The Dead Sea Scrolls "The greatest manuscript discovery of all times."
By William F. Albright
The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) at Qumran in 1949
had significant effects in corroborating evidence for the Scriptures. The ancient
texts, found hidden in pots in cliff-top caves by a monastic religious community,
confirm the reliability of the Old Testament text. These texts, which were copied
and studied by the Essenes, include one complete Old Testament book (Isaiah) and
thousands of fragments, representing every Old Testament book except Esther. The
manuscripts date from the third century B.C. to the first century A.D. and give the
earliest window found so far into the texts of the Old Testament books and their
predictive prophecies. The Qumran texts have become an important witness for the
divine origin of the Bible, providing further evidence against the criticism of such
crucial books as Daniel and Isaiah.
Dating the Manuscripts Carbon-14 dating is a reliable
form of scientific dating when applied to uncontaminated material several thousand
years old. Results indicated an age of 1917 years with a 200-year (10 percent) variant.
Paleography (ancient writing forms) and orthography (spelling) indicated that some
manuscripts were inscribed before 100 B.C. Albright set the date of the complete
Isaiah scroll to around 100 B.C.—"there can happily not be the slightest doubt in
the world about the genuineness of the manuscript."
Archaeological Dating Collaborative
evidence for an early date came from archaeology. Pottery accompanying the manuscripts
was late Hellenistic (c. 150– 3 B.C.) and Early Roman (c. 63 B.C. to A.D. 100). Coins
found in the monastery ruins proved by their inscriptions to have been minted between
135 B.C. and A.D. 135. The weave and pattern of the cloth supported an early date.
There is no reasonable doubt that the Qumran manuscripts came from the century before
Christ and the first century A.D. Significance of the Dating.
Previous to the DSS,
the earliest known manuscript of the Old Testament was the Masoretic Text (A.D. 900)
and two others (dating about A.D. 1000) from which, for example, the King James version
of the Old Testament derived its translation. Perhaps most would have considered
the Masoretic text as a very late text and therefore questioned the reliability of
the Old Testament wholesale. The Dead Sea Scrolls eclipse these texts by 1,000 years
and provide little reason to question their reliability, and further, present only
confidence for the text. The beauty of the Dead Sea Scrolls lies in the close match
they have with the Masoretic text—demonstrable evidence of reliability and preservation
of the authentic text through the centuries. So the discovery of the DSS provides
evidence for the following:
1) Confirmation of the Hebrew Text 2) Support for the
Masoretic Text 3) Support for the Greek translation of the Hebrew Text (the Septuagint).
Since the New Testament often quotes from the Greek Old Testament, the DSS furnish
the reader with further confidence for the Masoretic texts in this area where it
can be tested.
(Generated from Norman Geisler, "Dead Sea Scrolls," Baker Encyclopedia
of Christian Apologetics)