On Overview of the Dead Sea Scrolls

Jan. 2017 version

God promised to preserve His word in Isaiah 59:21; 40:8; Psalm 119:89, and 1 Peter 1:23-25. However, since there were few Old Testament manuscripts earlier than 950 A.D., someone might be curious just how precisely the Old Testament was transmitted before then. But in 1947 a bedouin boy, Muhammad Adh-Dhib, threw a stone into a cave at Qumran and heard the crash of pottery. That uncovered a stored library of 500-867 manuscripts from Jesus' time, 1/4 to 1/3 of them from the Bible.

Coins at Qumran show people lived there from about 135 B.C. to the Roman destruction in 68 A.D. About 200-300 people lived there at any one time. Qumran was like a monastery, for of the 1,200 graves in the cemetery, only 6 were of women and 4 of children. Most of the people lived in huts or tents, though people also lived in 30 of the 200-300 caves.

Beliefs of the Sons of Light Jewish Sect

Scholars have sometimes confused the inhabitants of Qumran with Essenes because of their similarities. This sect, calling itself, "Sons of Light", started about 200 B.C. They believed in the resurrection of the dead (like the Pharisees), practiced baptism by immersion, and had overseers similar to Christian bishops. They thought Melchizedek was a heavenly being and the wicked would be annihilated.

Their commentaries on Genesis 49:10 and Isaiah 11:1-3 show they recognized these as Messianic prophecies. Like others, the Qumran community believed the Messiah would do miracles and healings. They also believed the Messiah would personally slay the Roman Emperor. It would take years to bury all the dead from the Messiah's military victories. Thus, as the Christian News (11/23/1998) says, "So now we know that when Caiaphas conducted the trial of Jesus, all he had to do was get Jesus to admit that he was the Messiah. As Jesus, who has performed the predicted miracles, made that admission, he was assumed to be guilty of treason against the emperor."

Let's Visit Their Library

Eleven caves preserved about 95,000 fragments, 40,000 in cave 4 alone. Some of the non-Bible fragments include mezuzot (verses worn on arms) and phylacteries (verses worn on the forehead) from Exodus and Leviticus. Here are some of the preserved Old Testament texts.



Earliest copy







250 B.C.


17 / 13



150-100 B.C.



250-200 B.C.

Parallel Torah






50-25 B.C.



c.50 B.C.

1,2 Samuel


225-175 B.C.

1,2 Kings


1,2 Chronicles


50-25 B.C.





90 B.C.-68 A.D.






225-150 B.C.



200-100 B.C.

chap. 37



30-1 B.C.



175-150 B.C.

Song of Solo.


ca.1 B.C.




120-100 B.C.




225-200 B.C.



c.50 A.D.





150-100 B.C.












3rd century




50-1 B.C.












Joel, Amos, Zeph, Malachi

(4Q78, 4Q82)

75 B.C.

Jonah,Haggai, Zech, Malachi


150 B.C.

Total O.T.


250 B.C.


Total Other




No commentaries on other books imply they considered non-Bible books as scripture.

One manuscript from cave 4 is Exodus from the Samaritan Pentateuch. One of the oldest scrolls is 4Q17, which was copied towards 250 B.C. and contains Exodus 38 to Leviticus 2. It is practically identical to the Masoretic texts, which Jews today use. The Isaiah scroll has the complete text of Isaiah. It and the other copy in cave 1 were identical with the standard Hebrew Bible in 95% of the text according to A Survey of Old Testament Introduction p.25.

There are many small variations in the Masoretic vs. Qumran texts, but few have any significance. Here are a few of the more notable ones.

Exodus 1:5
in the Masoretic text says 70 people went into Egypt. When Stephen said 75 in Acts 7:14, one could assume scripture was (inerrantly) recording Stephen reciting from a Septuagint error, which said 75. However, the Dead Sea Scrolls also say 75, so perhaps Stephen and the Septuagint were correct here.

Deuteronomy 32:43
has "let all God's angels worship him" while the Masoretic text does not. Hebrews 1:6 quotes this.

The Masoretic 1 Samuel 17:4 says Goliath was 6 cubits and a span, or roughly 9 feet 9 inches. However, the Septuagint and the Dead Sea Scrolls say 4 cubits and a span, or about 6 feet, 9 inches.

In the Masoretic text Psalm 145 is an acrostic, except that it missing the verse fo the letter nun (n). The Berakhot of the Babylonian Talmud claims it was originally that way because that was the letter that started with Isreal's enemies. However, the verse is in both the [Septuagint / Dead Sea Scroll 11Qps(a). The have: "[The Lord/God] is faithful, [all his/his] words, and and gracious in all his deeds."

Targums, which are Aramaic paraphrases, have been found among the Dead Sea Scrolls of Leviticus, and two targums from parts of Job. Among the Dead Sea Scrolls are commentaries of Genesis, Psalm 37, possibly Song of Songs, Isaiah, Micah, Nahum, Zephaniah, two of Hosea, and a badly mutilated one of Habakkuk 1:2 through the end of chapter 2. The author tried to relate everything to events of his day.

The Septuagint

Cave 4 has the oldest copy of part of the Septuagint, which is the text of Leviticus, dated 100 B.C.. Cave 7 has a copy of Exodus chapter 28. Other scrolls contain a copy of Numbers and two copies of Deuteronomy. Two scrolls are very curious. One scroll appears to be the Hebrew behind the Septuagint for 1 and 2 Samuel. Another scroll of Zechariah, Jonah, and Malachi are Hebrew that appears to be between the Septuagint and the Masoretic text. The Septuagint version of Jeremiah is 60 verses (1/8 shorter) than the Masoretic text. The Dead Sea scroll 4QJerb supports some of these absences. One scroll contained the Hebrew of Psalm 151, which is also in the Septuagint.

The Apocrypha and Other Books

2Q18 (= 2QSir) contains chapter 6 of Sirach (Ecclesiasticus), and Cave 7 contains fragments of Tobit. The Archaeological Encyclopedia of the Holy Land p.114 says that unlike the books of the Bible, the copies of the Apocryphal manuscripts were not written by scribes living in Qumran, but were brought in to Qumran. While the Apocryphal books were undoubtedly written before the time of Christ, When Cultists Ask p.287 observes that we cannot say for certain whether they were added to the Septuagint before or after the time of Christ.

One scroll, 11QPs, contains additional Psalms, so-called psalms 152-155. Apart from the Dead Sea scrolls, various versions of these are known only in the Syriac language.

The Dead Sea Scrolls also had a number of hymns and other books not in the apocrypha, including 1 Enoch (except section 2), Jubilees in Hebrew, and many known only among the Dead Sea Scrolls. Thus Sirach and Tobit among the Dead Sea scrolls does not prove that anyone, even the Qumran community necessarily thought of them as scripture.

The Dead Sea scrolls are useful for shedding light on Jewish thought back then. The Wycliffe Bible Dictionary p.441 says that the Dead Sea scrolls show that the Gospel of John and Paul's writings, rather than just being 2nd century Hellenistic documents, in fact have some parallels with the Dead Sea scrolls.

Importance for Judaism

The Qumran caves provided a wealth of Old Testament manuscripts from the time of Christ, and about 1,000 years older than the Masoretic texts. While there are many small variations, there are no large ones. The Tanakh that is studied today is reliably preserved from what was studied 2,000 years ago.

Importance for Christianity

The Dead Sea scrolls are like a time capsule, to see the very scriptures read in Jesus' time. Some Old Testament quotes in the New Testament match both the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Septuagint, not the Masoretic text.
Non-Biblical Dead Sea scrolls are useful for shedding light on Jewish thought back then. The Wycliffe Bible Dictionary p.441 says that the Dead Sea scrolls show that the Gospel of John and Paul's writings, rather than just being 2nd century Hellenistic documents, in fact have some parallels with the Dead Sea scrolls.

Importance for Islam

Sura 2:75 says that some perverted/corrupted the Word of Allah. Historically, the Samaritans did that with their Pentateuch. But no verse in the Qur'an says that all copies were corrupted, or that Satan could defeat God in totally eliminating truth from the earth.
God Almighty was able to, and He did, preserve back to Jesus' time God's word to mankind through Moses, David, Solomon, and other Jewish prophets. Sura 5:46-48 says that Jesus confirmed the Torah that came before him. Since we have these scriptures preserved in caves from Jesus' time, as well as corroborating witnesses of early Christian writers, we can know what the Old Testament scriptures said from Jesus' time.


The Qumran caves provided a wealth of Old Testament manuscripts from the time of Christ, and about a 1,000 years older than the Masoretic texts. Other writings also provide background to some of the New Testament. The next tract gives readings from the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the tract after that tells of a few additional Old Testament manuscripts that have been preserved and are just about as old as the Dead Sea scrolls. www.Biblequery.org

For more on the Dead Sea Scrolls see: www.Biblequery.org/History/Archaeology/QuestionsOnTheNonBiblicalDeadSeaScrolls.html and www.Biblequery.org/History/Archaeology/DeadSeaScrollsIndex.html

Dead Sea Scrolls : Southwestern Journal of Theology. Paige Patterson editor-in-chief vol.53 Fall 2010 number 1

For more info please contact Christian Debater™ P.O. Box 144441 Austin, TX 78714 www.BibleQuery.org