Who wrote Dead Sea Scrolls?
Integrity of scholars and Bible itself at stake in debate
Neil Altman and David Crowder
SPECIAL TO THE STAR
Since the discovery in the late 1940s of a huge cache of scrolls in
caves near the Dead
Sea, a tight-knit community of scholars has insisted they were written
by a Jewish sect
before the birth of Jesus.
But new theories and findings are stirring up the debate about the
origins of the scrolls
as images of them have become more available to scholars and the public.
And evidence is
mounting they were written later, perhaps hundreds of years later than
believe, by Christians.
At stake is the credibility of the original eight-member team of Dead
Sea Scroll scholars.
Also at stake is the integrity of the Bible itself, which has undergone
scores of changes
because of the scrolls. And more changes are on the way.
Some scholars, for instance, say the Temple Scroll should be
incorporated into the Old
Testament as the sixth book of Moses.
"The New Revised Standard Version (of the Bible) adds a significant
passage to 1 Samuel
10:27 from the text of the Qumran Samuel scroll," says David Scholer of
Seminary in Pasadena, Calif.
Interestingly, it is Christian versions of the Old Testament to which
almost all of the
changes have been made. Publishers of Jewish Bibles are far less willing
to alter the
scriptures because of the scrolls.
Among Christians, their ministers and priests, few are aware that the
Dead Sea Scrolls
have led to more than 800 "minor" changes in Old Testament editions so
The first scrolls reportedly were found in 1947 in a cave near the ruins
overlooking the Dead Sea. Archaeologists and others discovered 11 caves
in all that held
more than 800 manuscripts, some remarkably well preserved and others
reduced to fragments.
Among the documents were parts of all but one of the 39 books of the Old
The prevalent theory is that the scrolls were hidden there in about 68
A.D. to keep them
out of Roman hands during the Jewish revolt that led to the destruction
of Jerusalem in 70
A long line of scholars have asserted the manuscripts belonged to the
Essenes, a Jewish
sect thought to have occupied Qumran before the time of Christ. But St.
Epiphanius, a 4th
century A.D. scholar and church father, wrote that the name Essene, or
Greek, was used to designate early gentile followers of Jesus. And the
actual writers of
the scrolls never called themselves Essenes, but referred to themselves
terms, such as "the poor" or "poor in spirit.''
Christianity is generally unaware of its Jewish roots and influences,
which existed well
into the medieval period that began about 300 A.D. and lasted 1,300
If the scrolls are regarded as documents that Essene scribes did not
produce, they take on
a much broader significance and become a link in showing just how much
medieval Christian thought.
One well-known scholar and author broke ranks with the Dead Sea Scrolls
the 1990s, contending that many of the major scrolls come from the first
century A.D. and speak cryptically of Jesus and his brother, James.
"If we can identify the scrolls within the first century (A.D.), then
all the official
positions of scroll scholarship collapse," says Robert Eisenman,
chairman of the Religious
Studies Department at California State University in Long Beach.
The most famous of all Dead Sea Scrolls, the Great Isaiah Scroll,
contains an abundance of
evidence that suggests it was copied much later in Christian times.
Prior to the scrolls' discovery, the three oldest known copies of Isaiah
were part of the
Cairo, Aleppo and Leningrad codices, which have been dated from 895 to
950 A.D. The Isaiah
scroll has been officially dated at 100 B.C., yet it contains clear
sentences and paragraphs that appear more advanced than the three
medieval Isaiah texts.
The evolution of Hebrew manuscripts is described in the Encyclopedia Of
sentence and paragraph separation along with vowel marks are said to
developed by the Masoretes from the 6th to the 10th centuries A.D.
The Isaiah scroll also contains examples of how Christians, rather than
Biblical manuscripts. Corrections made in the body of Isaiah text, for
it was transcribed by Christian hands because Jewish scribes made their
corrections in the
margins of biblical texts. In 1992, The Lutheran magazine reported that
usually made the change in the text itself.
Since 1950, scholars have recognized that the Great Isaiah Scroll, the
biblical text found at Qumran, contains eleven Xs, most of which are
heavily marked in the
margins. Randall Price, in his 1996 book The Secrets Of The Dead Sea
Scrolls, writes that
Eastern Christianity's Syriac Church used the X as a sign of the cross
in manuscripts to
mark passages about Jesus Christ. That fact, Price wrote, came from
The Xs in the Isaiah scroll also correspond to passages often recognized
as prophecy about
the coming messiah, adding credence to the possibility those marks were
made in the
"Isaiah chapters 42:1 and 42:6 are clearly messianic passages that speak
of Jesus, and the
Xs here relating to him are an extremely important discovery," says
Philip Comfort, senior
Bible editor at Tyndale Publishing House.
There is a previously undiscovered 12th X at the start of Isaiah 7:14
that deals with the
virgin birth of the Messiah. The presence of that X is confirmed by
Sheynin and other
scholars consulted for this article.
Sheynin also confirms that a uniquely Christian-sounding change was made
in the 11th verse
of Chapter 7 in the Great Isaiah Scroll.
In that passage, according to the New International Version of the
Bible, God tells the
Jewish king Ahaz, "Ask the Lord your God for a sign, whether in the
deepest depths or in
the highest heights.''
But it reads very differently in the Isaiah scroll a fact overlooked
by scroll scholars
but confirmed by Sheynin and others. As it appears in the scroll,
Sheynin says he would
translate the passage as ``Ask a sign from the father of the Lord (your)
God . . .''
Sheynin says, "it looks like somebody wrote and corrected it. There is a
someone corrected it to fit his own religious beliefs.
"The change was made after Christianity became prominent. We cannot
think anything like
this would appear before 90 AD.''
Other scholars give the passage an even more Christian twist, saying it
could also be
translated as God telling Ahaz to ask for a sign not from the father of
God, but from the
mother of God.
John Trever, the first scholar to photograph the scrolls, now disputes
of Isaiah 7:11 that appears in the 1950 book written around his photos,
The Dead Sea
Scrolls Of St. Mark's Monastery, and in his own book about the scrolls,
published in 1972.
Asked why the passage was given the traditional reading that omits any
reference to the
words "mother" or "father," Trever says, "That's a good question, and I
don't have an
Norman Golb, who holds the chair of the Jewish people at the University
of Chicago and
author of Who Wrote The Dead Sea Scrolls? (Scribners, 1995), reluctantly
change as well when, during an interview, he provided an on-the-spot
translation of Isaiah
"Ask of thyself a sign from the mother of God," Golb says, adding, "or
the father of
Asked why the passage was not accurately transcribed, Golb dismissed the
that it would have been "gibberish" to refer either to the mother or
father of God.
While scholars were willing to discuss the changes in Isaiah 7:11, they
balked at the
apparent changes in Isaiah 53, a chapter that Christians believe refers
to the Messiah's
suffering for the sins of mankind.
Isaiah 53:1, the Hebrew word "al" was changed to "El'', implying that
the Messiah would be
Farther down, in the Isaiah 53:9, a passage that refers to the slain
Messiah, the scribe
again altered the traditional text by adding a word that can be
translated as "awaken,"
suggesting the resurrection that is at the heart of Christianity.
Although the Dead Sea Scrolls were reportedly discovered 53 years ago,
scholars have paid
little attention to the use of red ink in some of the Biblical texts
found at Qumran.
Yet, University of Pennsylvania scholars say the earliest use of red ink
manuscripts, such as the Codex Sinaiticus written by Christian monks,
was in the 3rd or
4th century A.D. Sheynin says it wasn't until 1,000 years later that red
appeared in Hebrew manuscripts.
Rabbinical sources state categorically that from ancient times on, only
black ink was to
be used in Torah texts. Yet red ink is used in more than a few scroll
two from the biblical book of Numbers. That would seem to suggest that
the texts were
written by non-Jewish scribes
Neil Altman is a Philadelphia-based writer who specializes in the Dead
Sea Scrolls and
religion. David Crowder is an investigative reporter for the El Paso