God has provided a unique resource for believers to use when defending the Bible. Whenever questions arise relating to the accuracy of the Scriptures one of the most powerful tools we can use is the reality of The Dead Sea Scrolls.
When disciples of Jesus reach out to unbelievers with the gospel message, they sometimes encounter the need to validate the basis of their faith. The Bible presents this as a commendable characteristic. The Bereans were called noble minded for their efforts to confirm the accuracy of Paul’s use of the scriptures (Acts 17:11). The apostle Peter reaffirmed this need for believers to ALWAYS be PREPARED to have an ANSWER for those who ask us to give a reason for the hope that lies within (I Peter 3;15). We are also encouraged to mature in our knowledge so that we will not be carried about by every wind of teaching. (Ephesians 4:14). In other words, we should know what we believe and why we believe it.
A part of being children of light shining in a dark generation (Phil 2:11-13) involves knowing how to respond to ignorance and skepticism. This is especially true when it comes to answering questions about the credibility and validity of the Bible. For example, how do we know the Bible is the inspired word of God? Secondly, how can we know for sure it has not been tampered with through the ages? After all, it is an ancient document and whose to say that it hasn’t gone through significant alterations? How reasonably confident can we be that the transmission of the Holy Bible is accurate? In answering these questions, I propose that our God has provided a unique resource for believers to use when defending the Bible. Whenever questions arise relating to the accuracy of the Scriptures one of the most powerful tools we can use is the reality of The Dead Sea Scrolls.
What are the Dead Sea Scrolls?
These scrolls are actually collection of 931 documents that date from 200 BC to AD 40 once hidden in caves along the edge of the Dead Sea in Israel and finally discovered about 60 years ago. The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls is the greatest literary and archaeological discovery of our time. Written on leather parchment (animal skins) and papyrus, they remain the oldest copies of the original documents that make up the Hebrew Bible we know as the Old Testament. They contain portions of every book in the Old Testament except the Book of Esther. They also contain commentaries on many books of the Bible and nonbiblical writings reflecting the beliefs of a unique community of Jews many scholars believe were known as the Essenes. These documents provide an incredible snapshot of Judaism between 200BC –AD 68 and provide new insights into life and culture at the time of Jesus. These ancient documents were found inside clay jars which had been sealed and placed in numerous caves in the Judean hillside in a region called Qumran near the Dead Sea, approximately 16 miles from Jerusalem. The dryness of the region protected the scrolls from deterioration stemming from any damaging effects of moisture.
The Remarkable Discovery
The scrolls remained hidden until 1947 when a Bedouin shepherd made the initial discovery. (See video below) He was a member of the Ta’amireh Bedouin Tribe which had settled in the desert area between Bethlehem and the Dead Sea. While tending his flocks and herds, one teenager went into one of the caves in search of a stray goat. According to the original story, he threw a rock into the cave to scare out the goat. Instead of hearing the bleating of a goat, he heard the sound of breaking pottery. He climbed up into what is known as Cave 1 and found ancient clay storage jars filled with seven scrolls. Some of the scrolls were sold in Bethlehem to an antiquities dealer. He in turn sold them to an archbishop of a Monastery in Jerusalem. Other scrolls were sold to another antiquities dealer who in turn sold them to the Hebrew University. Over a period of time several more caves were searched, more scrolls were found, and then British archeologists got involved. In Cave 4 approximately 15,000 fragments representing some 600 manuscripts were found (not in jars but beneath the cave floor.) This led scholars to believe that there was probably a rapid burial due to impending danger-perhaps the Roman invasion of the Jewish territory in AD 68 that eventually led to the complete destruction of Jerusalem. Other Caves yielded more fragments. Altogether over 15,000 fragments of scrolls were found and the texts were composed in three languages, ancient Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.
The Theory of the Essene Community
The caves were determined to be a storage place used by a community of Jews who lived in the Judean desert around the time of the first century. This community of Jews were known as the Essenes, a radical band of Jewish men who devoted themselves to observing the Torah and worship away from the popular practices of Judaism found in Jerusalem of their day. We know about the Essenes primarily from the writings of Josephus, a Jewish historian who was commissioned by the Romans in the first century to document Jewish history. The Essenes were described as a sect of Jews that distanced themselves from the corruption they perceived taking place among the Jewish priests in the Holy City. The Essenes chose to carry on their sacrifices and purity of worship outside the city. Their reverence for the Word compelled them to devote themselves to he painstaking labor of hand copying of sacred texts. Many copies of entire scrolls like Genesis, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Job, Psalms, Isaiah and Jeremiah were found in their library which they housed in the caves in the nearby region.
The Journey of the Scrolls
After the scrolls had been examined and scholars confirmed their authenticity they began to get offered for sale. During the 1948 Arab-Israeli war many of the scrolls were transported to the United States. After being offered for sale in the Wall Street Journal, an archeologist anonymously purchased the scrolls for the State of Israel for the price of $250, 000.00. Later these scrolls were put on public display at The Shrine of the Book, which was a museum in Jerusalem, especially built for the scrolls. In fact, the structure of the museum was designed to represent the shape of a jar and the inside displays represent the shape of a scroll. The State of Israel also houses other scrolls and fragments in a climate-controlled basement of the Rockefeller Museum in Jerusalem while other scrolls are located in other countries such as the Citadel Museum in Amman, Jordan. Fortunately for the sake of ensuring the survival of the scrolls, archeologists and scholars were selected to collaborate on the most advanced strategies for carefully piecing together the fragments. Coordinating the publishing of the scrolls for the world to understand their contents continues to be controversial. Periodically, portions of the scrolls and artifacts found in the caves travel on tours to various cities. These exhibitions are sponsored in partnership with the Israel Aniquities Authorities. Several years ago I was fortunate to witness the exhibition when it came to San Diego, California in 2008.
The Significance of these ancient scrolls
The fact that they date back 2,000 years ago makes them the oldest known copies of books of the Old Testament in existence. The very fact that such writings could survive and not crumble into dust is truly remarkable. The real significance however, is how they confirm the accuracy of Bible transmission over the years, despite skeptics accusations that the translations contain flaws. Doubts regarding the integrity and reliability of the Hebrew text were settled once and for all with the discovery of the Isaiah Scroll which scientifically dates back to 125 BC. This scroll found in Cave 4 is 24 feet long and turns out to be 1,000 years earlier than the next oldest Isaiah manuscript which is known as the Masoretic Ben Asher Codex. When scholars compared the two scrolls they proved to be essentially identical to each other. They provide strong evidence that supports the authenticity of the Bible as we have it.
Why should Disciples value the Dead Sea Scrolls?
The Jewish nation has been extremely protective and proud of theses ancient documents. I believe its time for all believers to join those of the Jewish faith in grasping their importance. They reinforce the truth that the Holy Scriptures have been preserved to an amazing degree over thousands of years. God has had ongoing watchful protection over His revelation from the time they were originally penned until now. As I mentioned in the beginning of this article, these ancient copies of Biblical manuscripts provide an effective tool when defending the credibility of the Bible text regarding its preservation down through the ages. The fact that the entire scroll of Isaiah is on display for anyone to compare for omissions or mistakes is powerful evidence for any skeptic.
Interestingly, Isaiah contains some of the most descriptive Messianic passages of all the prophetic books. It also holds the distinction of being the most extensively quoted OldTestament book quoted in the New Testament, with a large proportion directly from Isaiah 53, the chapter about the Messiah as the suffering servant who would be sacrificed for the sins of the nation. It’s hard not to marvel that God would have this particular prophecy confirmed for any one struggling with faith in the Bible and faith in the fact that Jesus is the fulfillment of Isaisah’s prophecy. We can be assured that this prophecy about the crucifixion was delivered several hundred years before the event transpired. Isaiah saw the intense execution of the Messiah by his own people in a vision and wrote it down. Rabbi’s through the ages struggled to understand its meaning. Although the concept of a suffering servant Messiah went against the popular messianic expectations, Isaiah clearly describes a righteous Jew that would suffer as a lamb on behalf of the nation. No other Jewish individual has so completely fulfilled this prophecy than the one we know as Yeshua of Nazareth.
Currently there is a Dead Sea Scroll exhibition on display at the Discovery Museum in Times Square in Manhattan located at 226 West 44th Street in New York City. This exhibition is being sponsored by Israel’s Antiquities Authorities. I encourage all disciples in the North East to take advantage of this rare opportunity to see the scrolls before the exhibit closes in mid April 2012. See video below from "Friends of the Israel’s Antiquities Authorities"> > >.
To better prepare for this trip to the museum I have written this overview on significance of the Dead Sea Scrolls. How fortunate we are to live during these times when God allowed mankind to have access to them. With the internet we even have access to see them online. Let us be grateful and recognize this treasure for its remarkable significance. May we be given wisdom in utilizing the power of this wonderful resource as we declare the power of God’s living Word.
“All flesh is like grass and its glory like the flower of the grass. The grass withers the flower fades but the Word of our Lord abides forever.” --
(Isaiah 40:6-8 / I Peter 1:24-25)
Phillip Lester, Bloomfield, NJ March 21, 2012