The 1947 discovery of ancient manuscripts near the Dead Sea in Israel caused significant excitement, and for good reason. The Dead Sea Scrolls are considered the most important manuscript discovery of all time. These 900 fragmented and completed documents, dating from the period 250 BC to AD 68, were apparently part of the library of a Jewish community called the Essenes who lived in the nearby rugged Dead Sea coastal region called Qumran.
As a fundamentalist Jewish sect, the Essenes had wrapped their beloved Hebrew texts in linen, placed them in jars of clay and hid them in hillside caves to protect them from the expected onslaught of the Roman army advancing beyond their recent destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 to the region of Masada. Qumran lay in between. While the Essene community did not survive, their sacred scrolls did, rediscovered 1900 years later.
So what’s the big deal?
The texts of the Dead Sea Scrolls include 23 of the 24 books of the Hebrew Bible (the Protestant Old Testament). These documents predate the earliest copies of Hebrew text manuscripts by over 1000 years. Yet when compared to one another, these documents are virtually identical. Differences in style and spelling were noted but no significant difference in substance. This degree of accuracy speaks to the miraculous preservation of the Word over time, but also to the meticulous adherence and reverence for the task of hand-copying Holy Scripture.
With few exceptions, manuscript scholars have complete confidence in the Old Testament canon. So should we. Indeed, Bible readers today can be confident that the text available to us is not significantly different from the texts which Jesus and his disciples read twenty centuries ago.
“Do not add or subtract from these commands I am giving you from the Lord your God.” (Deuteronomy 4:2)