Surprising New Evidence Comes to Light!
THEY were literally taking their lives in their hands as they descended the sheer cliffs to what we now know as the Cave of Horrors. Little could they expect that they would find amidst skeletons an important clue involving your Bible.
For you to get the setting, picture yourself in the arid wilderness shown on page 9, the mountains west of the Dead Sea.
To the south is Masada, the isolated citadel where, in 73 C.E., the last remaining outpost of the Jewish revolt was conquered by the Romans. To the north are the ruins of Qumran. This was the center of a first-century Jewish community that hid the famous Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah and other writings in nearby caves.
In early 1961, a team of experts set out to explore caves in the forbidding Nahal Hever. They were equipped with mine detectors, dust masks, ropes and parachute harnesses. It was a dangerous 80 meters (260 feet) down to the mouth of cave number 8, renamed the Cave of Horrors. A misstep could mean a fall of hundreds of meters to the rocks below.
The gruesome name, Cave of Horrors, stemmed from what investigators found inside—the skeletons of some 40 men, women and children. They had been followers of the Jewish fighter Bar Kokba, who led a war against Rome in 132 C.E. It is suggested that they may have been trapped inside by Romans camped on the cliff top and died of thirst or hunger.
You may wonder, though, what all of this has to do with whether Jesus and the apostles used God’s personal name, and, by extension, whether it should be in your Bible or on your lips. The link is found in nine small parchment fragments, with Greek writing on them, that were unearthed in the Cave of Horrors.
When scholars carefully studied these, they recognized the fragments as coming from an ancient leather scroll of the Twelve Prophets (Hosea through Malachi). It was a Greek text dated between 50 B.C.E. and 50 C.E. Now, the source of the scroll was known, the Cave of Horrors in the Judean desert. Though you may not at first see the importance of this, it is a major clue as to whether the divine name should appear in your Bible.
In order for this clue to have real meaning for you, we need to consider what scrolls were available to Jesus and his apostles in the first century C.E.
GOD’S WORD IN GREEK
The Bible books from Genesis through to Malachi were originally written in Hebrew, with small portions in Aramaic. However, when the Jews were dispersed throughout the ancient world they began to use the international language, Greek. So, somewhere around 280 B.C.E., the Hebrew Scriptures began to be translated into Greek, producing what is known as the Greek Septuagint Version (LXX).
When Jesus began his ministry, this version was widely used by Greek-speaking Jews. We can tell from the wording of the apostles’ writings that they were familiar with the Septuagint, and Jesus surely was also.
But did that Greek translation contain God’s name? The most complete manuscripts of the Septuagint that have survived, which date from the fourth century C.E., reveal a startling situation. Wherever the Hebrew Bible had the Tetragrammaton, the Greek Septuagint substituted the words “God” (Theos) and “Lord” (Kyrios). Hence, the view of the scholarly world has been that Jesus and his apostles did not use God’s personal name. It has been claimed that, when they read or quoted from the Scriptures in Hebrew, they followed the custom of pronouncing instead the words for “Lord” or “God.” And as for the Septuagint copy that they used, it did not even contain the Name.
Most theologians have held confidently to this view. But now what about the clue from the Cave of Horrors?
THE JUDEAN CLUE
Recall that the Cave of Horrors, in the Judean desert, had contained some leather fragments of the Twelve Prophets from a scroll written somewhere around the time that Jesus was born. It was in Greek, being in the form of the Septuagint. But what about God’s name? Note the reproduction here shown.
These fragments from the Judean desert contained the divine name in a old style of Hebrew! Even though the main text was in Greek, God’s name in Hebrew letters was retained. The Greek title Kyrios was not substituted for the Tetragrammaton, as was done in Septuagint manuscripts in later centuries.
Then, even more recently, another important clue has received attention. It, too, has a significant bearing on whether God’s name should be in your Bible, and, hence, whether you should be using that name. This clue came to light in Cairo.
THE EGYPTIAN CLUE
The clue consists of many fragments of an ancient papyrus scroll of Deuteronomy, with the museum listing Fouad Papyri Number 266. Though these fragments had been located in the 1940’s, they were inaccessible to the scholarly community for study.
In 1950 the New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures first published photographs of a number of these rare fragments. Still, throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s most experts did not have access to the actual fragments, and no other scholarly publication had reproduced photographs or made an analysis of them all. Finally, the 1971 volume of Études de Papyrologie did so. But what was so unusual about the fragments? And how do they bear on the use of God’s name?
The Fouad 266 papyri were prepared in the second or the first century B.C.E. They are not in Hebrew but in Greek. Take a look at the writing in the samples of Fouad 266 reproduced below. Do you see that, even though the main text is in Greek, the Tetragrammaton in square Hebrew letters is used? So the copyist of this papyrus scroll also did not substitute the Greek words for “Lord” (Kyrios) or “God.” Rather, over 30 times he put—in the midst of the Greek writing—the Tetragrammaton in Hebrew letters!
Dr. Paul E. Kahle of Oxford explained that these fragments contain “perhaps the most perfect Septuagint text of Deuteronomy that has come down to us.” In Studia Patristica, he added, “We have here in a papyrus scroll a Greek text which represents the text of the Septuagint in a more reliable form than Codex Vaticanus and was written more than 400 years before.” And it retained God’s personal name, as did the Greek fragments of the Twelve Prophets from the Judean desert. Both agreed.
In the Journal of Biblical Literature (Vol. 79, pp. 111-118), Dr. Kahle surveyed the accumulating evidence regarding the use of the divine name among the Jews and concluded:
“All Greek translations of the Bible made by Jews for Jews in pre-Christian times must have used, as the name of God, the Tetragrammaton in Hebrew characters and not [Kyrios], or abbreviations of it, such as we find in the Christian” copies of the Septuagint.
This singling out of the divine name for careful preservation was manifest even in Hebrew-language texts from around the first century. In some of the Hebrew scrolls from the caves near the Dead Sea, the Tetragrammaton was written in red ink or an easily distinguished older type of Hebrew. J. P. Siegel commented on this:
“When the Qumran manuscripts were first discovered more than twenty years ago, one of their more startling features was the appearance, in a limited group of texts, of the Tetragrammaton written in palaeo-Hebrew characters. . . . That this practice signifies a deep reverence for the Divine Name(s) is almost a truism.”—Hebrew Union College Annual, 1971.
Additionally, it has been reported that in first-century Jerusalem there was a Hebrew scroll of the five books of Moses with the Tetragrammaton in gold letters.—Israel Exploration Journal, Vol. 22, 1972, pp. 39-43.
Does not this new evidence strongly indicate to you that Jesus would have been very familiar with and would have used the divine name, whether he read the Scriptures in Greek or in Hebrew?
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Tetragrammaton in Septuagint fragments from Egypt (Fouad Papyri 266)