In recent years the popular press has provided many accounts of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the controversy surrounding their discovery and publication. Sensational accusations of deception and suppression, and even competing claims made by respectable scholars, have both excited and confused the public. Yet the diverse and complex nature of the evidence has sometimes made it difficult for sincere, open-minded readers to get to the heart of the issue. One of the most frequently asked questions is how do these discoveries affect the Old Testament? The writer hopes that this volume will offer a small contribution to this one aspect of Dead Sea Scroll study and to assess its impact on Bible translation.

The present work is designed to introduce the reader to the study of the text of the Old Testament found in the Dead Sea Scrolls and the impact these remarkable discoveries have had on recent Bible translations. The opening chapters bring together information on these scrolls that is scattered over a wide variety of sources. The list of biblical manuscripts is complete and their contents, with a few exceptions, are described herein. The significant variant readings among the Dead Sea Scrolls that have been taken into account by Bible translators are broadly representative, although not exhaustive.

In a work such as this there are bound to be some errors, and further examination of the manuscripts themselves may provide additional identifications or reassignments of some fragments. The author invites contributions to correct and enhance this study.

Part One: An Introduction to the Dead Sea Scrolls

Secret agents using assumed names, clandestine meetings under cover of night behind enemy lines, switching cabs to avoid being followed—these sound like things in a spy novel, but they all happened in conjunction with the discovery, sale, and publication of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls has captured the popular imagination and filled the pages of the world’s newspapers with reports of alleged illegal deals, suggestions that the scrolls will shake the foundations of both Judaism and Christianity, hints of secret plots to suppress evidence—all this, combined with accusations of scholarly bickering and monopolizing texts for personal gain. It may have been inevitable that a discovery made just before the emergence of the modern state of Israel along one of its borders would have been steeped in controversy. The most recent controversy surrounding the Dead Sea Scrolls focuses primarily on the lengthy delays involving the publication of the scrolls and the related question of the motivations behind the delays. Such a situation can give rise to the suspicion that there is some plot by the people in charge to suppress documents that they find embarrassing.

This is not the first time that manuscript discoveries in the Dead Sea region have been reported. Origen (who died c. a.d. 250), as reported by the famous early church historian Eusebius (Ecclesiastical History 6.16), was reported to have found several different versions of Old Testament texts in the region around the Dead Sea. It is not possible to confirm Eusebius’s report; but if it is true, such a discovery could have been the major factor that motivated Origen to evaluate the differences between the Hebrew text and a variety of Greek translations known in his day. Origen spent many years preparing a compilation and evaluation of the manuscripts to which he had access. His work is known as the Hexapla because it was arranged generally in six (hexa) parallel columns, which included the Hebrew text, a transliteration into Greek characters, up to five different Greek versions, and Origen’s reconstruction, marked with a system of symbols to designate Greek pluses and minuses in comparison to the Hebrew text.

There was another report of a manuscript discovery in the area of the Dead Sea about the beginning of the ninth century. This discovery may be related to the origins of the Karaites, a Jewish group who relied solely on the Hebrew Bible as the authority for their belief and practice, rejecting the Oral Torah of Rabbinic Judaism, which was codified primarily in the Mishnah and Talmud. The Karaites believed that their doctrinal claim was supported by the discovery of these documents.

We will probably never know if these early reports of manuscript discoveries along the western shores of the Dead Sea are true. If the reports are true, the discoveries played a decisive role in the history of the Old Testament text. We do know that the Dead Sea Scrolls have brought about an equally momentous revolution in the study of the history of the Old Testament text and the religious context of the cradle of Christianity. Everyone associated with the first discovery of the scrolls immediately recognized their revolutionary importance. It is no wonder that the story of discovery and publication should be surrounded by controversy.

The details of the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the surrounding controversy have been frequently reported. Nonetheless, it is helpful to outline the important events here, focusing especially on those related to the discovery of the biblical manuscripts.

At the outset we need to keep in mind that the scrolls cannot be lumped together either geographically or by literary type. The majority of the documents popularly called the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in a single general location near the northwest shore of the Dead Sea. In all, eleven caves were found in the cliffs nearby an ancient settlement which we now know as Qumran. Of these eleven caves, ten have yielded written documents. Several of the key people mentioned in the chronological outline of events given below have published their experiences. As one might expect, there are some contradictions among the accounts, but a fascinating story emerges.

Archbishop Samuel (1966) recounts his experiences in dealing with Kando for the purchase of important scrolls from Cave 1. He also tells about efforts to resell the scrolls in his possession, ultimately leading to their purchase by Yigael Yadin in response to a brief classified ad appearing in the Wall Street Journal in June 1954. Yadin (1957) also recounts this transaction, as well as the earlier negotiations on behalf of Hebrew University and the Israeli government between his father, Eliezer Sukenik, and those who were offering scrolls for sale. Dr. Harry Orlinsky (1974: 245-256) tells about his involvement in the 1954 negotiations as the scholar who authenticated the antiquity and value of the scrolls purchased by Yadin. John Trever (1965a) explains the role of scholars affiliated with the American Schools of Oriental Research in Jerusalem (ASOR) in authenticating the major scrolls in the possession of Archbishop Samuel. William F. Albright, the great archaeologist and biblical scholar from Johns Hopkins University, and Millar Burrows, a general editor of the Revised Standard Version committee, were among the first to recognize the enormous significance of the scrolls. Trever, a scholar in residence at ASOR Jerusalem in the late 1940s, was an expert photographer who took the photos of the scrolls under the most trying circumstances. His photographs are still used today. The more recent controversy regarding the lack of progress in publishing the scrolls is documented in the pages of the journal Biblical Archaeology Review. Hershel Shanks, editor of the journal and chief advocate for prompt publication, has compiled some of the more significant articles from the Review (1992).

Chronology of Events

Spring 1947 (perhaps winter 1946–1947)
Muhammed adh-Dhib discovers as many as eight scrolls in Cave 1.

April 1947?
Bedouins take scrolls to “Kando” (Khalil Iskander Shahin) in Bethlehem. Kando and his friend George Isaiah of Jerusalem probably both go to Qumran.

Isaiah reports discovery of scrolls to his archbishop, Syrian Metropolitan Athanasius Y. Samuel.

June–July 1947
A meeting is arranged between Samuel and the Bedouins. Due to miscommunication, the Bedouins are not admitted to the monastery.

July 1947
Samuel buys several scrolls, including an Isaiah scroll (1QIsaa), the “Rule of the Community” scroll (1QS), and the Habakkuk scroll (1QpHab). The purchase probably also included 1QapGen (Apocryphon of Genesis).

Late July 1947
George Isaiah and a priest from the monastery return to Qumran and find additional fragments. Some claim other major scrolls were also discovered.

September 1947
Miles Copeland of the CIA office in Beirut photographs thirty frames of a scroll, reportedly the book of Daniel.

November 24, 1947
E. Sukenik is shown other scrolls at the Palestinian border.

November 27, 1947
Second meeting between Sukenik and those who want to sell scrolls.

November 29, 1947
Sukenik meets with sellers in Bethlehem; he is offered three scrolls. That same day the United Nations votes to form the State of Israel.

Late January 1948
Sukenik is shown Archbishop Samuel’s scrolls in the YMCA, Jerusalem.

February 6, 1948
Sukenik returns scrolls to Archbishop Samuel, who then shows them to scholars at the ASOR office (now Albright Institute) in Jerusalem.

March 15, 1948
William F. Albright confirms authenticity of the scrolls.

April 11, 1948
First press release announcing the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

May 15, 1948
British mandate expires. Israeli-Arab fighting escalates.

September 1948
Sukenik publishes the first samples of scrolls he purchased for Hebrew University: Isaiah (1QIsab), a collection of hymns (1QH), and the “War Scroll” (1QM).

January 7, 1949
Cease-fire announced. Qumran area is in Jordanian territory.

First scrolls are published by ASOR: Isaiah (1QIsaa) and Habakkuk (1QpHab).

October 1951
More scrolls are brought to Joseph Saad of the Palestine Archaeological (now Rockefeller) Museum in Jerusalem, by Ta’amireh Bedouin. Saad launches an expedition that discovers four more caves at Wadi Murabba‘at, near Qumran. R. de Vaux of the École Biblique, Jerusalem, launches an extensive archaeological expedition that continues to 1956.

March 20, 1952
The Copper Scroll is discovered in Cave 3.

September 1952
R. de Vaux and G. Lankester Harding discover Cave 4. Others may have removed documents earlier from this cave.

Fragments of the scrolls are organized in the “Scrollery” at the Rockefeller Museum in Jerusalem.

Yigael Yadin (E. Sukenik’s son)—former chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, now a professor at Hebrew University—meets with W. F. Albright while in the United States.

June 1, 1954
A short classified ad appears in the Wall Street Journal offering for sale “The Four Dead Sea Scrolls.” Yadin sees the ad and begins to arrange for verification and possible purchase.

July 1, 1954
“Mr. Green” (a pseudonym for Dr. Harry Orlinsky) verifies the scrolls’ authenticity, and Israel agrees to purchase the major scrolls belonging to Archbishop Samuel.

Full publication of the Hebrew University scrolls of Isaiah (1QIsab), a collection of hymns (1QH), and the “War Scroll” (1QM) by E. Sukenik (who died in 1953).

Volume 1 of Discoveries in the Judean Desert is published, containing Cave 1 manuscripts not published by ASOR or Hebrew University.

January 1956
Last Qumran cave (11) is discovered.

June 6, 1967
Israeli troops occupy the Rockefeller Museum during the Six Day War. Scrolls are still there; they were not taken to Amman, as some had thought.

Israel Department of Antiquities, now called Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), assumes responsibility for care and publication of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The 1967 staff of scholars working on the scrolls is retained.

February 1989
In response to pressure from Hershel Shanks, editor of Biblical Archaeology Review (BAR), and others, IAA releases a “Suggested Timetable” for the publication of the scrolls in the Discoveries in the Judean Desert (DJD) series.

December 1990
John Strugnell, Harvard University, is replaced as chief editor of the scroll-editing team. Health reasons are cited. Others point to his recent anti-Semitic remarks as well. Emanuel Tov of Hebrew University is appointed chief editor.

September 1991
BAR publishes the text of two previously unpublished Cave 4 documents (4QD and 4QMishm), reconstructing the text from a privately held concordance compiled by scholars at “The Scrollery” in Jerusalem in the 1950s.

September 22, 1991
Huntington Library, San Marino, California, announces that their photographs of the Dead Sea Scrolls will be made available to the public.

November 20, 1991
Photographs of most of the scrolls are published by the Biblical Archaeology Society (BAS).

November 25, 1991
The Israel Antiquities Authority announces that all restrictions to the Dead Sea Scrolls have been dropped.

Early 1992
An Israeli court issues an injunction barring distribution or use of the BAS volumes of plates in “Israel and elsewhere.”

October 1992
Announced date for official publication of photographs of all the scrolls in a microfiche edition by E. J. Brill publishers under the auspices of the Israel Antiquities Authority.