Jason Olson and Dr. Donald Parry, Hebrew Language
I had an incredible ORCA mentoring experience with Dr. Donald Parry. Our research project was focused on the textual variations in the Dead Sea Scrolls that cause theological differences. Our main premise was to compare the Dead Sea Scrolls Hebrew Biblical texts with the traditional Masoretic Biblical Texts.
The Dead Sea Scrolls are a collection of ancient Jewish texts, collected and written by the Essene sect of the Second Temple period. The Essenes were a separatist sect during this time period, meaning that they broke away from the more mainstream Sadducee and Pharisee groups. The Essenes often lived in complete seclusion from normal society, in the Judean Desert, which is near the famous Dead Sea. The Essenes rejected the Jerusalem Temple, believing it and its priesthood was corrupt. They had a powerful argument. The original, legitimate priesthood of the Israelites consisted of the descendants of Zadok, a lineage chosen by King David before the construction of the First Temple. When the Greeks (or Hellenes) came to power, they supported a non-Zadokian line to be the priests for the Second Temple. This decision, continued by Herod the Great, ultimately led the Essenes to separate from Jewish society. The Essenes were avid scholars. They preserved an amazing library at Qumran which consisted of at least 900 documents, including texts from the Hebrew Bible, discovered between 1947 and 1956 in eleven caves in and around the Qumran Wadi near the ruins of the ancient settlement Khirbet Qumran, on the northwest shore of the Dead Sea.
The texts are of great religious and historical significance, as they include some of the only known surviving copies of Biblical documents written before 100 B.C. and preserve impressive evidence of Second Temple Jewish beliefs. [From Papyrus to Cyberspace, The Guardian, August 27, 2008]. The manuscripts generally date between 150 BCE to 70 CE [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dead_Sea_Scrolls – cite_ref-1Bruce, F. F. “The Last Thirty Years.” Story of the Bible. ed. Frederic G. Kenyon] The “Biblical” manuscripts (copies of texts from the Hebrew Bible), comprise roughly 40% of the identified scrolls. [Abegg, Jr., Martin, Peter Flint, and Eugene Ulrich, The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible: The Oldest Known Bible Translated for the First Time into English, San Francisco: Harper, 2002]
The biblical manuscripts from Qumran, which include at least fragments from every book of the Old Testament, except perhaps for the Book of Esther, provide a much older cross section of scriptural tradition than that available to scholars before. While some of the Qumran biblical manuscripts are nearly identical to the Masoretic, or traditional, Hebrew text of the Old Testament; some manuscripts, especially the books of Exodus and Samuel, found in Cave Four, exhibit dramatic differences in both language and content. In their amazing range of textual variants, the Qumran biblical discoveries have prompted scholars to reconsider the once-accepted theories of the development of the modern biblical text from only three manuscript families: the Masoretic text, the Hebrew original of the Septuagint, and the very fluid until its canonization around 100 CE. [Fagan, Brian M., and Charlotte Beck, The Oxford Companion to Archeology, entry on the “Dead sea scrolls”, Oxford University Press, 1996]
The significance of the scrolls relates largely to the field of textual criticism, the technical study Dr. Parry and I conducted. Before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the oldest Hebrew manuscripts of the Bible were the Masoretic texts, dating to the 9th century CE. The biblical manuscripts found among the Dead Sea Scrolls push that date back a whole millennium, to the 2nd century BCE.
About 35% of the DSS biblical manuscripts belong to the Masoretic tradition, 5% to the Septuagint family, and 5% to the Samaritan, with the remainder unaligned. The non-aligned manuscripts fall into two categories, those inconsistent in agreeing with the other known types, and those that diverge significantly from all other known readings. The DSS thus form a significant witness to the mutability of biblical texts at this period. [Emanuel Tov, “Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible” (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001 2nd revised edition)] The sectarian texts among the Dead Sea Scrolls, most of which were previously unknown, offer new light on Essene Judaism, practiced during the Second Temple period.
One impressive example of a textual variation that Dr. Parry and I found was Deuteronomy 32:8-9. I will present the divergent texts and offer an explanation below. The King James (Masoretic) Version of Deuteronomy 32:8-9 reads: 8 When the most High divided to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of Adam, he set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel. 9 For the Lord’s portion is his people; Jacob is the lot of his inheritance.
The Dead Sea Scrolls version reads: 8 When the most High divided to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of Adam, he set the bounds of the people according to the number of the sons of God. 9 For the Lord’s portion is his people; Jacob is the lot of his inheritance. [J.A. Duncan, in Qumran Cave 4. IX: Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Kings, ed. E. Ulrich and F.M. Cross, DJD XIV (Oxford: Clarendon, 1995), 90.]
The incredible significance of this variation is that God can have sons in pre-Christian era Jewish theology! Jewish tradition maintained that there were 70 nations of the world, so therefore post-Second Temple Judaism was able to make the connection that the Most High divided the nations according to the 70 sons of Israel. An even earlier Jewish theology, however, maintained that the 70 nations of the world were divided according to the 70 divine sons of the Most High God. This concept is fascinatingly preserved even in ancient Canaanite religion! A convincing conclusion to this argument is that Jewish scribes changed the scripture, after the advent of Christianity, to prevent the spread of the idea that God can have sons from public and/or Jewish knowledge. [John Wesley Etheridge, The Targums of Onkelos and Jonathan Ben Uzziel On the Pentateuch; With the Fragments Of the Jerusalem Targum; from the Chaldee (London: Longman, Green, and Roberts, 1865), 662; and Manfried Dietrich, Oswald Loretz, and Joaquín Sanmartín, eds., The Cuneiform Alphabetic Texts: From Ugarit, Ras Ibn Hani and Other Places (KTU) (Verlag: Ugarit, 1995)]