The Remarkable Find at Qumran

One July afternoon in 1947 three Palestinian cousins were looking after the goats in Wadi Qumran. One of the goats started to stray up the scree slope nestled against the Qumran cliffs. That slope is formed by gravity as the rocks fall off the cliff face and are deposited down the angular slope below. So Jum'a Muhammed Khalil took a stone and he threw it up on the cliff face to scare the goat back to him. His stone went into Qumran Cave No 1. [the right hand cave in the cluster of two at the top of the section that jutts out in the middle of the photo]. He heard something break.

Being a 13 year old Palestinian Arab boy he thought “Treasure!" So he shinnied up the slope and up the cliff face to the cave on that late July afternoon. When he got up there he found that he couldn't get in. He was too big to fit through the gap at the entrance to the cave. So he went back and called, Muhammed Ahmed el-Hamed, his 8 year old cousin, the youngest of the cousins and the smallest of the three. Night was falling by the time they got up there and they decided to return the next morning.

That next morning Muhammed Ahmed el-Hamed entered Qumran Cave 1 and found ten earthenware jars. The first eight jars were empty. The ninth jar was filled with sand. But in the tenth jar was a treasure. Oh not the treasure they thought they would find but a treasure nonetheless. The tenth jar contained three documents. They had found the complete Isaiah Scroll, a commentary on book of Habukkuk along with the full text of the Manual of Disciple, the rules for the Qumran community.

That community failed in 68 AD. The last possible date those scrolls could have is 68 AD. But the scrolls have been dated to between 50 and 150 BC. There is still debate over the exact date but most scholars and dating experts believe it was close to 134 BC.

Before this find the earliest copy of the complete Masoretic text of the Hebrew Scriptures was dated around 1008 AD. The name of the document is “Leningradensis”. Read those two sentences again. They are shocking. That the earliest existing complete copy of the Masoretic text of the Old Testament Hebrew was dated around 1008 AD. The oldest existent copy of the Old Testament was dated almost 1,000 years after Jesus! Furthermore that the document had been housed in Leningrad, in the atheistic USSR. There is a story behind all of that too.

Leningradensis

The find of the Qumran Isaiah B scroll (1QIsaB) took the text of Isaiah back more than one thousand one hundred years. There were nearly 900 scrolls found in the Qumran valley. Recently, Feb 9th 2017, a new Qumran cave was found sparking much excitement, making 12 caves in all. However that excitement was short lived as all of the jars found in Cave 12 were broken and the contents removed. Translation work is still progressing on the 900 scrolls found earlier. Such translation has to be slow by necessity as I explained in an earlier Nugget.

When the text of Isaiah B as found among the Dead Sea Scrolls is compared with the Masoretic text of Isaiah found in Leningradensis those two texts are virtually identical. There are some differences. The differences between these two texts are just letter level differences or punctuation differences. That is amazing. There are seven or nine differences depending on how you count them. Two of the differences are the same difference duplicated. That borders on the unbelievable, but entirely conceivable given the checking processes of the Sopherim.

[See the earlier Nugget linked to this.]

From 134 BC all the way up to 1008 AD, one thousand years and forty three years, and yet those texts have not change in any significant way. If you stop and think about it, that is a miracle! Even more so when we stop and consider that the uncial manuscript Leningradensis was kept safely for all that time in the heart of atheistic communism. A political system diametrically opposed to the text of God’s Word, which if the document had been found by the communist authorities it would have been destroyed. There are many ironic touches to the preservation of God’s Word.

I will close with another: Voltaire, a well-known atheist of the 18th Century boasted, “100 years after my death, Christianity and the Bible will cease to exist”. Yet 50 years after Voltaire’s death, the Geneva Bible Society used his press and his house to produce Bibles.

God does have a sense of humour.

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