How We Got Our Bible
The Dead Sea Scrolls
A large collection of scrolls was discovered on the shores of the Dead Sea beginning in 1947. More than 900 different manuscripts have been identified from this collection, although many are fragmentary. Several copies of some compositions have been found, e.g. there are 33 copies of Deuteronomy. It has been estimated that the Qumran library housed multiple copies of up to 350 different texts. By ancient standards this was a considerable library. The non-biblical scrolls offer interesting insights into the personal values and social structure of the Qumran community. They also provide a wealth of information about Jewish literature around the time of the Gospels and show that many words, phrases and literary constructions used in the Gospels were also well known to the Qumran community.
Most of the Dead Sea manuscripts, especially biblical texts, were written on parchment, which was probably prepared from ritually pure animals. Of the 900 different Dead Sea scrolls, 222 are biblical texts. The most famous is the Isaiah scroll, which was copied about 125 BC. It was found essentially complete and the text generally agrees with the Masoretic text in use today. The only Old Testament book not found at Qumran is Esther. All the others are present. Genesis, Exodus, Deuteronomy, The Psalms and Isaiah are the books most frequently found. Only one copy of Chronicles and Ezra were found. In the traditional Hebrew Bible, Nehemiah and Ezra are a single book. It cannot be said for certain whether Nehemiah was part of the Qumran library because only three fragments from a manuscript of Ezra have been found.
The oldest manuscript of the Dead Sea Scrolls has been dated to the Third Century BC and the most recent to the first century AD. The text of the Dead Sea Scrolls show that the Old Testament books existed as we know them at least as early as the first century BC. There are some interesting variant readings, some expand and explain passages in our Old Testament. A few scrolls are a different length than the Bible text familiar to us. Jeremiah, for instance, exists in both a long and a shortened version.
Source: James VanderKam & Peter Flint, The Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Harper, San Francisco 2002 467 pp