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Biblical Archaeology:
The Dead Sea Scrolls & the Text of the Old Testament


The Hebrew Bible that has been preserved today is called the Masoretic Text (MT), because Jewish scribes called "Massorets" carefully preserved the text. The oldest surviving manuscript of the complete Bible is the Codex Leningradensis which dates to 1008 AD. A Facsimile edition of this great codex is now available (Leningrad Codex 1998, Eerdmans for $225). The BHS (Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia) follows this codex. The most comprehensive collection of old Hebrew manuscripts is in the Russian Public Library in St. Petersburg formerly called Leningrad.

Another important text is the Aleppo Codex which is now in Jerusalem. This text has some differences from the Codex Leningradensis. Some scholars think the Aleppo Codex is better. The HUB (Hebrew University Bible) follows the Aleppo Codex. The Isaiah and Jeremiah editions are now available. They incorporate readings from the Dead Sea Scrolls and other manuscripts. 

One of the greatest discoveries of modern times has been the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The magnificent Isaiah scroll can be seen at The Great Qumran Isaiah Scroll.

The Dead Sea Scrolls has revolutionized the study of the text of the Hebrew Bible. Below is some of the impact the DSS has had on the Old Testament. DSS has also affected New Testament studies especially the Gospel of John. 

Daniel and the Dead Sea Scrolls

Scholars believe that the book of Daniel was completed sometime between 167 and 164 BC during the persecution of Antiochus Epiphanes. At Qumran Daniel traditions were still fluid.

Pre-Daniel Traditions


Even before the discovery of the DSS, Wolfram von Soden posited that the stories about Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 3 and 4 were actually stories told about Nabonidus. According to ancient Mesopotamia sources Nabonidus was the father of king Belshazzar, not Nebuchadnezzar as Daniel 5:2 states. Nabonidus was absent from Babylon for ten years in Taiman, Arabia, during which his son Bel-sharra-usur governed (See ANET-Ancient Near Eastern Texts, 306-11).

A Fragmentary DSS text 4Q2424 also called 4Q Prayer of Nabonidus, shares similarities between Neo-Babylonian texts and Daniel 4:22-37. The fragment refers to Nabonidus (nbny), king of Babylon, who had a evil skin disease by the decree of God for seven years in Taiman. A missing part of the text may have told about his acting like a beast (See Frank Cross, "Fragments of the Prayer of Nabonidus", IEJ 34  (1984) pp. 260-64).

Neo-Babylonian texts also tell about Nabonidus falling ill and recovering in Taiman (Tema, ANET, 306-15). There is also a story of Nabonidus making an image to be worshipped. "He had made the image of a deity which nobody had ever seen in this country. He introduced it into the temple he placed it upon a pedestal" (ANET, 313). Nabonidus also sees a vision.

It seems that 4Q242 preserves a tradition that pre-dates the Biblical text of Daniel. It seems that a scribe copying (or redacting) the Book of Daniel changed the name of the lesser known Nabonidus to the better known Nebuchadnezzar who destroyed Jerusalem and the temple. 2 Maccabees 9:5-27 may be trying to compare Antiochus IV with Nabonidus legends as does Daniel (D. Mendels, "A Note on the Traditions of Antiochus IV's Death," IEJ 34 (1981) pp.53-56; Charlesworth, The Bible and the Dead Sea Scrolls, Vol.1, p.141).


4Q Book of Giants (4Q530) sets an important background for the Book of Daniel chapter 7. Stuckenbruck shows the similarities between them in parallel columns (See Charlesworth, The Bible and the Dead Sea Scrolls, Vol.1, p.144-5). It seems that the Book of Giants preserves an earlier throne-theophany vision than Daniel 7.

Non-Biblical Traditions of Daniel


4QPseudo-Daniel (4Q243-244-245) has a different perspective on history which starts in Genesis, but Daniel starts with the exiles. It seems that these fragments reflect a mixture of Enoch and Daniel traditions before the Book of Daniel was written.


4QAramaic Apocalypse or "Son of God Text" refers to a figure called "Son of God" and "Son of the Most High." This may be background for the Christology of Luke (Luke 1:32,35). This fragment seems to be dependent on Daniel 7 especially verses 14 and 27.


4QFour Kingdoms (4Q552-552) preserves a vision of four trees which represent four kingdoms. One tree is identified with Babylon, and another with Persia. This vision may have developed from the Book of Daniel vision of one tree.

Scrolls of the Book of Daniel

There are eight copies of the Book of Daniel found in Qumran Caves 1, 4, and 6. They are 1Q71-2, 4Q112-116, and 6Q7pap. The Hebrew and Aramaic sections are preserved. Generally the texts follow the Masoretic tradition, but there are some important differences (See Charlesworth, The Bible and the Dead Sea Scrolls, Vol.1, p.161).

1&2 Samuel

For the past two centuries textual critics have recognized that the Masoretic Text (MT) of 1&2 Samuel has much textual corruption. The Samuel MT is shorter than the LXX and 4QSama. The Samuel MT has improper word division, metathesis, and other orthographic problems. Certain phrases and clauses go against the Hebrew grammar rules. Parallel passages vary from each other (See Charlesworth, 2000, pp.227-8). 

In 1952 Roland De Vaux and Lankester Harding found manuscripts of Samuel under three feet of debris in Qumran Cave 4.  4QSama shows that the Old Greek Bible (LXX) was based on a Vorlage similar to 4QSama. Josephus agrees with 4QSama in 6 places against the MT and LXX. Josephus, 4QSama, and LXX share about three dozen readings against the MT (See Charlesworth, 2000, pp.229). 

Where the book of Chronicles parallels 1 Samuel, the readings of Chronicles follow 4QSama rather than the MT 42 times. Only one time does Chronicles agree with the MT. Over 100 times 4QSama does not agree with any ancient reading (See Charlesworth, 2000, pp.230-31). 

The Book of Samuel varies widely and frequently from the Masoretic Text. 4QSama preserves a number of superior readings that help correct errors in the Masoretic Text (DSS Bible, 213). Let's look at some of these.

One dramatic example is in I Samuel 11 where the MT and KJV left out the first paragraph. The Longer reading in the DSS explains what happens in this chapter. It says:

"Nahash king of the Ammonites oppressed the Gadites and the Reubenites viciously. He put out the right eye of all of them and brought fear and trembling on Israel. Not one of the Israelites in the region beyond the Jordan remained whose right eye Nahash king of the Ammonites did not put out, except seven thousand men who escaped from the Ammonites and went  to Jabesh-gilead" (The Dead Sea Scroll Bible translated by Abegg, Flint, and Ulrich page 225). Then verse one of I Samuel 11 starts.

1 Samuel 14:30

There is a mis-division of words here in the MT. The 4QSama divides it differently which makes better sense. The MT has hkm htbr rather than hkmh hbr in the 4QSama

1 Samuel 14:47

There is a singular instead of a plural noun in 4QSama. 4QSama is the better reading.

1 Samuel 15:27

There is an omission of the subject in the MT. According to 4QSama Saul is the subject who grabbed the garment, not Samuel.

1 Samuel 17:4

How tall was Goliath? The MT says, "six cubits and a span" while 4QSama says, "four cubits and a span." People don't usually grow to be over 9 foot tall, so the "four cubits"(7 feet) seems the most reasonable height of Goliath. 

1 Samuel 26:22

The MT preserves two variant readings by combining them while the 4QSama just records the one correct word. The MT has an ungrammatical reading. 

Biblical Texts that need to be changed as a result of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Genesis 1:9

4QGenk  has added "and dry land appeared" indicating that the longer reading of the LXX is from an ancient Hebrew text that the MT lost by haplography. The LXX addition says, "and the waters below heaven gathered into their gathering place and dry land appeared" (See Charlesworth, 2000, p.200).

Genesis 4:8

Genesis 4:8 leaves us with the unanswered question about What did Cain say to Abel? The Samaritan Pentateuch and the LXX have what Cain said. The LXX says, "Let us go out into the field." 4QGenb does not have this reading, but scholars think the sentence dropped out because of scribal error (Ibid., 15).

Exodus 1:3

4QExodb in Exodus 1:3 has "Joseph and Benjamin" while the MT, SP, and LXX have only "Benjamin." Frank Cross thinks 4QExodb reading should be preferred (Ibid., 201-203).

Deuteronomy 32:8

4QDeutj and the LXX say, "according to the number of the sons of God" while the MT and SP say, "according to the number of the sons of Israel." "Sons of Israel" does not make sense here. This is probably a theological change. The 4QDeutj and the LXX seem to preserve the older reading that implies a god, or guardian angel for each nation.

Joshua 8:34-35

4QJosha locates the paragraph about Joshua's construction of an altar (Joshua 8:30-35, MT) at the beginning of Joshua 5. The LXX locates this paragraph at Joshua 9:7-8. Josephus follows the 4QJoshtradition which is probably the earliest or original order of Joshua.

Judges 6:6-11

4QJudga is different from the MT and the LXX in that it lacks Judges 6:7-10. These missing verses are said to be a literary insertion added by an editor. Here is clear evidence of scribal expansion of the MT.


There are a number of additional Psalms in the DSS than in our Bible. Psalms 1-89 are basically the same as ours in the DSS (Psalm 32, and 70 are absent). From Psalm 91 on there are radical differences in arrangement, and/or in different Psalms that have never been seen before (Psalm 90 is not preserved). There are a total of 15 different Psalms which are not included in our present Bible, nine of which were completely unknown. None of the Psalm scrolls found has our present day arrangement of the Book of Psalms.

Psalm 22

Psalm 22:17 in the MT "like a lion are my hands and feet" which does not make sense. The LXX and 5/6HevPs read "They have pierced my hands and feet."

Psalm 145 is an alphabetical psalm. Each verse begins with the next letter in the alphabet, but "N" verse is missing in the MT and KJV. In the DSS it is there, so somehow a scribe left this verse out.


The oldest known texts of Ezekiel are from the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Dead Sea Scroll Bible states, Small fragments from six manuscripts of Ezekiel were found at Qumran and another atop Masada. All of them and the traditional Masoretic Text fairly uniformly attest the same textual tradition. Only seven minor variants are clearly preserved, though reconstruction according to spatial requirements indicates that in two places (5:13 and 23:16) the scrolls may have had a shorter text than the Masoretic Text" (page 407). 

Discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls

Key Web sites about the Dead Sea Scrolls:

Key Reference Books

  1. The Text of the Old Testament by Ernst Wurthwein.
  2. Textual Criticism: Recovering the Text of the Hebrew Bible by P. Kyle McCarter, Jr.
  3. The Bible and the Dead Sea Scrolls: Volume One: The Hebrew Bible and Qumran edited by James H. Charlesworth. Bibal Press, 2000.
  4. The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible translated by Abegg, Flint, and Ulrich. Published by HaperSanFranciso, 1999. 
  5. Qumran and the History of the Biblical Text edited by Frank Moore Cross and Shemaryahu Talmon. Harvard University Press, 1975.
  6. The Dead Sea Scrolls Translated: The Qumran Texts in English (The most comprehensive one-volume edition of the DSS available) by Florentino Garcia Martinez. Published by Brill and Eerdmans, 1996.
  7. The Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Translation by Michael Wise, Martin Abegg, Jr. and Edward Cook. Published by Harper San Francisco, 1996.