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Citation for Literary Development and Textual Transmission

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Eshel, Esther . "The Bible in the Dead Sea Scrolls." In The Jewish Study Bible. Oxford Biblical Studies Online. Apr 11, 2021. <http://www.oxfordbiblicalcstudies.com/article/book/obso-9780195297515/obso-9780195297515-div1-1088>.


Eshel, Esther . "The Bible in the Dead Sea Scrolls." In The Jewish Study Bible. Oxford Biblical Studies Online, http://www.oxfordbiblicalcstudies.com/article/book/obso-9780195297515/obso-9780195297515-div1-1088 (accessed Apr 11, 2021).

Literary Development and Textual Transmission

Higher Criticism

Of the contributions made by the discovery of the Qumran scrolls, one of the most telling belongs to the realm of higher criticism (see “Modern Study of the Bible,” pp. 2084–96). The scrolls brought to light unambiguous witnesses to textual differences belonging to earlier stages of the literary growth of various biblical books; before their discovery, these differences were only attested indirectly, especially in the ancient translations or versions. The discovery of the Qumran scrolls has had a particularly significant impact on our understanding of the text of Judges, Samuel, Jeremiah, Esther, and Daniel. The examples below demonstrate how Qumran texts bear witness to what is believed to represent an earlier editorial stage of a biblical work. Qumran texts also support hitherto unattested variants or different readings found in LXX. Additionally, some texts found at Qumran are believed to represent possible sources for biblical books.

Additions Not Found in MT

As witnessed by MT (and Vulgate, Syriac, and the Targum), Nahash, king of Ammon, agreed to make a treaty with the people of Jabesh‐gilead on condition that he gouge out theirright eyes (1 Sam. 11.1–2 ). In the context of these textual witnesses this seems an unusually brutal act. An additional passage preserved in 4QSam a , which unfolds the story of how Nahash oppressed the tribes of Gad and Reuben, inflicting terror by gouging out their right eyes, and how 7,000 men escaped mutilation by fleeing to Jabesh‐gilead, provides a more natural link between the election of Saul as king in Mizpah (1 Sam 10.27a) and his Ammonite campaign ( 10.27b). Moreover, the reading found in 4QSam a , “it was about a month's time” (k‐m‐ḥ‐d‐sh), provides a more logical connection between the additional passage and the one following than MT's “he pretended not to mind” (k‐m‐ḥ‐r‐sh, 11.1 ). (In Hebrew script, d and r are almost identical and easily confused.)

Although some scholars explain the additional passage in 4QSam a as a secondary midrashic addition, it is more likely that 4QSam a has preserved the original reading and that MT's reading is based on scribal error, that is, an accidental omission during an early stage of the book's literary development or transmission. In general, the text of Samuel as reflected by MT is problematic, and LXX and the fragments discovered at Qumran reflect a better‐preserved text.

Witness to an Earlier Editorial Stage

Judg. 6.7–10 is missing from a text found at Qumran, 4QJudg a . Evidently not the result of scribal error, this omission can be seen as reflecting an earlier stage in the editing of the book of Judges. The section found in MT, in which a prophet tells the Israelites that God will save them even though they have sinned in the past, has clear parallels to vv. 11–24 , in which the angel of the LORD appears to Gideon; it is also very similar to other texts found in Deuteronomy and related literature. It appears, then, that Judg. 6.7–10 was a later addition by the so‐called Deuteronomistic Historian, the editor of Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, 1–2 Samuel, and 1–2 Kings, who focused on the centralization of the cult in Jerusalem.

Attestation to LXX

The organizational complexity of Jeremiah and the relationship between MT and other ancient versions, especially LXX, enhances the importance of the Qumran finds. Two of the six fragmentary manuscripts of Jeremiah found there (4QJer b and 4QJer d ) are close in nature to the so‐called original Septuagint version of Jeremiah (to be distinguished from later revisions correcting the translation to reflect MT and from Syriac, Vulgate, and the Targumim). LXX to Jeremiah differs from MT in two ways: first, in chapter and verse order; second, in the length of the text, where the Septuagint is one‐eighth shorter than MT, missing words, phrases, or even entire sections. Evidently, the Septuagint was translated from a Hebrew text close in nature to these two manuscripts, which reflects a first, short edition of the book of Jeremiah that differs from the longer, differently ordered text documented in MT and other related versions. The Qumran texts support the view that LXX reflects an authentic Second Temple period variant tradition of the biblical text.

Possible Sources for Biblical Books

As opposed to the above examples, the following ones do not reflect stages in the editing of a biblical work; rather they relate to possible sources for biblical books.

Esther. As mentioned earlier, all the books of the Hebrew canon were represented among the Qumran scrolls, with the exception of Esther. The different explanations for its absence range from the vagaries of chance, to suggestions that the Qumran community did not observe the holiday of Purim and/or the book had not yet achieved “canonical” status. The exact nature of a text from Cave 4 labeled Proto‐Esther (4Q550–550e) is also a matter of debate. Some identify it as an Aramaic prototype or source underlying the various Hebrew, Greek, Latin, and even Armenian versions of Esther, while others find only a general resemblance between the book of Estherand this composition, and still others argue that this text has very little in common with the Hebrew story of Esther, and is simply a hitherto unknown Aramaic text. Even if this Qumran text has no direct relationship to Esther, it is another example of a story with a Persian court setting.

Daniel. Cave 4 at Qumran contained some Hebrew and Aramaic texts exhibiting varying degrees of connection to Daniel. The most clear‐cut link is that between Daniel and 4QPrayer of Nabonidus (4Q242). Long before the latter text's publication, the resemblance between the story of Nabonidus's illness while in exile at Teima and the legend of Nebuchadnezzar's madness in Dan. ch 4 was noted. The author of Dan. 4 adapted this material to his worldview, most significantly by changing the name of the king to that of the better‐known one—Nebuchadnezzar—and by identifying the anonymous Jew who assisted the king with Daniel.

Another fragmentary text found at Qumran, labeled 4QHistorical Text A (4Q248), resembles Dan. ch 11. This text mentions, in an extremely condensed manner, a number of events pertaining to Antiochus IV Epiphanes, also referred to in Daniel. These chronologically arranged events start with Antiochus IV's first invasion of Egypt ( 170–169 BCE) and end with his second inroad into Egypt in 168. Following the last event mentioned in the Qumran text, which is the second invasion of Egypt, words parallel to Dan. 12.7 appear: “and when the shattering of the power of the ho[ly] people […comes to an end, then shall all] these things [be fulfilled].” The absence of references to Antiochus's religious persecutions, as compared with ample references of this nature in Daniel ( 7.25; 11.30–33; 12.1 ), makes it clear that 4Q248's composition preceded 167 BCE. If so, this work was composed before the completion of the final edition of Daniel, commonly dated to ca. 165 BCE, and may have been part of an apocalyptic work that served as a source for this book.

Finally, another possible source for Daniel is found in the throne‐theophany of the Book of Giants (4Q530, col. ii). Comparison of this text to Daniel 7.9–10 shows that the book of Daniel preserved a more expanded form of the vision.

Text Criticism

Another important aspect of the contribution of biblical Dead Sea Scrolls to biblical studies belongs to text criticism (sometimes called “lower criticism”). As opposed to the literary‐historical bent of higher criticism, this field relates to the technical aspect of establishing the best readings of the wording of the text. The examples demonstrate how the scrolls enhance our understanding of the development of variants created in the course of textual transmission. On occasion the Qumran texts preserve superior readings; in other instances, they represent vulgarization of the text.


1QIsa a , which is the oldest manuscript of Isaiah that has been preserved, dated ca. 125 BCE, is of a vulgar or popular text type (see above). Its fifteen surviving fragments contain about forty, mostly minor, variants from MT, some of which shed light on the development of variants in the biblical text.

1QIsa a usually has the secondary variant, that is, scribal changes and “corrections” made to proto‐MT not based on ancient witnesses. Two instances of haplography (an erroneous omission of one or two identical or similar adjacent letters or words) include the omission by the original copyist of 1QIsa a of part of Isa. 40.7–8 because of the double repetition of “grass withers, flowers fade,” or Isa. 26.3–4 , where 1QIsa a has reduced the double occurrence of trust to a single one. In both these cases MT has the superior reading.

Nevertheless, 1QIsa a also provides an example where MT's reading reflects haplography. MT (Peshitta and Vulgate) reads Isa. 40.12 as: “Who measured the waters (mayim) with the hollow of his hand, and gauged the sky with a span?” This question seems out of place in the context of a rhetorical list withnegative answers. 1QIsa a has a slightly different but superior reading: “Who measured the waters of the sea (mei yam) with the hollow of his hand.…” A similar reading is also attested in a paraphrase found in an apotropaic prayer, 4Q511, which reads: “Can the waters of the sea (mei rabah) be gauged in the hollow of a man's hand?”

Another original reading preserved in the Dead Sea Scrolls comes from 4QSam a . MT to 1 Sam. 1.24 has the double reading ve ha‐naʿar naʿar: “And though the boy was still very young” whereas 4QSam a has an expanded reading: “…and the boy (ve ha‐naʿar) [with] them. And they went before the LORD, and his father slaughtered the sacrifi[ce as] it happened [every year to the LORD. And she brought the boy (ha‐naʿar)].…” MT reflects a case of parablepsis (or homoioarcton), that is, the identical beginning (“the boy”) caused the erroneous omission of a section.

Matres Lectionis

In its most ancient form the Hebrew alphabet contained only consonants. It is well known that matres lectionis, literally “mothers of reading,” that is consonants used to indicate vowel length and quality, were secondarily introduced into the text, sometimes relatively late in its development. Variants in the use of matres lectionis usually do not affect the biblical text, but in some cases they provide evidence for a different scribal understanding. Such is the case in 1 Sam. 1.24 , where MT reads three bulls (parim sheloshah), while 4QSam a reads: three‐year‐old bull (be par meshulash). Both MT and 4QSam a presumably derive from the same common consonantal source: b‐p‐r‐m‐sh‐l‐sh, with a difference of opinion about where to divide the words. The Qumran scroll's variant seems more reasonable contextually, as the following verse refers only to an offering of one bull. When matres lectionis were later introduced, 4QSam a (and LXX and the Peshitta) were in a better position to indicate the proper reading, while MT (Targum and Vulgate), lacking matres lectionis, have a corrupt reading.

Original Reading Preserved in a Qumran Text

4QTestimonia (4Q175) is one of the few almost completely preserved texts found at Qumran. Written on one sheet of skin (parchment), this text is a collection of quotations directly linked to each other without quotation formulas or interpretations.

A superior reading is documented in the quotation of Deut. 33.9 in 4QTestimonia. Where MT has the singular “him” following a reference to mother and father, a reconstructed reading of 4QTest restores the original parallel structure: “Who said of his father, ‘I consider you not’ and to his mother ‘I ignore you.’ His brother he disregarded, ignored his own children.”

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