Dead Sea Scrolls validate Bible

  • June 25, 2009
{mosimage} TORONTO - Who ever thought the Bible could be improved? Well, as Hebrew Scriptures Professor Eugene Ulrich told a packed audience June 23, it has been. And it took the unearthing of the now famous Dead Sea Scrolls, on display at the Royal Ontario Museum until Jan. 3, to do so.

“The Dead Sea Scrolls demonstrate that the text of the Bible was remarkably faithfully transmitted over the past 2,000 years. So we all can breathe a big sigh of relief,” Ulrich said during his lecture, The Impact of the Dead Sea Scrolls on the Bible, one of fourteen presentations in a special lecture series about the scrolls that will feature a variety of scholars until Dec. 15.

The scrolls, a collection of 900 manuscripts found in various caves and other sites along the Dead Sea between 1947 and 1956, include 230 Hebrew and Greek biblical manuscripts that are 1,000 years older than any previously known manuscripts. Although most are in Hebrew, texts written in Aramaic were also found. Ulrich, a John A. O’Brien Professor of Hebrew Scriptures at the University of Notre Dame and chief editor of the Biblical Qumran Scrolls, said the books most represented in the collection are the Psalms, Deuteronomy and Isaiah.

“These are the manuscripts used most frequently in the New Testament. It’s also interesting that both the Quran and the Bible see these as prophetic books,” he said.

Many of the scrolls are simply surviving scraps. However, the book of Isaiah was found in its entirety in Qumran, one of the larger archeological sites where scrolls were kept for millennia. Ulrich referred to two manuscripts, which he called Isaiah A and Isaiah B. Isaiah B, he said, was very close to the Masoretic Hebrew that was the basis for most of our Bible translations today. In the same cave, but more carefully stowed, was Isaiah A, the “great Isaiah scroll,” he said.

“It’s virtually completely preserved and you can read the entire text of that in the Dead Sea Scrolls Bible,” Ulrich said.

Ulrich added there is a textual variant from the Masoretic text in every line of every column on this scroll, but in many cases are simply differences in spelling and grammar.

“Sometimes the traditional text is superior, but sometimes the Dead Sea Scrolls are superior. So the scrolls are now being used to improve our Bible translations,” he said.

In fact, the New American Bible today contains some of these “superior variant readings” including the recovery of an entire paragraph.

“It’s not too much to say that the 230 manuscripts of the Bible discovered in Qumran have revolutionized our understanding of the texts of the Bible of antiquity,” he said

Finally, he said, the Dead Sea Scrolls are important because they are the oldest, most authentic data we have to establish the state of the biblical texts at the early origins of rabbinic Judaism and Christianity.

“The scrolls fit neatly and coherently into the picture of the scriptural texts and all the other ancient sources available,” Ulrich said.

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