Dead Sea Scrolls—The Prized Find
ABOUT 15 miles [24 km] southeast of Jerusalem, Wadi En-Nar, a desolate, dry watercourse runs eastward down to the Dead Sea. A broken line of cliffs stretches behind the shoreline plain. On this plain, in the hot days and contrasting cold nights of autumn, the Ta‘amireh Bedouin tend their flocks of sheep and goats.
In the year 1947, while tending the flocks, a young Bedouin shepherd threw a stone into a small opening in the crumbling face of a cliff. He was startled by the noise it caused, apparently by shattering an earthenware jar. He fled in fear, but two days later he returned and climbed some 300 feet [100 m] to enter through a larger, higher opening. As his eyes became accustomed to the darkness, he saw ten tall jars lining the walls of the cave, and a mass of broken pottery amid fallen rocks littered the floor.
Most of the jars were empty, but one contained three scrolls, two of which were cloth-covered. He took the manuscripts back to the Bedouin camp and left them there for about a month, hanging in a bag on a tent pole. Finally, some Bedouin took the scrolls to Bethlehem to see how much they would fetch. The Bedouin were unceremoniously turned away from one monastery, being told that the scrolls were of no value whatever. Another dealer said that the manuscripts had no archaeological merit, and he suspected that they had been stolen from a Jewish synagogue. How wrong he was! Eventually, with a Syrian cobbler acting as broker, their worth was rightfully established. Soon, other manuscripts were evaluated.
Some of these ancient writings opened up a whole new insight into the activity of Jewish religious groups about the time of Christ. But it was a Bible manuscript of Isaiah’s prophecy that excited the world. Why?
The Great Prize
The newly discovered scroll of Isaiah was originally about 25 feet [7.5 m] long. It was made up of 17 sheets of carefully prepared animal skin, nearly as refined as parchment. Composed in 54 columns averaging 30 lines each, it had been carefully ruled. On these lines the skilled penman had placed the letters of the text, written in paragraphs.—See photograph.
The scroll had not been rolled around sticks, and it was much darker in the center where many hands had held it for reading. It was well-worn, with skillful repairs and reinforcements in evidence. Its fine preservation was due to its having been carefully sealed in a jar. How valuable is it to the Bible scholar, and, by extension, to all of us?
This manuscript of the prophet Isaiah is some one thousand years older than any other surviving copy, yet its contents are not greatly different. Said Professor Millar Burrows, the editor of the text that was published in 1950: “The text of Isaiah in this manuscript, with significant differences in spelling and grammar and many variant readings of more or less interest and importance, is substantially that presented considerably later in the MT [Masoretic Hebrew Text].”* Also noteworthy is its consistent use of the Tetragrammaton, יהוה, God’s holy name, Jehovah, in Hebrew.
Other Valuable Manuscripts
The divine name also appears in another manuscript from this same cave, now known as Cave 1. In a commentary on the book of Habakkuk, the Tetragrammaton appears four times in paleo-Hebrew letters, an older style that contrasts with the more familiar square Hebrew lettering.—See the footnote to Habakkuk 1:9, Reference Bible.
The cave yielded portions of another Isaiah scroll, along with leather fragments from the Bible book of Daniel. One of these preserves the change from Hebrew to Aramaic at Daniel 2:4, just as found in manuscripts of a thousand years later.
Small parts of the scrolls that are well preserved are now exhibited in Jerusalem, in the museum known as the Shrine of the Book. This museum is underground, so as you visit there, you have the impression of entering a cave. The upper part of the museum is in the shape of the lid of the earthenware jar in which the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah was discovered. Yet, you see only a facsimile of the Isaiah manuscript. The precious original rests safely in the storeroom nearby.
Some of its more important readings are noted in the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures—With References at Isaiah 11:1; 12:2; 14:4; 15:2; 18:2; 30:19; 37:20, 28; 40:6; 48:19; 51:19; 56:5; 60:21. The scroll is identified in the footnotes as 1QIsa.
[Picture Credit Lines on page 10]
Pictorial Archive (Near Eastern History) Est.
Courtesy of The British Museum
[Picture Credit Line on page 11]
Israel Antiquities Authority; The Shrine of the Book, Israel Museum; D. Samuel and Jeanne H. Gottesman Center for Biblical Manuscripts