The Qumran Caves
Last time we discussed the credibility of the New Testament. Now we’ll consider the Old Testament’s viability as God’s primary communication to us.
In 1947, a Bedouin teenager crawled into a cave in Qumran, Israel and found some clay jars that he hoped were filled with treasure. What he found was just some old scrolls, but they turned out to be more valuable than treasure and launched an 11-year search that produced almost 900 manuscripts.
Near Qumran, on top of Masada, looking at the Dead Sea
It was the largest biblical manuscript discovery of all time! They ranged from full scrolls (almost 28 feet long) to fragments written in Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic on papyrus, parchment, and bronze. Every one of the 66 Old Testament books was represented, except the Book of Esther.
The scrolls were also the oldest manuscripts ever found! Before this find, the oldest was dated to 1008 A.D. The oldest Qumran scroll is from about 250 B.C. and the latest to 68 A.D., which is exciting because the closer to the time of the manuscript’s origins and the actual event recorded, the more reliable the text (a huge corroborating factor in ancient textual criticism). This was more than a 1,000-year leap!
Together, as the largest and oldest find, these scrolls were pure archaeological gold because when compared with current manuscripts, they confirmed the reliability of the Old Testament in dramatic similarity. To fully appreciate this find, and its precision in content, we need to understand the two primary questions for linguistic scholars:
- How many copies are there to examine and compare?
- How close in time are the oldest copies to the originals?
So the more copies that exist and the closer in time they are to the original, the more accurate the results. Consider these famously accepted and reliable ancient works:
Josephus has nine copies (400 years later) and Thucydides has eight copies (1,300 years later). Plato (7), Caesar (10), Pliny (7), Euripides (9), Tacitus (20), and Herodotus (8) are 20 copies or less. Only Homer’s Iliad (643), Sophocles (193), and Aristotle (49) have more than 20 copies.
The cable car to Herod’s Palace at Masada (1300 feet)
The Old Testament has over 10,000 copies and the Qumran scrolls now move the date to only 150 years after the event–Malachi in 400 B.C. In literary circles, this is not only unheard of, but pure gold for reliability! Unbelievably, there’s even more supernatural evidence in the content of these 10,000 copies.
When comparing the Dead Sea Scrolls and the oldest previous texts from 1008 A.D., it is basically a perfect match! This incredible detail over centuries proves that the copying methods used by the scribes were very sophisticated and successful. They had numerical systems to ensure each page was exact. They counted the number of lines, letters, and words per page of the new copy and then checked them with the original. If they didn’t match perfectly, they destroyed the copy.
A Mikveh bath used by the Essenes at Qumran
So why did God supernaturally author and protect the Bible? Perhaps He has something important to say to you…personally. Maybe cracking open a Bible and reading some of it, say the Gospel of John or Luke, is a good idea. I’ll wager you’ll find more than Bedouin treasure.