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Who wrote Dead Sea Scrolls?

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  • Fr. Panagiotes Carras
    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
    Message 1 of 1 , May 7, 2001
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      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
      most scholars
      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
      Fuller Theological
      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
      far.

      The first scrolls reportedly were found in 1947 in a cave near the ruins
      of Qumran
      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
      Testament.

      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.D.

      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
      "lessaeans" in
      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
      in Christian
      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
      years.

      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
      Judaism influenced
      medieval Christian thought.

      One well-known scholar and author broke ranks with the Dead Sea Scrolls
      establishment in
      the 1990s, contending that many of the major scrolls come from the first
      and second
      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
      separations between
      sentences and paragraphs that appear more advanced than the three
      medieval Isaiah texts.

      The evolution of Hebrew manuscripts is described in the Encyclopedia Of
      Judaism, where
      sentence and paragraph separation — along with vowel marks — are said to
      have been
      developed by the Masoretes from the 6th to the 10th centuries A.D.

      The Isaiah scroll also contains examples of how Christians, rather than
      Jews, copied
      Biblical manuscripts. Corrections made in the body of Isaiah text, for
      instance, suggest
      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
      Christian copyists
      usually made the change in the text itself.

      Since 1950, scholars have recognized that the Great Isaiah Scroll, the
      most complete
      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
      Epiphanius.

      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
      Christian era.

      "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
      possibility that
      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
      the transcription
      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
      answer.''

      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
      acknowledged the
      change as well when, during an interview, he provided an on-the-spot
      translation of Isaiah
      7:11.

      "Ask of thyself a sign from the mother of God," Golb says, adding, "or
      the father of
      God.''

      Asked why the passage was not accurately transcribed, Golb dismissed the
      change, saying
      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
      God.

      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
      in Biblical
      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
      ink first
      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
      fragments, including
      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
      Times.
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