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Dead Sea Scrolls

"The word of our God stands forever." (Isaiah 40:8)

An introduction to the Scrolls and their importance to Biblical studies
follows the list of articles.
Dead Sea (Qumran) Scroll Scripts
Alphabet samples from two Qumran documents compared with a contemporary document (Nash papyri), a medieval Jewish document, and modern Hebrew scripts. [1 page, HTML]

Dead Sea Scrolls & the New Testament
A table of comparisons and contrasts between the ideologies and practices of the Qumran community and those of Yeshua and his early Jewish followers, including John the Immerser. [3 pages, PDF, 120k]

The Digital Dead Sea Scrolls
The Israel Museum in Jerusalem has published some of the Scrolls online, in a readable and searchable format. They include: the Great Isaiah Scroll (1QIsaa), The War Scroll (1QM), The Temple Scroll (11Q19), Commentary on Habakkuk (1QpHab), and the Community Rule (1QS, aka The Manual of Disciple). [External web link]

Isaiah 40:3 Over Two Millennia
Photocopies from modern, medieval, and Qumran Hebrew manuscripts of a passage important to John the Immerser and to the Dead Sea sectarians. [1 PDF page, 182k]

Isaiah 53 at Qumran
A Qumran version of Isaiah 52:13–53:12 is compared with two English Jewish translations [1 HTML page + 3 pages, PDF, 92k]. A link is included to a photo of chapter 53 from The Great Isaiah Scroll (1QIsa).

Malchiresha in the Qumran Scrolls
The demonic counterpart to Melchizedek, the heavenly high priest, is Malchi-resha ("king of wickedness" or "wicked king"). This document has English translations of 4QBlessings (4Q280) and 4QVisions of Amranb (4Q544). [2 HTML pages]

Melchizedek: Angel, Man or Messiah?
At Qumran Melchizedek is an exalted divine being who is judge in the last days and is given titles usually reserved for God alone: El and Elohim. It is these theological emphases that may be the target of criticism in the New Teatment book of Hebrews. This article gives background on the importance of Melchizedek to the Essenes, and it quotes in full manuscript 11QMelch (11Q13) in English. [6 HTML pages]

“Messianic” Texts at Qumran
Several manuscripts among the Dead Sea Scrolls mention a Messiah. One text calls him "son of God"; another says "God begets the Messiah." These passages reveal what some Jewish priests living around the time of Yeshua were teaching about the Mashiach. [1 HTML page + 9 PDF pages]

The Name at Qumran
Photocopies from Hebrew and Greek manuscripts showing how different Jewish scribes printed the Tetragrammaton (YHVH). [1 page, PDF, 240k]

 

Introduction to the Scrolls

The Qumran Scrolls are a time capsule. The nearly 900 distinct scrolls contain Jewish religious literature, including 200 manuscripts of all but one of the books of the Hebrew Bible. They also include books from the Apocrypha (Tobit, Ben Sirach, Epistle of Jeremiah), the Pseudepigrapha (1 Enoch, Book of Giants, Testaments of Levi and Naftali), previously unknown psalms, and some mystical, even occultic works.

Found in 1947–1956, the scrolls (which are mostly fragments now) formed a massive library maintained by a group of Jewish priests living in a settlement overlooking the Dead Sea in Israel. The settlement is called (in Arabic) Khirbet Qumran, which means "ruins of Qumran" (no one is sure what Qumran means).

cliffs

The community was founded around 150 BCE, apparently by a group of Jerusalem priests and laymen who were fed up with the corrupt Jerusalem religious establishment. About 20 years later, they were joined by an unnnamed "Teacher of Righteousness," who eventually became their spiritual leader. (The pop theory that Yeshua of Nazareth was the Teacher at Qumran is thus an anachronism, off by some 130 years.)

The "Community" (Heb. yachad) chose to live in what it called the wilderness of "Damascus" (a symbolic term for exile away from Jerusalem). Its resident priests called themselves the "sons of Zadok" (a descendant of Aaron). Several graves of women and children prove that this was not a Jewish monastery.

Practitioners of a strict type of Torah Judaism, they believed they were the "Community of the New Covenant" and were waiting the final war between the sons of light (themselves) and the sons of darkness (all other Jews and the Gentiles). Their separatist enclave was eventually destroyed by Roman armies in 68 CE, shortly before the Tenth Legion swept through and burned Jerusalem in 70. Thus the Qumran community existed for some 220 years (150 to 68).

Some of the documents from Qumran are older than the village itself. They thus originated elsewhere and were imported to the site, perhaps by pious Jews seeking spiritual refuge or by refugees from the Jewish Revolt. Duplicates of some scrolls were found at Masada, the Zealot fortress south of Qumran on the western shore of the Dead Sea. Other duplicate texts were found in a synagogue scroll storage room (a geniza) in Cairo, Egypt, in the late 1800s (e.g, the Cairo Damascus Document). This proves there was wide distribution of many texts, implying that the ideologies of the Essenes were also widely known, at least in some circles.

Contrary to popular reports today, there are no proven manuscript fragments of the New Testament among the Qumran area discoveries. But history isn't over.

Some New Testament commentators think the book of Hebrews may contain polemical statements directed to Qumran beliefs about Melchizedek, especially in chapter 7. (See that article above.)

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Nomenclature
Originally, when the first scrolls from the Qumran area were found in 1947 and made their way into the hands of scholars, each scroll was given a unique name. For example, The Great Isaiah Scroll, the War Scroll, the Manual of Discipline, the Hymn Scroll, Habakkuk Commentary, and Genesis Apocryphon. As more and more scrolls and fragments were found (now over 900) — from the 11 caves at Qumran and from other sites in the hills and wadis near the Dead Sea — another method of labeling them had to be devised.

The system now used is more precise. Each scroll is identified by: (1) its original location and (2) an assigned scroll number or descriptive abbreviation. For example:

1QIsaa = Cave 1, Qumran, Isaiah scroll, "A" or complete scroll ("B" scroll is incomplete)

4Q174 = Cave 4, Qumran, scroll #174, known as "Messianic Florilegium"

11Q13 = Cave 11, Qumran, scroll #13, known as "Melchizedek"

MasShirShabb = Masada, "Shir Shabbat" or "Song of the Sabbath Sacrifice"

Mur1/MurGen = Murabba'at, collection 1, Genesis fragments

8HevXII gr = Cave 8, Nahal Hever (Wadi Khabra), scroll of Twelve Minor Prophets, in Greek

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The biblical and sectarian Scrolls are important for biblical studies for several reasons:

  • Because they were buried since about 68-73 CE/AD, they are a time capsule, unaltered by later editors. They testify firsthand to Jewish thought before and during the time of Yeshua of Nazareth, prior to the development of Rabbinic Judaism and Orthodox Christianity.
  • They testify to the reliability of Jewish scribal transmission of the Hebrew Bible. Many of the biblical texts found at Qumran are 1,000 years older than any previously known Hebrew texts. But they vary only slightly from known Hebrew manuscripts upon which our current translations are based.
  • They shed comparison and contrasting light on the teachings of Yeshua and his disciples, and on how he and they interpreted the Scriptures.
  • They prove that "Judaism" was far more diverse in thought and practice during that era than the current version of Rabbinic-Talmudic-Pharisaic Judaism we know today.
  • The scrolls show that a conservative Bible-centered Jewish movement that called for individual repentance and commitment to God, declared the imminent arrival of God's "new covenant" and predicted an outpouring of "the Spirit of Truth," all centered around a teacher who was called "mashiach" — was not an alien Jewish aberration. The movement may not have been powerful or widely popular. But it emerged among educated and pious Jews — very likely Jerusalem priests — not a cultic fringe.

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For these reasons, the Scrolls have value in our pursuit of the "Hebrew streams" flowing beneath the surface of the New Testament.

But the Scrolls are not the secret key to unlocking the New Testament and its true meaning. Nor do any contents of the Qumran documents radically alter the NT portrait of Yeshua. (Again, there are no NT texts among the scroll fragments.) The Scrolls are simply an additional chorus of witnesses about the times of Yeshua and his disciples — especially the theological atmosphere that enveloped the Jewish people in that critical First Century.


Useful Introductions to the Scrolls

• James Vanderkam, The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Bible (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012)
[Vanderkam is considered one of the leading authorities on the Scrolls today. He has a teacher's mind. He's thorough and balanced, and unladened by higher critical, anti-Christian biases that some Scrolls scholars are ladened with.]

• James Vanderkam, The Dead Sea Scrolls Today (2nd ed.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010)

• James Vanderkam, The Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls: Their Significance for Understanding the Bible, Judaism, Jesus, and Christianity (HarperSanFrancisco, 2002)

 

Current English Translations

• Martin Abegg, Peter Flint, Eugene Ulrich, The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible (San Francisco: Harper, 1999) [this contains only texts from the Bible, not the sectarian documents]

• Florentino García-Martínez, The Dead Sea Scrolls in Translation (2nd ed., Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996) [this is the most accurate translation but has no introductions to the documents; hence it's more of a reference reader]

• Florentino García-Martínez and Eibert J. C. Tigchelaar, The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition, 2 volumes (Leiden/New York: E. J. Brill, 1997) [this edition has Hebrew transcriptions and English translations of the major DSS documents, with extensive bibliographies where each was previously published]

• Donald W. Parry and Emanuel Tov, The Dead Sea Scrolls Reader: Parabiblical Texts (Leiden/New York: E. J. Brill Academic, 2004) [the latest translation of non-biblical documents; 640 pages, paperback]

• Geza Vermes, The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English (7th edition) (New York/London: Penguin Books, 2012), 720 pages [this is the most useful because of its extensive introduction and explanations of the individual texts]

• Michael Wise, Martin Abegg, Edward Cook, The Dead Sea Scrolls: Revised Edition: A New Translation (New York: HarperCollins, rev. ed. 2005) [this is the least useful version for many reasons: (1) the editors have come up with their own names for the documents, (2) they have combined fragments of various texts into a single composite version, and (3) they often have strongly slanted editorial comments about and unsubstantiated interpretations of the New Testament]

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