I recently heard 1QIsaa* touted, as it frequently has been, as a monument to the ancient nature of the Masoretic text. A response was made pointing out that we need to remember that there is more than one Isaiah scroll among the Qumran documents. I initially thought the reference must be to 1QIsab, but then I found that Emanuel Tov claims this scroll differs from L only in minutiae.

While tracking that down, I ran across reference to Isaiah scrolls in Cave 4. Apparently there were a lot of them!. All are fragmentary, but several appear to include quite a bit of text.

Do the Isaiah scrolls in Cave 4 constitute a substantially different ancient witness to the text of Isaiah compared to 1QIsaa,b?** If so, are there any similarities with the Greek text or other ancient versions?

*That is, the so-called Great Isaiah Scroll, among the most substantial and best preserved of the Qumran documents, which is largely consistent with MT, although I believe there are many minor differences.

** I'm assuming these can be considered together somehow, but if that's incorrect I'm most interested in differences from the scrolls in Cave 1 and/or MT.

  • This is a bit of an experiment, as I'm not sure that "tell me about this manuscript(s)" is really a valid question format here.... but I'm sure someone has written a paper about this which could be summarized. – Susan Sep 22 '16 at 21:26
  • Obviously, you know that the Masorites and the scribes who copied the Isaiah scrolls are a thousand years apart; yet great similarities exist between the 2. This source explains some changes in the Isaiah Scroll; it's probably not as comprehensive as you were looking for, but does give some rationale for the differences. If you trust John Allegro's work, then you can find more similarities with the LXX-but I have a difficult time trusting the work of an Agnostic. This source explains it. – Tau Sep 24 '16 at 9:52
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    Thanks Tau, I'm aware of the basic contours of the situation with 1QIsa^a of which your sources speak. Here I'm looking for information on the scrolls from Cave 4, which I don't think is addressed there. – Susan Sep 24 '16 at 10:27
  • Do you have Abregg et al. The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible? It footnotes each verse where 4QIsax agrees and differs from MT, LXX, as well as other Dead Sea Scrolls. – user33515 Apr 3 '17 at 17:36
  • One valuable resource is VanderKam, J. C., & Flint, P. W. (2002). The Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls: Their Significance for Understanding the Bible, Judaism, Jesus, and Christianity (1st ed.). New York: Harper: San Francisco, 132-133. The hyperlink provides you the article on their commentary of Isaiah. – Joseph Apr 10 '17 at 0:28

1QIsa is generally in agreement with the Masoretic codices such as the Alleppo Codex. (1)

Between 'The Great Isaiah Scroll' 1QIsa and Masoretic codices the number of textual variants is well over 2,600, however, according to scholar scrutiny these variants are minor and 1QIsa is 95% identical to Masoretic text. Variants ranging from a single letter, sometimes one or more words, to complete variant verse or verses. For example, the second half of Verse 9 and all of Verse 10 in the present Masoretic version of Chapter 2 are absent from the Great Isaiah Scroll in the Israel Museum's full manuscript that you see here online. The same verses, however, have been included in other versions of the Book of Isaiah in the scrolls found near the Dead Sea (4QIsaa, 4QIsab), and the Hebrew text from which the ancient Greek version or Septuagint (3rd-1st century BCE) was translated. This confirms that these verses, although early enough, were a late addition to the ancient and more original version reflected in the Great Isaiah Scroll. (1)

Though variants between 1QIsa and Masoretic codices include alternative spellings, scribal errors, and corrections, no alterations to the texts meanings, nor to messianic beliefs are demonstrated.

“Even though the two copies of Isaiah discovered in Qumran Cave 1 near the Dead Sea in 1947 were a thousand years earlier than the oldest dated manuscript previously known (A.D. 980), they proved to be word for word identical with our standard Hebrew Bible in more than 95 percent of the text. The five percent of variation consisted chiefly of obvious slips of the pen and variations in spelling.” -Gleason Archer (2)

“It is a matter of wonder that through something like one thousand years the text underwent so little alteration. As I said in my first article on the scroll, ‘Herein lies it's chief importance, supporting the fidelity of the Masoretic tradition.'” -Millar Buruows (3)

"A comparison of the Qumran manuscript of Isaiah with the Massoretic text revealed them to be extremely close in accuracy to each other: "A comparison of Isaiah 53 shows that only 17 letters differ from the Massoretic text. Ten of these are mere differences in spelling (like our "honor" and the English "honour") and produce no change in the meaning at all. Four more are very minor differences, such as the presence of a conjunction (and) which are stylistic rather than substantive. The other three letters are the Hebrew word for "light." This word was added to the text by someone after "they shall see" in verse 11. Out of 166 words in this chapter, only this one word is really in question, and it does not at all change the meaning of the passage. We are told by biblical scholars that this is typical of the whole manuscript of Isaiah." -R. Laird Harris (4)


(1) The Israel Museum, Jerusalem

(2) Archer, Gleason. A Survey of Old Testament Introduction. Chicago: Moody Press, 1985.

(3) Millar Burrows, The Dead Sea Scrolls (New York: Viking Press, 1955), 304, quoted in Norman Geisler and William Nix, General Introduction to the Bible (Chicago: Moody Press, 1986), 367.

(4) R. Laird Harris, Can I Trust My Bible? (Chicago: Moody Press, 1963), 124.

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    Thanks, but I don't see how this addresses the question which is specific to the other, non- 1QIsa scrolls. – Susan Apr 9 '17 at 18:54
  • @Susan, oops. Did I wrongly perceive your question as being primarily Massoretic text in light of 1QIsa? – N.Ish Apr 9 '17 at 19:04
  • I guess so. See the first footnote which acknowledges the relationship between 1QIsa and MT as I understand it. – Susan Apr 9 '17 at 20:08
  • @Susan, I apologize, I am not finding clarity on how to better address the question. It's probably me, not you ahahahahahahahahahah. – N.Ish Apr 9 '17 at 20:26

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