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The Christadelphian | February 2017

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The Dead Sea Scrolls at seventy

It is now seventy years since a Bedouin shepherd boy entered the Qumran cave, making a discovery supporting the veracity of the Bible.

The Dead Sea Scrolls are a collection of nearly a thousand different texts discovered at the Qumran Caves just over a mile (2 km) inland from the north-western shore of the Dead Sea. The original scrolls were discovered some seventy years ago in late 1946 by young Bedouin shepherds and were eventually examined and identified in 1947 by Syrian Christians, Bible scholars, archaeologists, the Hebrew University in Jerusalem under Professor Sukenik and Dr W. F. Albright of the John Hopkins University in Baltimore, USA. More scrolls came to light during the subsequent decade in surrounding locations.

Dating the scrolls

Most of the texts are written in Hebrew, some in Aramaic and Nabataean script and a few in Greek. The scrolls have been identified with the Jewish sect called the Essenes, who lived in the adjacent settlement at Khirbet Qumran. Some postulate certain scrolls were scribed by priests in Jerusalem, Zadokite priests (Sadducees) or even early Christians. Others speculate that the scrolls may have come from the temple library for safe keeping. The discovery of these ancient papyrus and parchment manuscripts preserved in clay jars, include some of the oldest and most extensive known extracts from the Bible, and from virtually every book of the Old Testament portion of the holy scriptures making up our Bible today, with the exception of Esther.

Prior to these finds the oldest Hebrew manuscripts used to produce modern Bibles were Masoretic texts dating to the tenth century AD, such as the Aleppo Codex and Leningrad Codex. The Hebrew Old Testament texts should not be confused with the Greek language texts which also include the New Testament, such as the Codex Vaticanus Graecus and Codex Sinaiticus, both dating from the fourth century AD.

Different Dead Sea Scrolls have varying estimated dates ranging from as early as circa 300-400 BC to circa AD 73. Various dating techniques have been used to validate their age and history. In this respect coins from the Hasmonean period of John Hyrcanus (135-104 BC) – the period of the Maccabees – to the First Jewish-Roman War period (AD 66-73) were found at the same sites and provide clear dating. Pliny the Elder, who died during the Mount Vesuvius eruption in AD 79, a friend of Vespasian the emperor, records the existence of the Essenes living in a desert community on the north-west shore of the Dead Sea at the time of the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70, near Ein Gedi. Similarly the works of Josephus speak of the various sects of the Jews in existence and active up to AD 70. This is consistent with the vivid picture of the scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees mentioned extensively in the New Testament during the mortal life of Christ and that of the disciples and into the apostolic period.

What the scrolls wonderfully demonstrate is that the Hebrew scriptures were carefully and faithfully transcribed and copied over the centuries and for several thousand years or more. This means we can be confident that the scriptures we hold today are accurate, and contain the vital message of what God intended us to read and learn from. Men devoted to accuracy and detail quite literally were ‘religiously’ dedicated to preserving its integrity and original form, overseen by the overarching providential hand of God.

The Book of Isaiah

In 1955 the scrolls were purchased for the government of Israel by the son of Professor Sukenik, Mr Yigael Yadin, an Israeli archaeologist who located them from an advertisement for sale in New York. Certain of the scrolls have been put on display at the Shrine of the Book at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, built in 1965. One of the most famous and complete scrolls is that of the book of Isaiah (who lived and originally wrote circa 750-700 BC). The Isaiah Scroll has been carbon dated many times with results ranging from 335 BC to 107 BC and palaeographic and scribal studies place it at least circa 150-100 BC. This puts this copy around 300-500+ years after God inspired His prophet Isaiah to record the events and many prophecies of the Jewish Messiah. Most crucially (for the sceptic) the Dead Sea Scrolls provide a clear 150 to 200 years time gap before the Lord Jesus Christ (their prophetic subject matter). The prophecies are therefore miraculous and divine in origin given their accuracy regarding what came to pass.

The prophecy of God through Isaiah speaks extensively of the nature and coming of the Messiah or “Anointed One”. It should convince the doubter because it evidentially predates the life of Christ by a wide margin and shows clear and accurate prophecies. For a full exploration of this subject, see the accompanying article, “Isaiah foretells the Messiah” on page 66.

The inspired word of God

Let us be thankful for what God has caused to be written and preserved for our learning and the trust we can place in the scriptures as being inspired or literally ‘God breathed’. They reveal the wonderful future God will bring about for this earth though His Son.

Gavin Ramsden


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