Can the scrolls help expose the original Bible language within the Masoretic Text and Septuagint?
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.
Interested in the history and meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls? In the free eBook Dead Sea Scrolls, learn what the Dead Sea Scrolls are and why they are important. Find out what they tell us about the Bible, Christianity, and Judaism.
Some of the Dead Sea Scrolls actually have more in common with the Greek Septuagint than the traditional Hebrew Masoretic Text. This suggests 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?
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; they should 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.
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.
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 decide 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.”
Not a subscriber yet? Join today.
This Bible History Daily article was originally published on June 27, 2014.
“…of the original words prm/shlshh (literally: ‘bulls three’) underlying the Septuagint was divided wrongly to pr mshlsh (‘three-year-old bull’)”
“…of the original words pr mshlsh (‘three-year-old bull’) underlying the Septuagint was divided wrongly to prm/shlshh (literally: ‘bulls three’)”
Become a member of Biblical Archaeology Society, and gain All Access with your membership today
The BAS Library includes online access to more than 9,000 articles by world-renowned experts and 22,000 gorgeous color photos from…
Plus, you get access to so much more from your All-Access pass:
Biblical Archaeology Review print edition:
Enjoy the same current issues in glorious, traditional, full-color print …
Biblical Archaeology Review tablet edition:
Stay on top of the latest research! You get …
All of this rich and detailed scholarship is available to you—right now—by buying a special All-Access pass.
That’s right: when you purchase your All-Access pass, you get a ticket to four decades of study, insight and discovery. Why not join us right now and start your own exploration?
Whether you’re researching a paper, preparing a sermon, deepening your understanding of Scripture or history, or simply marveling at the complexity of the Bible – the most important book in history—the BAS All-Access pass is an invaluable tool that cannot be matched anywhere else.
You'll get to experience all the discoveries and debate in beautiful clarity with Biblical Archaeology Review, anytime, anywhere! And the Library is fully searchable by topic, author, title and keyword, as well as the Special Collections like this one.
The All-Access pass is the way to explore Bible history and biblical archaeology.
Sign up to receive our email newsletter and never miss an update.