More Early Bible Documents Found

D.J. Wiseman

Part 18 of 24 of the series Problems

You will remember that in No. 12 of this series under the title, “An interesting New Discovery,” some details were given of the complete scroll of Isaiah dated in the second century before Christ. Further information and discoveries have been made known in recent months which are of interest to all Bible students.

Mr. Lankester Harding, the chief Curator of Antiquities of the Hashimite Kingdom of Jordan, in whose territory northwest of the Dead Sea the valley of ’Ain Fashkha lies, has carried out a systematic search of the cave there from which the Arabs removed the scrolls which included Isaiah. He estimates that the fragments of pottery found there show that originally some forty jars capable of storing two hundred scrolls or documents must have been in the cave. From the whole jars it is beyond doubt that they were of a late Hellenistic type of pottery which ceased to be used in the time of the Roman invasion of 63 B.C. A few Roman cooking utensils and lamps showed that the cave however, had been visited later. In this connection it is interesting to remember that Origen writing in 217 A.D., mentions the discovery of Biblical documents in a cave near Jericho. From our point of view the main importance of this archaeological discovery is that it coincides most remarkably with the dating of the Isaiah scroll at about 160 B.C. already made by Professor Albright and others on the evidence of the script. The book of Isaiah shows more signs of being well-read and worn before being lodged in its hiding place than any of the other manuscripts found there. I have recorded this evidence, as some scholars have recently been trying to show that the manuscript is later (in the third century after Christ) and one has even thought that it was a late forgery. The excavation of the cave rules this out.

Even if this copy were of the later date it would still be more than five hundred years older than any other Hebrew copy of an Oid Testament book that we possess. Furthermore, among fragments found in the cave are some in an even older script and small pieces of the books of Genesis, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Judges and Daniel. This last, which mentions Daniel and his companions by name, gives those parts of chapters one and two just where it changes from Hebrew to Aramaic. Those who have argued that this was the work of a later editor are shown to be wrong. In all these finds it is good, but not surprising to anyone .who trusts the Bible text, to learn from such eminent scholars as Professor Millar Burrows of Yale University that this early copy of Isaiah substantially agrees in wording with the later text on which our present Bible translations are based. This, and the other fragments, too, show that the Bible text has been carefully and faithfully preserved and handed down from the time before Christ. We read, in other words, the same book of Isaiah as the Lord Jesus did when He read the lesson In His home-town synagogue. (Luke 4.16). No wonder this has been called, “The greatest Bible discovery of the century.” As “The Times” said, it gives the possibility of a complete revolution in the textual criticism of the Old Testament.

Another critical idea about the Bible that is forever silenced by this great find is the view that some of the Psalms were written as late as the “Maccabean period,” i.e. c.150 B.C. Among the other scrolls were two containing “Thanksgiving Hymns,” dateable to about the same time as the Isaiah scroll. They quote from our Psalms in such a way as to indicate that by this time they were already very old. Professor Albright, addressing a learned Society in London last July, gave it as his opinion, based on all the evidence available to scholars now, that the Psalms certainly date back to the time stated in the Bible, i.e. David etc. Another scroll contains a commentary on Habakkuk. It will be interesting to await further details of other treasures as they become known. We can anyway be thankful that once again men are being shown that the Bible is indeed the Word of God and therefore means just what it says and means to say it. It is up to us to trust God’s word, which is unchanging and ever enduring, rather than to put our faith in any mere ideas of men which may be but a passing theory.