The “Original” Bible and the Dead Sea Scrolls

Can the scrolls help expose the original Bible language within the Masoretic Text and Septuagint?

The Song of Moses (Deuteronomy 32:8) in the Masoretic Text describes the Most High dividing the nations according to number of “the sons [children?] of Israel.” This Dead Sea Scroll fragment (4QDeutj) and the third-century B.C.E. translation of the Hebrew Pentateuch into Greek (the Septuagint [LXX]), however, say the nations were divided according to the “sons of Elohim” (God). What did the original Bible text say? Photo: IAA.

The Song of Moses (Deuteronomy 32:8) in the Masoretic Text describes the Most High dividing the nations according to number of “the sons [children?] of Israel.” This Dead Sea Scroll fragment (4QDeutj) and the third-century B.C.E. translation of the Hebrew Pentateuch into Greek (the Septuagint [LXX]), however, say the nations were divided according to the “sons of Elohim” (God). What did the original Bible text say? Photo: IAA.

For centuries, Bible scholars examined two ancient texts to elucidate the original language of the Bible: the Masoretic Text and the Septuagint. The Masoretic Text is a traditional Hebrew text finalized by Jewish scholars around 1000 C.E. The Septuagint is a Greek translation of the Torah created by the Jews of Alexandria in the third century B.C.E. (The other books of the Hebrew Bible were translated over the course of the following century.) According to Septuagint tradition, at least 70 isolated ancient scholars came up with identical Greek translations of the Torah.

Which is the “original” Bible? How do we decide which of these two ancient texts is more authoritative? In “Searching for the ‘Original’ Bible” in the July/August 2014 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, Hebrew University of Jerusalem scholar and long-time editor-in-chief of the Dead Sea Scrolls publication team Emanuel Tov suggests we turn to the Dead Sea Scrolls to help us compare the Masoretic Text and the Septuagint.

Some of the Dead Sea Scrolls actually have more in common with the Greek Septuagint than the traditional Hebrew Masoretic Text, showing that the Greek translators must have been translating from Hebrew texts that resembled the Dead Sea Scrolls. Are the Dead Sea Scroll texts as trustworthy as these other two sources? Are they as close to the text of the original Bible?

The religion section of most bookstores includes an amazing array of Bibles. In our free eBook The Holy Bible: A Buyer’s Guide, prominent Biblical scholars Leonard Greenspoon and Harvey Minkoff expertly guide you through 21 different Bible translations (or versions) and address their content, text, style and religious orientation.

isaiah-scroll

The Great Isaiah Scroll is one of the most iconic of the Dead Sea Scrolls, yet it does not reflect the original language of the Bible. Tov calls it “a classroom example of what an inferior text looks like, with its manifold contextual changes, harmonizations, grammatical adaptions, etc.” Photo: John C. Trevor, Ph.D. Digital Image: James E. Trevor.

Some turn to the Dead Sea Scrolls simply because they are older: 2,000-year-old texts were less likely to be subjected to scribal corruption, implying that they reflect a more original Bible language. Tov supplements this chronological reasoning with a logical—and admittedly subjective—approach: He examines which text makes the most sense in a given context. Tov examines a number of textual discrepancies between Bible versions (Did God finish work on the sixth or seventh day before resting on the seventh day? How were the nations divided according to the number of the sons of God?) in his search for the original Bible.

As an example, Tov asks: Did Hannah bring one bull or three bulls as an offering at Shiloh? (1 Samuel 1:24):

When the infant Samuel had been weaned and his mother, Hannah, finally came to Shiloh with her son, she also brought with her an offering for the Lord that is described in two ways in our textual sources. According to the Masoretic Text, she brought “three bulls,” but according to the Septuagint and a Qumran scroll (4QSama from 50–25 B.C.E.) she brought one “three-year-old bull.”

I believe that Hannah probably offered only a single bull (as in the Septuagint and 4QSama); supporting this choice is the next verse in the Masoretic Text which speaks about “the bull.” I believe the Masoretic Text was textually corrupted when the continuous writing (without spaces between words) of the original words prm/shlshh (literally: “bulls three”) underlying the Septuagint was divided wrongly to pr mshlsh (“three-year-old bull”).*

The evidence of the Septuagint, being in Greek, always depends on a reconstruction into Hebrew, and consequently the Qumran scroll here helps us in deciding between the various options. Incidentally an offering of a “three-year-old bull” is mentioned in Genesis 15:9. It shows that a Hebrew text underlying the Septuagint once existed in which Hannah brought only one three-year-old bull.

Tov uses the Dead Sea Scrolls to elucidate the original language of the Bible not only because they are the oldest Bible manuscripts, but also because they provide additional logical clues. He concludes: “In finding our way in the labyrinth of textual sources of the Bible, we must slowly accumulate experience and intuition. When maneuvering among the sources, we will find much help in the Dead Sea Scrolls. But they must be used judiciously.”


 
BAS Library Members: Continue on the search for the “original” Bible as Emanuel Tov explores different versions of important Biblical passages. Read the full article “Searching for the ‘Original’ Bible” by Emanuel Tov as it appears in the July/August 2014 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

Not a BAS Library member yet? Join the BAS Library today.
 


 
The Dead Sea Scrolls have been called the greatest manuscript find of all time. Explore the BAS Dead Sea Scrolls page for dozens of articles on the scrolls’ significance, discovery and scholarship.
 

 

Notes

* Many thanks to Joseph Lauer for a careful reading of the text, and to Emanuel Tov for clarification. The text:
“…of the original words prm/shlshh (literally: ‘bulls three’) underlying the Septuagint was divided wrongly to pr mshlsh (‘three-year-old bull’).”
Should read:
“…of the original words pr mshlsh (‘three-year-old bull’) underlying the Septuagint was divided wrongly to prm/shlshh (literally: ‘bulls three’).”

Readers can look forward to more details from Joe Lauer’s examination of the text and Emanuel Tov’s response in an upcoming issue of BAR.

Posted in Bible Versions and Translations.

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  1. VinceC says

    Very interesting. I have assumed that this was already been done by scholars, but perhaps not. It was also news to me that the Torah was translated in the Greek before the rest of the LXX– as early as the third century BC.

  2. Rose says

    The problem with this research is that it’s totally up to the interpretation of Tov. Additionally the text chosen for comparison in this article is kinda’ a red herring. Why not look at Isaiah 61 as it was quoted by Jesus Christ himself in Luke 4:18,19?
    What we see is that the Dead Sea Scrolls are not consistent among themselves. In the Great Isaiah Scroll we do not have the language, “recovery of sight to the blind” as part of Isaiah 61, which matches the King James Version of Isaiah. While 4Q521 does have, “recovery of sight to the blind”, which is in harmony with Christ himself who quotes, “recovery of sight to the blind” as being part of Isaiah 61. Which would mean Christ read from the LXX, not any Hebrew or Aramaic text right?.

    Shalom,
    Rose

    1) The LXX claims, “recovery of sight to the blind” is part of Isaiah 61.
    2) Scroll 4Q521 does have , “recovery of sight to the blind”.
    3) Luke claims, “recovery of sight to the blind” was part of Isaiah 61.

    4) The Masoretic Text does not have, “recovery of sight to the blind” in Isaiah 61.
    5) The Great Isaiah Scroll(s) do not have, “recovery of sight to the blind” in Isaiah 61.

    LXX Esaias 61
    1 The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me; he has sent me to preach glad tidings to the poor, to heal the broken in heart, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind;

    KJ Isaiah 61
    1 The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound;

    Great Isaiah Scroll Qumran
    61
    1 The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because YHWH has anointed me to preach good tidings to the weak; to bind up the brokenhearted, to call to the captives liberty, and to the imprisoned the opening of prison.

    4Q521
    Over the poor His spirit will hover and will renew the faithful with His power. And He will glorify the pious on the throne of the eternal Kingdom. He who liberates the captives, restores sight to the blind, straightens the b[ent]

    Luke 4
    17 And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Esaias. And when he had opened the book, he found the place where it was written,
    18 The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised,
    19 To preach the acceptable year of the Lord.

  3. Kelly says

    I appreciate this detailed comment. I, however, see a difference between a statement that is either included/omitted in one text or another and statements that seem contradictory as Tov cited.

  4. David says

    Very interesting–and contextually, very lame. The context of “the original Bible” is sadly misleading, since the original texts for the Torah were wriiten in Jerusalem, starting in the tenth century, BCE. And that’s the context most relevant to a Hebraic original, i.e. the context of the Jewish authorship.

  5. Robin says

    Interesting article — and interesting discussion between Rose and Kelly.

  6. Rose says

    Good point Kelly. On the other hand the inconsistency between the texts is in itself proof that the texts were inconsistent.

    If we dissolve the axioms and assumptions like, “Jesus spoke Aramaic”, or “Greek was the lingua franca of Galilee and Judea”, and simply follow the texts, we come to a completely different conclusion. Josephus who was the Governor of Galilee between 64 CE and 66 CE says the people in Judea and Galilee only spoke Hebrew (not Aramaic or Greek) and Greek was only used by the Aristocrats and ruling class, never the Priesthood in Galilee and Jerusalem.

    Josephus clearly differentiates between the Hebrew tongue and Syrian tongue (Aramaic).

    Antiq. X, 1,
    2. …….When Rabshakeh had made this speech in the Hebrew tongue, for he was skillful in that language, Eliakim was afraid lest the multitude that heard him should be disturbed; so he desired him to speak in the Syrian tongue.

    Josephus says Greek was unaccustomed (i.e. not the lingua franca of the priesthood in Galilee and Jerusalem).

    Antiq, Preface
    2. Now I have undertaken the present work, as thinking it will appear to all the Greeks worthy of their study; for it will contain all our antiquities, and the constitution of our government, as interpreted out of the Hebrew Scriptures. …….. I grew weary and went on slowly, it being a large subject, and a difficult thing to translate our history into a foreign, and to us unaccustomed language.

    Josephus had to go to great pains to learn Greek.

    Antiq, XX, 11,
    2. …. For those of my own nation freely acknowledge that I far exceed them in the learning belonging to Jews; I have also taken a great deal of pains to obtain the learning of the Greeks, and understand the elements of the Greek language, although I have so long accustomed myself to speak our own tongue, that I cannot pronounce Greek with sufficient exactness; for our nation does not encourage those that learn the languages of many nations, and so adorn their discourses with the smoothness of their periods;

    However this was not the case in Alexandria as Philo is only aware of the Greek Old Testament. He describes the meaning of the changing of Abram to Abraham, and Sari to Sarah using the Greek spellings of the names, Philo is clueless to the Hebrew spellings.

    Philo of Alexandria, “On the Change of Names”
    VIII, ….. the letter rho, appears to have bestowed upon men a most marvellous and great benefit; for he has called the wife of Abram Sarrah instead of Sarah, doubling the Rho,” and connecting a number of similar arguments without drawing breath, and joking and mocking, he went through many instances.

    After studying Philo and Josephus, it’s crystal clear that the Greek scriptures emanated from Alexandria, while the Hebrew Scriptures were from Judea/Galilee.

    So why is Jesus reading from a Greek Bible at a Synagogue in Nazareth?
    What language are Pilate and Jesus speaking in this image?

    http://www.wikiart.org/en/nikolai-ge/what-is-truth-christ-and-pilate#supersized-artistPaintings-253042

    As for Aramaic, it’s was the language that first recorded the Passover (Elephantine Texts), however if Josephus is to be believed (as well as the archeology), Aramaic was only in use by the Syrians according to the ancient writings themselves.

  7. David says

    There was separation of letters between words far earlier that the writing of the Septuagint and the final version of the Masoretic text so I dont think that is the cause of the scribal error.. It is easy to see though, how the MEM might have moved to the end of PAR.

  8. DAVID says

    SOoooooo.
    First written Text,? Records? Of Bible ?,and what Script? What Language?

  9. Rose says

    Anybody can see the Elephantine texts.

    The earliest language recording Bible verses would be Aramaic, as the Elephantine Papyrus is the oldest existing source. The Passover Papyrus is from 419 BCE during the reign of Darius II and follows the history and individuals names in both Ezra and Nehemiah.

    http://cojs.org/cojswiki/index.php/The_Passover_Papyrus_from_Elephantine,_419_BCE

    Corresponding names are Delaiah, Sanaballatt, YHVH, Queen of Heaven, and Darius. Corresponding places are Judea, Bethel (Bethel being Elephantine in some of the texts) and the House of YHVH. Corresponding themes are the stoppage and rebuilding of the Temple, its walls and doors.

    Meaning there is a record of Bible events going back at least to 419 BCE. The oldest language that records these events in existence today is Aramaic. While this may not fit one’s axiom(s), it’s never the less actuality.

    Which comes back to the sources of the original Biblical texts. Why no mention of Elephantine? If the texts found at Elephantine were found in modern Jerusalem, Christians and Jews would be in everybody’s face about what it ‘proves’. Yet the texts are right there at the Hebrew Temple in Elephantine and Christianity and Judaism mostly brushes them under the carpet as if they were a red headed step child. Wonder why?

  10. Paul says

    Interesting that Rose brought up the issue of the Jewish community in Elephantine being mostly ignored. Their prescence at Egpyt’s southern border to provide security fit in with their pastoralist lifestyle shared by the Cushite people, “for all shepherds are abhorent to the Egyptians” (Genesis 46:34). It also appears this community was in fullfillment of Isaiah 19:18; “On that day there shall be five cities in the land of Egypt speaking the language of Canaan and swearing by the Lord of Hosts; one shall be called ‘City of the Sun’” (New American Bible). The temple at Abu Simbel that was built in honor of Pharaoh Ramses was oriented toward the rising sun and was adorned with statues of baboons raising their hands in adoration of the rising sun; 22 of them, like the letters of the Hebrew/Aramaic alphabet.

  11. David says

    From a prophetic standpoint, and on at least some level, historical as well, the fact that the Elephantine Jewish community existed where it did makes it a dubious outlier. YHWH explicitly told Israel that they were never to return to Egypt. This community utterly disregarded that command, and so it must be taken into account that this community didn’t have a tremendous amount of internal motivation to live in complete accord with YHWH’s word, This is true regardless of the fact that they maintained a temple in honor of YHWH. This shouldn’t cause any problems of understanding–the Bible is filled with testimony that Israelites either apostatized altogether or liberally mixed YHWH worship with “pagan” religion. Historically, we have found images of YHWH with a consort, which constitutes a double transgression. Even Aaron’s golden calf was welcomed with a feast to YHWH. I’m not suggesting that Elephantine has nothing a value to offer scholars and historians, but it should be acknowledged for what it was…a rather bizarre little cult that tried to honor the God they deliberately chose to dishonor. Could it offer something of value not generally acknowledged? Possibly, but the evidence needs to be convincingly presented.

  12. Francis says

    It surprises me that up till now people discuss about Jesus when the Dead sea scrolls have proven that Jesus is a might of The Romans and a total allegory. Even the Demon whom The satanic kingdom has given power as Jesus has tried to kill me after I refused his warning not to tell people that he is not real. This is because YHWH revealed whom this entity is to me in 2007. The worst thing anybody will do is to talk about this evil name Jesus. Lack of repentance has made it impossible for YHWH to reveal hidden truth about the evil Christianity in this world. The messiah is not Jesus if you are spirit filled to see the messiah you will know that Jesus is a pagan deity (zeus) without Glory like Yahshua in spirit. Allelu-Yah.

  13. D says

    The Elephantine texts are interesting but marginal. They come from a small Jewish community well away from the core community in Judea or in Persia. The text from Kings about Rabshakeh implies that the Judeans spoke Hebrew, not Aramaic, although the two languages are close relatives. Indeed, the relationship of Hebrew to Aramaic, as well as Edomite and Moabite, is close enough to infer that the Hebrew-speaking Israelites came from the east, not from the Canaanite or Phoenician coastal cities.

    All the First Temple-era texts from archaeological work are in Hebrew, written in paleo-Hebrew script. Aramaic did not become a lingua franca until the Persian conquest. The Persians made Aramaic one of the official languages of their empire. Before that, it was an obscure language of a small kingdom around Damascus.

    As for Jesus’ supposed quote from the LXX Isaiah, it’s far more likely that the gospel’s report of Jesus speaking is not verbatim, but copied by the evangelist from the LXX he knew in Greek. Wherever the NT quotes the Hebrew bible, it’s always the LXX. But that’s not surprising: the evangelists were Greek-speaking authors working and preaching in a Hellenistic environment that was completely Greek in language. The LXX was natural.

  14. RYAN says

    “marginal”? Hmmm… Let us not forget that there was a ‘synagogue of the Alexandrians’ in Jerusalem catering for members of the Diaspora from Egypt. As a place of pilgrimage, Jerusalem was a hotbed of sectarianism then just as it is today.

  15. Rose says

    Anyone who researches the source(s) of the Old Testament and ignores Elephantine is just presenting incomplete research. My challenge to any scholar is to draw the border between Israel and Egypt in 1000 BCE on a map. We all base our so called ‘facts’ on a virtual border that’s meaningless historically. We just imagine a border, but nobody has ever been able to draw it on a map. We don’t even know when the Delta was flooded and when it was dry, let alone a border.

    The actual archeology points to Elephantine as being the oldest Hebrew Temple we have. The oldest inscriptions of YHVH are the Shasu of YWH inscriptions in Nubia just south of Elephantine. The oldest mention of the, ‘House of YHVH’ is at Elephantine. There no evidence of a Temple in modern Jerusalem before Herod, in fact Josephus says there was only an altar of huge white stones, and that Herod removed whatever was there and built the Temple Mount.
    The stories of the return of the of the captives to the Temple in Ezra and Nehemiah are exclusively about the restoration of the Temple at Elephantine under Darius II. The names of the people and the events regarding the Temple are the same as the names and events at Elephantine.

    It’s pure ignorance to say the return of the captives was under Darius I, after all the only Darius after Artaxerxes was Darius II. Fundamentalists just say the book of Ezra is all mixed up ;-) )). There never was a return to modern Jerusalem archeologically speaking; it was the restoration of the Temple at Elephantine under Darius II about 419 BCE. In fact Ezra himself literally says there was no previous Temple when the Temple was started, the foundation hadn’t been laid. Elephantine began under Cyrus the Great but was stopped sometime after the reign of Cambyses. It was later rebuilt under Darius II. Exactly as the chronology of the Book of Ezra has it.

    Ezra 3
    6 From the first day of the seventh month began they to offer burnt offerings unto the Lord. But the foundation of the temple of the Lord was not yet laid.

    Ezra 4
    23 Now when the copy of king Artaxerxes’ letter was read before Rehum, and Shimshai the scribe, and their companions, they went up in haste to Jerusalem unto the Jews, and made them to cease by force and power.
    24 Then ceased the work of the house of God which is at Jerusalem. So it ceased unto the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia.

    Josephus records the writing of Hecateus regarding what was on the Mound in modern Jerusalem before Herod in Apion I, 22. These are most likely the stones Herod used for the base of the Temple Mount (wailing wall).

    “There is about the middle of the city a wall of stone, whose length is five hundred feet, and the breadth a hundred cubits, with double cloisters; wherein there is a square altar, not made of hewn stone, but composed of white stones gathered together, having each side twenty cubits long, and its altitude ten cubits. Hard by it is a large edifice, wherein there is an altar and a candlestick, both of gold, and in weight two talents: upon these there is a light that is never extinguished, either by night or by day.”

    As for Jesus? Long before John introduced us to the Lamb of God, there was the Prophesy of the Lamb, or Oracle of the Lamb (6 CE) in the Nile Delta. It’s a story of a Lamb sent from God to judge the world.

    “The lamb’s poetic chant of “woe and abomination” recalls biblical oracles against Egypt.”
    The Literature of Ancient Egypt, edited by William Kelly Simpson

    “The lamb concluded absolutely all of the matters to be said, and he died.”
    ~Prophesy of the Lamb

    Since this was written when Jesus was 5 years old (6CE), it would have been circulating when Jesus, Mary and Josephus went into Egypt right?

    Shalom,
    Rose

  16. Paul says

    “And it came to pass, when the most blessed Mary went into the temple (called the ‘Capitol of Egypt’) with the little child, that all the idols prostrated themselves on the ground, so that all of them were lying on their faces shattered and broken to pieces, and thus was said by the prophet Isaiah; ‘Behold, the Lord will come upon a swift cloud, and will enter Egypt, and all the handiwork of the Egyptians shall be moved at His presence (Isaiah 19:1)” (The Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, chapter 23).

  17. Dave says

    We are assured by God Himself that the Word will remain intact. I have complete faith that the message of the Bible is what God intends it to be.

  18. Kurt says

    Reliability of the Bible and the DSS
    We’ve had recent comments about the reliability of biblical translations in light of the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) or Septuagint Version (LXX). I guess that some perceive a possible conflict between the Masoretic Text, the LXX and the DSS.

    I consulted Geza Vermes translation of the DSS (introductory notes) and he appears to downplay any potential difficulty that might exist for how we read Scripture juxtaposed with the DSS or LXX.

    The example adduced by Tov from 1 Samuel 1:24 provides an interesting case study.
    Source:
    http://fosterheologicalreflections.blogspot.se/2014/07/reliability-of-bible-and-dss.html

Continuing the Discussion

  1. The “Original” Bible and the Dead Sea Scrolls – Biblical Archaeology Society | Reference Shelf for the Kingdom of God linked to this post on July 2, 2014

    […] The “Original” Bible and the Dead Sea Scrolls – Biblical Archaeology Society. […]


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