenes from 
Pliny, Josephus and Philo, but we didn't have any of their literature, which we 
now have. 

In addition, there were Zealots and Sicarii and Hellenes and Therapeutiae and 
Boethusians and Herodians and Hasidim and Samaritans and Christians. Chris- 
tians were originally a Jewish movement. And there are others we don't even 
know about. The rabbinic sources say there were 24 groups of heretics. Each 
claimed to be the true Israel. The Dead Sea Scroll community was one group that 
opposed the Jewish authorities who controlled the Jerusalem Temple. 

This Dead Sea Scroll community is generally thought to be the Essenes, although 
there are a significant number of scholars who dispute that. At any rate, whether 
they are Essene or not, they had a different calendar than the Jewish authorities 
who controlled the Temple. This indicates that in some ways the ancient Jewish 
groups were more diverse than modern Jewish movements, where we have 
Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist Jews. Imagine a Jewish 
movement today that didn't even observe Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, 
the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, on the same day as other Jews. Well, that's 
the case with the Dead Sea Scroll community. They had their own calendar, and 
they observed the holidays according to that calendar. In addition they had a 
number of other holy days and festivals that we know nothing about from the 
Judaism that has come down to us. 

One of the things we learn about the Jewish community from the Dead Sea 

Scrolls, which was only hinted at in the earlier literature, is the 

apocalyptic element — the emphasis on the end of time, the 

Ancient Jewish groups emphasis on restoration at the end of time and on divine judg- 

were more diverse than ment. In many ways, it was out of this element of Judaism that 

modern Jewish movements. Christianity arose. In a way, we are back to learning about 

Imagine a Jewish movement Judaism as it affects early Christianity. 

today that didn't even observe Another area that we are learning more and more about, 

Yom Kippur on the same as including from the Dead Sea Scrolls, is the importance of purity. 

other Jews. The Talmud, in Tractate Shabbat 13b, tells us that "purity broke 

out in Israel," presumably at this time. That is certainly true if 

we look at the Dead Sea Scrolls, but also at archaeological dis- 
coveries. We have here a coming together of archaeology and the text of the Dead 
Sea Scrolls. We find in Jewish villages, for example, certain kinds of stone vessels 
because stone vessels were not subject to impurity. 

The Dead Sea Scrolls also reflect very strict purity rules. In one very revealing 
Dead Sea Scroll, which is known as 4QMMT, we have a text that contrasts the 
rules of purity of the Qumran community, the Dead Sea Scroll community, with 
the purity rules of the Temple authorities in Jerusalem. The Dead Sea Scroll sect is 
much stricter. 

I'll conclude with an example of this contrast in purity laws. I call it The Case of 
the Up-Jumping Water. If you have a pitcher with some water in it and both the 
pitcher and the water are pure, then what happens when you lift up that pitcher 
and pour water into an impure bowl? Well, it's not hard to conclude that the 
water that's in the impure bowl is now impure even though it was pure when it 

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The Dead Sea Scrolls— What They Really Say 

was in the vessel from which it was poured. But the more difficult question is 
whether, when that stream of water from the pure pitcher hit the impure bowl, 
did the impurity jump up that stream and make the pitcher and water in it 
impure? The Temple authorities held that the water in the pitcher remained pure, 
while the Qumran sect held that it was impure. That gives you some idea of the 
strictness of the Dead Sea Scroll community. 

I hope you now understand not only that the Dead Sea Scrolls are important but 
why they are important. 

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The Dead Sea Scrolls— What They Really Say 

Photo credits 

By page number, from top to bottom and left to right 

7 John Trever 

8 Werner Braun 
8 Werner Braun 
8 Werner Braun 

8 Werner Braun 

9 Richard Nowitz 
9 Zev Radovan 

9 David Harris 

10 Werner Braun 

10 John Trever 

10 Biblical Archaeology Society 

11 Israel Museum, Jerusalem 
11 John Trever 

11 David Harris and Israel Museum, Jerusalem 

12 David Harris 

12 Zev Radovan 

13 Werner Braun 

13 Garo Nalbandian 

13 Garo Nalbandian 

13 Hershel Shanks 

14 Hershel Shanks 

14 Estate of John Marco Allegro 

14 Ancient Biblical Manuscript Center 

14 John Trever 

© 2007 Biblical Archaeology Society 24