What Secrets Do the Dead Sea Scrolls Reveal?

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Qumran is a streambed (wadi) in the Judaean Desert of the West Bank near the northwest shore of the Dead Sea.It was in eleven caves this area that many scrolls were located, including the Great Isaiah Scroll (shown above with Donald w. Parry, renowned LDS Dead Sea Scroll expert).

In the middle of last century, members of the LDS Church were excited when the Dead Sea Scrolls were found, because, as Andrew C. Skinner, then Dean of Religious Education at Brigham Young University, wrote:

“The life of Joseph Smith was inextricably tied to ancient sacred texts, particularly ones buried in the earth. it is not surprising that members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are fascinated by new discoveries of ancient religious writings, including the Dead Sea Scrolls.”

In the Ensign, he wrote,”Many scholars regard the scrolls as the greatest archaeological find of the twentieth century.” 

Since the scrolls were discovered, interest in them has increased. Christians, Jews, and others have speculated about their contents to try to verify their own religious beliefs. Even our own LDS Bible Dictionary says this about them:

“In 1947 in an area known as Qumran, near the northwest corner of the Dead Sea, some significant rolls of leather and a few copper manuscripts were found preserved in earthen jars in some dark caves. …As a result of further searches in the area, many documents have been discovered and translated.  …Complete copies or fragments of every book of the Old Testament have been found except the book of Esther. …The contents of the scrolls are interesting to historians, textual critics, and readers of the Bible. The full impact may not yet be realized. …Not all the answers are in the Dead Sea Scrolls, but they constitute one of the most important archaeological discoveries of modern times.”

As a youth, I remember the frenzy behind the discovery and subsequent translation but was not aware that one of the most significant finds was the Great Isaiah Scroll. It is one of the original seven Dead Sea Scrolls discovered in Qumran and it is the largest at 24 feet in length (it is about 10 inches wide).

Happily, for us, of all the biblical scrolls, it is the best preserved and the only one that is nearly complete; its 54 columns contain all 66 chapters of the Hebrew version of the Book of Isaiah. Among the Dead Sea Scrolls, it is one of the oldest, written about 125 BC, making it nearly one-thousand years older than the oldest manuscripts used to produce our modern Book of Isaiah.

A fun fact: you can view the Dead Sea Scrolls beginning Friday, March 16 through September 3 at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. They are open from 10 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are available at the door or on their site, here.

You may also see The Digital Dead Sea Scrolls and a replica at the Shrine of the Book in Jerusalem’s Israel Museum, of course, you will need to know ancient Hebrew if you are going to read it.

That’s where Donald W. Parry and Stephen D. Ricks, both BYU professors, come in. They both who studied these first hand and wrote:

“Several readings of Isaiah in the Book of Mormon are supported by the Isaiah scroll. The following representative examples of these parallels have been adapted from Tvedtnes’s work:

  1. In many cases, passages in the Isaiah scroll and in the Book of Mormon contain the conjunction and, which is lacking in the corresponding KJV text. Compare the following:

    “and they declare their sin as Sodom, they hide it not” (KJV, Isaiah 3:9)
    “and they declare their sin as Sodom, and they hide it not” (Isaiah scroll, Isaiah 3:9)
    “and doth declare their sin to be even as Sodom, and they cannot hide it” (Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 13:9 = Isaiah 3:9)

  2. Second Nephi 24:32 lacks the word one, which appears in Isaiah 14:32. The Book of Mormon version thus makes messengers the subject of the verb answer. The Hebrew Bible uses a singular verb, but the Isaiah scroll uses the plural, in agreement with the Book of Mormon:

    “What shall one then answer [sing.] the messengers of the nation?” (KJV, Isaiah 14:32)
    “What shall then answer [pl.] the messengers of the nations?” (Isaiah scroll, Isaiah 14:32)
    “What shall then answer [pl.] the messengers of the nations?” (Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 24:32 = Isaiah 14:32)

  3. In the KJV, Isaiah 48:11 reads, “for how should my name be polluted?” while 1  Nephi 20:11 reads, “for I will not suffer my name to be polluted.” The Isaiah scroll supports the Book of Mormon by having the verb in the first person, as follows:

    “for how should my name be polluted?” (KJV, Isaiah 48:11)
    “for how can I be polluted” (Isaiah scroll, Isaiah 48:11)
    “for I will not suffer my name to be polluted” (Book of Mormon, 1 Nephi 20:11 = Isaiah 48:11)

  4. In the KJV, Isaiah 50:2 reads, “their fish stinketh, because there is no water,” and the Isaiah scroll reads, “their fish dry up because there is no water.” Second Nephi 7:2 essentially preserves the verb stinketh from the KJV and the phrasal verb dry up from the Isaiah scroll: “their fish to stink because the waters are dried up.”
  5. Often a singular noun in the KJV is represented by a plural noun in the Book of Mormon. One example of this appears in Isaiah 9:9, where the KJV reads “inhabitant” and 2 Nephi 19:9 reads “inhabitants.” The Isaiah scroll supports the reading of the Book of Mormon with its reading of “inhabitants”:

    “and the inhabitant of Samaria” (KJV, Isaiah 9:9)
    “and the inhabitants of Samaria” (Isaiah scroll, Isaiah 9:9)
    “and the inhabitants of Samaria” (Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 19:9 = Isaiah 9:9)

Parry and Ricks concluded: “These examples of variant readings in which the Isaiah passages in the Book of Mormon agree with the Isaiah scroll but not with the KJV could be multiplied.”

The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls prompted great interest among scholars of the antiquities. Through their discoveries, we have learned much about the ancients and we can expect those “discoveries will support and supplement many principles and ideas that are already known to us through latter-day revelation,” as suggested by Skinner


Further Study

Parry, Donald W. and Stephen D. Ricks. The Dead Sea Scrolls: Questions and Responses for Latter-day Saints. Provo, Utah: FARMS, 2000.

Parry, Donald W. and Stephen D. Ricks, eds. Current Research and Technological Developments on the Dead Sea Scrolls: Conference on the texts from the Judean Desert, Jerusalem, 30 April, 1995. New York: Brill, 1996.

Ricks, Stephen D. “The Book of Mormon and the Dead Sea Scrolls.” In LDS Perspectives on the Dead Sea Scrolls, ed. Donald W. Parry and Dana M. Pike. Provo: FARMS, 1997, 177–189.

The Dead Sea Scrolls and Latter-day Truth, by Andrew C. Skinner, Dean of Religious Education, Brigham Young University, Ensign, Feb 2006

The Dead Sea Scrolls: A Roundtable Discussion Celebrating the 60th Anniversary of Their Discovery, Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, Donald W. Parry, Dana M. Pike, and David Rolph Seely, Religious Educator 8, no. 3 (2007): 127–146.

Abegg, Martin, Peter Flint, and Eugene Ulrich. The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible.San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1999.

Brown, S. Kent, and Richard Neitzel Holzapfel. “The Dead Sea Scrolls.” Chap. 9 in The Lost 500 Years: What Happened between the Old and New Testaments. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2006.

Collins, John J., and Craig A. Evans, eds. Christian Beginnings and the Dead Sea Scrolls. Acadia Studies in Bible and Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006, is an up-to-date, balanced view of the current status of scholarship about the Dead Sea Scrolls, including discussions of the Messiah at Qumran and of the Scrolls and Jesus, John the Baptist, Paul, and James.

Davies, Philip R., George J. Brooke, and Phillip R. Callaway. The Complete World of the Dead Sea Scrolls. London: Thames and Hudson, 2002.

Magness, Jodi. The Archaeology of Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003.

Parry, Donald W., and Dana M. Pike, eds. LDS Perspectives on the Dead Sea Scrolls. Provo, UT: FARMS, 1997.

Tov, Emanuel. Dead Sea Scrolls Electronic Reference Library. CD-ROM. Prepared by the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 2006.

VanderKam, James C. The Dead Sea Scrolls Today. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1994.

VanderKam, James C., and Peter Flint. The Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls: Their Significance for Understanding the Bible, Judaism, Jesus, and Christianity. San Francisco: Harper, 2002, contains an introduction to the discovery and history of the Qumran community, a survey of the manuscripts, and a discussion of the Dead Sea Scrolls and their significance for the study of the Old and New Testaments.

Vermes, Geza, trans. The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English, rev. ed. London: Penguin, 2004. Besides English translations of the nonbiblical texts from Qumran, this book includes an introduction to the scholarship of the scrolls, the basic scholarly issues, and the history and religious thought of the Qumran community.

 

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Search Isaiah is a resource for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to dive into the book of Isaiah. By sharing a vast range of resources including study guides, articles, podcasts, and more, we hope to provide readers with ways to search the book of Isaiah.

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