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I often find people comparing other manuscripts (e.g., Masoretic text, LXX) against the Dead Sea Scrolls in order to determine their accuracy. For example, this thread asked how reliable the LXX was in comparison to the Masoretic text in light of the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. This seems to imply that the Dead Sea Scrolls are the exemplar par excellence by which other manuscripts are measured for accuracy.

So, I ask, how can the accuracy of the Dead Sea Scrolls be assessed, and if indeed this is possible, how accurate are those manuscripts in the Dead Sea Scrolls of books found in the Bible (e.g., 1QIsa1 of the Book of Isaiah)?

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The Dead Sea Scrolls are the only ancient Hebrew Bible manuscripts that we have. Everything else in Hebrew is from the 11th century or later. Thus it's natural that the Dead Sea Scrolls loom large in studying the textual history of the Hebrew Bible. However, the Dead Sea Scroll texts don't always agree with each other, and their age is no guarantee of accuracy. By comparing different textual traditions (LXX, but also translations into other languages, the Samaritan Torah, etc.) it is sometimes possible to trace back the history of the text past the era of the Dead Sea scrolls and to identify errors in the Dead Sea scrolls.

Basically, the Dead Sea scrolls are uniquely valuable information to textual critics, but nonetheless other texts also give important information which much be synthesized using the usual tools of textual criticism.

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    The Aleppo codex (Keter Aram Tzova) from circa. 920. also – Lowther Feb 4 at 20:07
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The scribes at Qumran had there own scribal practices which were distinct from those practiced during the second Temple period, and in the subsequent period which saw the copying of the Temple scroll in Tiberius (1 of 3, the only to be returned by Rome to the Jews of this city in the Galilee), and eventually transmitted to us by Moses Ben Asher in the Masora. For now lets deal with the differences between Masoretic/Tiberian scribal practices and Qumran scribal practices. Some texts such as the Great Isaiah scroll resemble the Masora more than others found at Qumran: "The version of the text is generally in agreement with the Masoretic or traditional version codified in medieval codices, such as the Aleppo Codex, but it contains many variant readings, alternative spellings, scribal errors, and corrections...Strictly speaking, the number of textual variants is well over 2,600, ranging from a single letter, sometimes one or more words, to complete variant verse or verses"(source: http://dss.collections.imj.org.il/isaiah)

As for the LXX, "Unique agreements between the LXX and the Qumran scrolls...abound in all books of the Bible"

Source: Tov, Emmanuel. Septuagint, Scrolls and Cognate Writings: Papers Presented to the International Symposium on the Septuagint and Its Relations to the Dead Sea Scrolls and Other Writings (Manchester, 1990. p. 18. Accessed at http://khazarzar.skeptik.net/books/brooke01.pdf

Generally, Tov argues that the Dead Seal Scrolls reflect original Hebrew variants/manifestations/proto-forms (vorlage), rather than LXX mistranslations. Additionally, he states that "there are hundreds of examples which enhance the credibility of the LXX as a text critical tool in biblical studies" He goes on at some length, which is worth quoting: "The LXX should indeed be taken seriously as a tool for the textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible. In spite of known trends of exegesis in the translation, of inner-translational corruptions and of our own ability to get back to the Hebrew text underlying the translation, much of what has been done so far in the area of retroverting the Vorlage of the LXX is now supported by the Qumran finds" (ibid p. 21). Here, retroverting refers to reconstructing a variant Hebrew reading, rather than reconstructing the possible translation error.

However, "It is often difficult to know whether a reading of the LXX which differs from the MT should be reconstructed as a deviating Hebrew reading or should be regarded as the translator's exegesis...If there is little textual variation in a given unit, as in the case of the LXX and MT of Isaiah, the relation between these two sources on the one hand and a Qumran scroll on the other is bound to be very similar. Thus all the Isaiah scrolls from cave 4, to be published by Prof. Ulrich, agree with the MT and LXX almost equally. It is therefore often irrelevant to assess their closeness to either the MT or LXX" (ibid. 22-24).

I highly recommend reading Tov's paper found in the above source for a more in depth study on the LXX's relationship to the Dead sea Scrolls and the Samaritan Torah.

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As for the "Great" Isaiah Scroll. The DDS 1QIsaa Isaiah 40:6,7,8 is longer than the text of the so-called Septuagint. And the Dead Sea Scroll 1QIsaa shows that originally 1QIsaa had a shorter text similar to The Septuagint and that another hand added the longer reading of Masoretic Text above the line and then continued the longer text down the left margin. That coupled with the fact the evidence from Qumran has been deceptively named the "Scrolls" because there hardly exist any in relation to the mass of mere fragments and minuscule pieces; and that the "Great" Isaiah scroll had been oddly encased in cylinders coated by tar lead me to deduce that the sribes/rabbis had snaked it in, in a clever forgery intended to be like a time-capsule for the future. A deduction that this online article indirectly confirmed: Challenging History: The Dead Sea Scrolls By: Neil Altman, For The Bulletin 09/24/2007

  • Since your last paragraph doesn't address the question and only promotes something you wrote, I took it out of the answer. You are welcome to put the paragraph in your profile instead – b a Feb 21 at 23:00
  • You are also welcome to link to a file for additional reading on a topic as long as the body of your post actually answers the question, but don't ask for off site contact. – Caleb Feb 22 at 8:55
  • Welcome to BHSX. Thanks for answering this question. Do not forget to take the tour below. Please note in the rules what kind of answers are acceptable here - you need to add references and stay focussed on the question at hand. Please update you answer accordingly. – Mac's Musings Mar 4 at 4:33
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How accurate is the DSS? Really, how accurate is any Hebrew texts; even the one used now (the MT)? Academia tells us the Hebrew texts used to translate the Greek version was one containing variant readings and that's why the Septugaint contains different readings to that of the MT in many places. That being "the scholarly" view of the cebebral Germanic minded scholars, doesn't it mean that the Hebrew texts used to compile "the heavily sedated glossary texts" of the pretigious MT came from other sources of Hebrew texts from which the Septuagint did not come. And you asked others, How accurate is the DSS? The fact is, any answer is just a projection of ones own opinion, all hypothesises (guesses). The idea of looking at and comparing all theses different Hebrew texts to"figure out" which is "accurate" is like pouring water in a container which has holes. Can one catch water in such a container? We are told by the cerebrals that the DSS have readings to match the MT and also the Greek translation, the Septuagint, which came from. Hebrew manuscripts. And , at the same time, there are readings which are so different that they cannot be harmonized unless one concludes; there were variant Hebrew texts with different readings.What shiuld really strike one as amazing is just this: Those "scribes" who went to Egypt to translate "the ACCEPTED Hebrew texts" in the 3rd century, how come about 700/900 years later "this Hebrew texts" became "a variant texts" ? Was it a variant texts in the 3rd century? And, if so, TO WHAT was it a variant? Surely, the word "variant" would suggest "a comparison between". Moreover, those scribes who translated the Hebrew texts into Greek, did they all go to Egypt on their own accord, or were they SENT THERE BY "the Sanhedrin" to do the translation? In that case, the Hebrew texts GIVEN TO THEM to translate was GIVEN BY the Sanhedrin. Clearly, THAT Hebrew texts called "a variant" FROM which the Greek translation came is not such at all; ONLY THOSES COMING AFTER are the "variants"; the DSS and the MT. Wonder if that's what Jeremyah spoke of when he said, "...Indeed, THEY MADE the QUILL (pen) for FALSEHOOD, the SCRIBES are FALSE". (Tanak Vol. 11: The Prophets. ArtScroll Series) . Moreover, with all the "voices" rattling the ears one is left to wonder WHAT TEXTS ARE REFERRED TO IN the words, "And BEGINNING at MOSES and ALL the PROPHETS,..." "and IN the PSALMS...". Can't be the DSS Hebrew texts for that spoke of TWO Messiahs and a high priest FROM Levi. Neither FROM the MT Hebrew texts for that DIDN'T EVEN EXIST at thay time. I think we all need to consider the possibility of "an Ezra Hebrew texts" which, most likely, was the text FROM which the Greek translation was made.

  • Welcome to BHSE! We're a little different here, please read our Site Directives as you ask and answer questions. Thank you! – Tau Mar 21 '15 at 2:32
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    I took the rare liberty in DVing your answer: you appear to have some extensive knowledge about the subject, but your response(with 1 exception) is projecting "PURE OPINION"(how does it look when you shout?) If you removed all of the conjecture, cut out the capitalizations, and organized your response in a way that your readership would draw insight and not offense, I would be willing to remove my DV-perhaps change it to +1. Thank you! – Tau Mar 21 '15 at 2:41
  • Hi, thanks for responding. Didn't mean by "caps" shouting, but emphasis. Anyhow, feel free to edit what I sent but keep the underlying ideas intact. Thank you. – Stephen Attai Mar 22 '15 at 17:37
  • It would be a major revision to remove the tone of your remarks and add references to your responses. If you value your response, please take the time and effort to correct it and make it 'palatable' to a larger audience. I have had to do the same thing myself, coming from the 'blogosphere'. We value good responses here, and occasionaly make references to them. Make the effort, and your audience will express it's approval. Thank you! – Tau Mar 23 '15 at 1:57
  • @StephenAttai FYI Generally (online) Full Caps indicates shouting (or a abbreviation, obviously). If you would like to emphasize words, on this site ,you can wrap them in * which will make the word italic, or wrap them in ** to make the word bold – DarcyThomas Nov 2 '16 at 2:18

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