The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Bible


The substantial value of the Dead Sea Scrolls for biblical studies is well known. However, it can be difficult to remain on the cutting edge of Dead Sea Scrolls scholarship. In this volume leading expert James C. VanderKam offers detailed summaries of significant ways in which the scrolls can enrich the reading and study of the Bible. Each chapter brings readers up-to-date with the latest pivotal developments, focusing on relevant information from the scrolls and expounding their significance for biblical ...
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The substantial value of the Dead Sea Scrolls for biblical studies is well known. However, it can be difficult to remain on the cutting edge of Dead Sea Scrolls scholarship. In this volume leading expert James C. VanderKam offers detailed summaries of significant ways in which the scrolls can enrich the reading and study of the Bible. Each chapter brings readers up-to-date with the latest pivotal developments, focusing on relevant information from the scrolls and expounding their significance for biblical studies. This rich compendium from a distinguished scholar is essential reading for all who work at understanding biblical texts and their contexts within the ancient world.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802866790
  • Publisher: Eerdmans, William B. Publishing Company
  • Publication date: 1/28/2012
  • Pages: 208
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

James C. VanderKam is John A. O'Brien Professor of Hebrew Scriptures at the University of Notre Dame and a member of the international team responsible for preserving and translating the Dead Sea Scrolls. His previous books include The Dead Sea Scrolls Today and An Introduction to Early Judaism (both Eerdmans).
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The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Bible

By James C. VanderKam

William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company

Copyright © 2012 James C. VanderKam
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8028-6679-0

Chapter One

The "Biblical" Scrolls and Their Implications

For many the first response to the question about the value of the Dead Sea Scrolls to modern biblical studies would be the copies of scriptural works found among them. The fact that many copies of books that later became part of the Hebrew Bible are represented among the fragments removed from the caves at Qumran has been trumpeted about as their greatest contribution to contemporary analysis and appreciation of the Bible. There have been numerous surveys of the scrolls finds that have been labeled "biblical," and the present chapter adds to that survey — but just briefly. It is worth covering the entire corpus if only because the situation has continued to change slightly right up to the present. More space will be devoted to examining the implications of these unquestionably significant finds.

It is a fact that, among the more than 900 manuscripts identified by editors of the scrolls, approximately 200-210 qualify as copies of one or more scriptural books (although the status of the books in question is not always clear) — that is, copies of works which at some, apparently later time became parts of the Hebrew Bible. If one adds those discovered at other Judean Desert sites, the number jumps to approximately 230. The historical period in which the scrolls from the Qumran caves were transcribed begins in the third century B.C.E. and continues to the first century C.E., with most of them having been copied in the first century B.C.E. or the first C.E. They come from a time many centuries before the earliest representative of the Masoretic Text (= MT, ca. 900 C.E.) and the most ancient codex of the Old Greek translation (= LXX, 4th century C.E.). It is likely that the Qumran copies reflect the situation with respect to the text of scriptural books not only at the small site of Qumran but also throughout the land of Israel, as some of the scrolls — certainly the earliest ones — were brought to Qumran from elsewhere.


Only one of the many scriptural scrolls can be called complete, apart from a few scraps: 1QIsaa contains the entire book of Isaiah. All of the other representatives of "biblical" books are fragmentary to one degree or another, usually to a very high degree. Except for one, every book in the Hebrew Bible is represented by at least one fragment among the Dead Sea Scrolls; the missing one is, of course, the book of Esther. Until recently one always had to add that there was no copy of Nehemiah either and to note that there is an absence of evidence from Qumran that Nehemiah was considered one book with Ezra, as it was later; in fact, there is practically no indication of the presence of either book at Qumran, whether of the text or influence from it. A fragment with the text of Neh 3:14-15 has turned up, although it remains unpublished (possibly more than one fragment of the manuscript has survived). Some of the other books in the Hebrew Bible, it must be admitted, just barely make the list: a part of the text of Habakkuk, for instance, may appear on one small fragment (4QXIIg frg. 102) where the editor, Russell Fuller, reads [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. He identifies the two words as coming from "Hab 2:4?" (the first three letters and the last are adorned with supralinear circlets indicating a high degree of uncertainty in reading them). Some others, like Chronicles, do not fare much better: 4QChr (4Q118) consists of one fragment with letters from two columns, with the text of the first column being unidentified and the second offering a few letters from four verses in 2 Chronicles (2 Chr 28:27–29:3).

Almost all the copies are inscribed in various styles of the square (or Assyrian) script, but twelve manuscripts were written in paleo-Hebrew (with three unidentified ones — 4Q124-125; 11Q22) and at least five in Greek. The list below gives the numbers of identified copies for each book of the Hebrew Bible. The numbers in the list may not be exact, since there are at times problems in determining whether a fragment belongs to a particular manuscript or whether one is dealing with pieces from what was once an entire book, but they should be nearly correct. The totals represented as "19-20" or "8-9" copies for a book indicate some uncertainty about whether a few fragments come from one or two copies; the numbers in parentheses express the actual number of scrolls involved, in cases where more than one book was copied on a single scroll (they are counted once for each book, thus the larger totals for some books).

The total for these figures, using the larger numbers in the uncertain cases, is 208; working with the smaller numbers in those instances, it is 201. If one adopts the larger number in each case and groups them by categories familiar from the later Hebrew Bible, there are 87 manuscripts containing pentateuchal texts, 54 with materal from the Prophets (Former Prophets, 12, and Latter Prophets, 42), and 67 with remains of the Writings. The books most frequently represented are: Psalms, Deuteronomy, Isaiah, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus — a group among which pentateuchal books are strongly in evidence, with the other canonical divisions of the Hebrew Bible represented by one member each.


The numbers are quite impressive, yet the ones listed are not the only witnesses to the scriptural texts found in the Qumran caves. As mentioned above, there are at least five copies of Greek translations of scriptural books: one of Exodus, two of Leviticus, one of Numbers, and one of Deuteronomy — all of them are pieces from Greek copies of pentateuchal books. Other small fragments may come from still more copies, though not enough text has survived to clinch the case (see 7Q3-5 and the discussion in Chapter 4 below). In addition, there are three manuscripts that have been identified as targums: one of Leviticus (4Q156) and two of Job (4Q157, 11Q10), the last of which (11Q10) is extensively preserved.

Besides these scriptural copies, there are other kinds of works that are valuable for a study of the scriptural text and its history. As is well known, the caves at Qumran have yielded a series of commentaries on prophetic works. The writers of these pesharim cite a passage from a scriptural book (occasionally books) and then explain the meaning of it. Having completed the commentary on that passage, writers of the continuous pesharim then move on to the next or another one found farther along in the book. These citations from scriptural books and the many "biblical" quotations in other works (e.g., the Damascus Document) considerably augment the fund of information about the scriptural text in the Dead Sea Scrolls. It so happens that, while only one tiny piece possibly containing Habakkuk survives from the relevant part of a manuscript of the Twelve Prophets, the text of the first two chapters of the book is extensively preserved in the commentary on it. There are also Tefillin (phylacteries) and Mezuzot, collections of scriptural texts placed in a small container and attached to one's arm (and head; see, for example, Exod 13:9) or doorway (see Deut 6:9; 11:20). Since it is not always possible to distinguish the two types when only fragments are extant, the numbers may not be exact. But 28 texts identified as Tefillin were found at Qumran (21 in cave 4 — 4Q128-48; the others are 1Q13; 5Q8; 8Q3; XQ1-4)8 and three at other sites; there are eight Mezuzot from Qumran (4Q149-55; 8Q4)9 and one from Murabba'at.


Several additional places in the Judean Desert have yielded copies of scriptural books. Not nearly as many were found in them as at Qumran, but their contributions are noteworthy nevertheless.

Masada (7): The finds at the famous site are securely dated in that they cannot be later than 73 or 74 C.E., the year when the fortress was taken by the Romans. The numbers are markedly lower than for the smaller Qumran site, consistent with the fact that a different kind of community used it.

There are also copies of Joshua (1) and Judges (1) from an unknown location. As at Qumran, so at the other sites the books attested are pentateuchal and prophetic works along with Psalms.


The scrolls, despite the limits dictated by their fragmentary state of preservation, have made significant contributions to knowledge about the texts of scriptural books and their history.

General Comments

Before looking at specific examples, it is fitting to reflect on the sum total of the scriptural manuscript evidence.

First — and to state the obvious — the copies furnish the oldest original language evidence for the many passages they represent, centuries older than any other witness apart from some Greek papyri from the second and first century B.C.E. — Greek papyri that are contemporary with many of the scrolls. As the scrolls from Qumran were copied in the period between the third century B.C.E. and the first century C.E., they are several hundreds of years older than the most ancient Greek codices of the Bible (fourth century C.E.), and they, in many cases, antedate by a full millennium the earliest extant copies of the Masoretic Text (MT). In an age when all texts had to be handcopied, the earlier the evidence the less opportunity, one hopes, there was for scribal lapses and other common copying errors to occur. There is no guarantee that older is better, but the ancient copies offer unique comparative evidence, allowing one to test whether the more recent (MT, LXX, etc.) and the more ancient copies (the scrolls from the Qumran caves) are the same, almost the same, or quite different in their readings and to draw conclusions from the results (e.g., are the changes systematic or are they of other kinds).

While all of this is familiar enough, it bears repeating because, with the passage of time, it is too easy to forget what an extraordinary find the Qumran scrolls, including the scriptural ones, prove to be — discoveries in a place whose climate was thought to preclude preservation of ancient parchment and papyrus.

Second, the manuscripts from the Judean wilderness provide evidence that scriptural texts were transmitted with considerable care by Jewish copyists. The differences between the Judean Desert texts and MT are indeed numerous though frequently very slight, often ones that do not affect the meaning of the text for most purposes (e.g., spelling changes, omission or addition of a conjunction). Statements in rabbinic literature describe the meticulous procedures used later in copying scriptural texts; it seems great care was also taken at an earlier time, as the Judean Desert texts suggest. The scribes were not transmitting only one form of the texts; yet, from whatever scriptural model they were copying, they presumably did the work with care according to prevailing rules of the profession. An interesting question is exactly what the scribes responsible for the Qumran scrolls understood proper transmission of a text to involve. The question will be considered below.

Third, despite the more recent finds, only a very limited set of data has survived, and it yields a correspondingly limited perspective on the history and varieties of the scriptural texts. Nevertheless, the admittedly challenged perspective available today is a broader one than was accessible to all those talented text critics whose work preceded the Qumran and other Judean Desert finds. Before 1947, the textual evidence at their disposal was of relatively recent date: the manuscript trail for MT could be traced back no farther than ca. 900 C.E., and that for the Samaritan Pentateuch (SP) goes back to an even more recent date. There are many Greek witnesses that are centuries older than the earliest copies of MT and SP,18 yet, however valuable, they are translations, not copies in the original languages. Other than the second-first century Nash Papyrus, there was little ancient Hebrew evidence on which to base one's study. Probes were made using scriptural citations in texts such as Jubilees, but the manuscript evidence for it is also relatively late. The Judean Desert discoveries, however fragmentary, are a wonderful supplement to the textual base and a very unexpected one. Among the greatest contributions of the new material is that in a number of cases there is now Hebrew manuscript evidence for readings previously known only from the versions, especially LXX.

The Textual Picture

As the experts have noted, the Qumran texts permit one to see that at the time when they were penned (third century B.C.E.–first century C.E.) there was, from copy to copy, a degree of fluidity in the wording of scriptural texts — just exactly as one might have expected. There was not a single, completely uniform, accepted wording of a scriptural book such as Genesis or Isaiah — something that would have been virtually impossible when all copying was done by hand. This is not to say that there was free variation in the wording of texts. Rather, within fairly narrow limits (in most cases) there are noticeable differences from manuscript to manuscript. Some examples will illustrate differing measures of variation.

To present an overview of the range of evidence, the language employed by Eugene Ulrich for what he calls the "four principal categories of variation detectable through comparison of the Qumran manuscripts, MT, SP, and OG" will be useful.


Anyone who has read the scrolls found in the caves of Qumran is aware that the scribes made much more frequent use of consonants to mark the presence of certain vowels (matres lectionis) than one finds in MT. As someone said recently, they were rather more British than American in their spelling. Orthography is a category of textual variation that can easily be dismissed as devoid of significance — as documentation for a phase in Hebrew spelling and pronunciation, nothing more. But, by their very nature, matres lectionis represent a decision regarding the proper parsing of a form whenever the consonantal text is ambiguous or potentially ambiguous. At times the analysis is the one any Hebrew reader would have made, but at others deciding on the preferred reading and marking it by a fuller spelling offered more of a challenge. For example, in Isa 40:6 the consonantal text of MT has [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. The Masoretes understood the form to be [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. The text of the verse so analyzed reads: "A voice says, 'Cry out!' And he said, 'What shall I cry?'" In 1QIsaa the spelling of the word is: [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. According to this reading the verse is worded: "A voice says, 'Cry out!' And I said, 'What shall I cry?'" The copyist/interpreter of MT saw the verse as a report about a conversation between the voice and a "he"; the spelling in the Isaiah scroll presents it as direct address and first person response. The reading of the Isaiah scroll is the one translated in LXX: [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII].

Individual Textual Variants

Many differences in readings between manuscripts concern small items that are not matters of orthography. These populate every manuscript and can arise for various reasons. Here are a few examples.

Isa 6:3 MT: Holy, holy, holy 1QIsaa Holy, holy

For whatever reason, the Qumran copy has only two instances of holy (this is not the only variant in Isa 6:3). The absence of one element from the familiar threefold formula is supported by no other ancient copy of Isaiah.


Excerpted from The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Bible by James C. VanderKam Copyright © 2012 by James C. VanderKam. Excerpted by permission of William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


1. The "Biblical" Scrolls and Their Implications....................1
2. Commentary on Older Scripture in the Scrolls....................25
3. Authoritative Literature According to the Scrolls....................49
4. New Copies of Old Texts....................72
5. Groups and Group Controversies in the Scrolls....................96
6. The Dead Sea Scrolls and the New Testament Gospels....................118
7. The Dead Sea Scrolls, the Acts of the Apostles, and the Letters of Paul....................142
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