THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS
IN THIS STUDY WE LEARN:
- Manuscript fragments found among the Dead Sea Scrolls believed to be of the New Testament are written in Greek.
- Not a single Hebrew or Aramaic New Testament fragment was found among the scrolls.
Sometime around A.D. 1000, Eric the Red, Leif Ericsson, and other Norse men discovered Greenland and Vinland (North America). An Icelander, Thorfinn Karlesefin, made an expedition with three ships in 1003. His intention was to establish a settlement in Vinland. He returned after three years, complaining of the hostile natives. Still, it is thought by historians that perhaps a colony of these Vikings may have survived on the North American continent.
If a permanent settlement existed, American archaeologists believe physical evidence of it eventually will be found. In the mean time, the few pieces of promising evidence that have been found have not supported the "Permanent Settlement Hypothesis".
There are both historians and archeologists who would like to unearth confirmation of this theory. It would ensure a degree of fame for the person making such a discovery. Over the years, a number of scholars have worked toward this end. A Danish student of ancient artifacts, Karl Rafn, saw a Viking house in the ruins of a circular stone building in New England. It turned out to have been only a more recent windmill. It had never been a Viking house. Very often men will see whatever they want to find. Other men have seen Scandinavian Runic writings in the rock drawings of Native Americans. Runic writings have been imagined into all sorts of naturally made scratches on stones.
So, is there no evidence of a permanent Viking presence? The best evidence is "The Kinsington Stone." It was found(?) in 1898 by Olof Ohman, a farmer of Norwegian descent, who lived near Kinsington, Minnesota. The stone is about sixteen inches wide, about thirty-three inches tall, and is inscribed with Runic letters. Translated into English, this message says:
Eight Goths and twenty-two Norwegians on an
Expedition from Vinland to the west. Our camp
was on a rocky island a day's march from this
stone. One day we went out fishing and when we
returned found ten men covered in blood and dead,
AVM (Ave Maria) deliver us from evil. Ten men
watched by the sea for our ships fourteen days'
march away from the island. 1363.
This is an astonishing piece of evidence. Except for one problem, it proves the Norsemen were in the very heart of America over one hundred years before Columbus sailed. The one problem with the Kinsington Stone is that it is a fake.1 There is no evidence of a permanent Viking settlement in North America. Regardless of how much such evidence may be desired, wishing for it will not make it appear. Imagining evidence and contriving evidence, will serve only to confirm its non-existence.
HEBREW NEW TESTAMENTS
Some have purported to believe Hebrew New Testaments were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. When such New Testaments cannot be found in the scroll inventory, we are told that on-site Catholic scholars secreted them away to the Vatican Library. You see how an over-active imagination can work to provide whatever a person wants to believe. Wishing for evidence will not bring it into existence. Such contriving just further confirms that the evidence does not exist at all.
The first scrolls discovered near the Dead Sea were of the book of Isaiah. One was almost complete; the other partial. They were found in 1947 by a Bedouin shepherd boy named Muhammed-Ah-Dhib (Mohammed the Wolf).2 He was hunting for a lost goat among the rocks and crags a few hundred yards from the Dead Sea. While resting, he happened to throw a rock into an opening in the cliff. He heard the sound of breaking pottery and was curious enough to investigate. He and a friend later found his rock had gone into a cave just above the Wadi (Dry Creek) Qumran. They explored the cave and found clay jars in which were stored tightly rolled scrolls.
During the next few years, eleven caves were found near Qumran. In these caves, there were thousands of manuscript pieces. A number of whole and almost whole scrolls were also found. Most of the writings were in Hebrew and Aramaic. However, some were in Greek.
For about fifty years now, lively interest has continued concerning the scrolls. What is their origin? What do they mean? What is their true importance for both Jews and Christians? What effect do they have on our understanding of and belief in the Bible?
Most students of the scrolls believe they originated with the Essenes, a Jewish religious sect. There are ruins of buildings on the hill above the caves. It is believed an Essene commune occupied these buildings from about 160 B.C. until the war with Rome in A.D. 68-70.
The Essenes are spoken of in the writings of the historians Josephus, Philo, and Pliny the elder. There is nothing in the writings of these men, nor in the ruins, nor even in the scrolls, which directly connect the caves, the ruins, and the Essenes. Some scholars believe the buildings were a fort and no Essene commune at all. There will always be some doubt as to the origin of the scrolls.
Regardless of their origin, many of the scrolls are of scriptural books. Some are of rules for a religious community to live by. Others are apocalyptic in scope and doubtful in meaning. One is an account of many caches of gold and silver hidden in and around Israel. The writings are on rolls of parchment and papyrus, with the exception of one. It is a roll of copper.
OLD TESTAMENTS FOUND
Every Old Testament book was found, at least in fragmentary form, except the book of Esther. Were any books of the New Testament found? Here is how one scholar answers that question.3
The claim that New Testament manuscripts were
found at Qumran can be dealt with in a sentence.
None was found - for a very good reason: New
Testament texts are later than the Qumran texts.
NEW TESTAMENTS FOUND?
However, other scholars differ about the New Testament. Jose O'Callaghan, a Bible language scholar, believes he has found remnants of New Testament books. In 1972, while poring over tiny fragments of manuscripts found in cave seven, he believes he matched one with the book of Mark. Later, O'Callaghan would write these words about his theory.4
My proposition that purports to identify fragments
from cave seven with Mark 6:52,53 has been
around now for several years.
O'Callaghan also believes at least eight other Qumran fragments are from the New Testament. He identifies three from Mark and one each from I Timothy, James, Acts, II Peter, and Romans. All these fragments are from cave seven. It is astonishing that every one of them is written in Greek. There is not even a single Hebrew word on any of the nine fragments O'Callaghan has identified as belonging to the New Testament.
There is another fascinating note on fragment number seven. O'Callaghan identifies it with Mark 12:17. This verse contains the name of Jesus.
And Jesus said unto them, render to Caesar the
things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that
In their book, "The First New Testament" two other scholars comment on whether fragment seven has the name of Jesus.5
Fragment 7 appears to do exactly that by containing
both the name of Jesus and the title Caesar.
That these nine fragments are in Greek, is a puzzle for an original Hebrew New Testament advocates. Further, the name of Jesus in a Greek manuscript dated A.D. 50 or earlier, is quite a vexatious problem for these people. If this is indeed a fragment of Mark's Gospel, it may be Mark's own handwriting.
O'Callaghan does not stand alone in his assessment of at least part of these fragments. In recent years, other scholars have accepted his theory and argued forcefully for it. Notable among them is German scholar Carsten Peter Thiede. His book "The Earliest Gospel Manuscript?" is a well thought out approach to this question.6 Still, the majority of Bible language scholars, both Hebrew and Greek, think O'Callaghan's findings to be doubtful at best.
Each student of the Bible can make his or her own decision. Or a decision can be withheld until more information is available. From all this, at least one thing is clear. If New Testament manuscripts were found at Qumran, they were every one written in Greek.
Moreover, it is idle speculation, it is mere imagination, to believe Hebrew New Testaments were found in any of the caves at Qumran. That is imagining evidence to be where there is none.
As elsewhere, so also among the Dead Sea Scrolls, the original Hebrew New Testament advocates are left without any evidence for their theory. There is an obvious reason for this. The New Testament was originally written in Greek.
Footnotes1. Adolf Rieth, Archaeological Fakes, trans. Diana Imber (New York, Praeger, 1967), pp. 160-168. [back]
2. Charles F. Pfeiffer, The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Bible (New York, Weathervane Books, 1969).
John Allegro, Mystery of the Dead Sea Scrolls Revealed (New York, Gramercy, 1981). [back]
3. Hershel Shanks, ed., Understanding the Dead Sea Scrolls (New York, Random House, 1993), p. 49. [back]
4. David Estrada amd William White, Jr., The First New Testament (Nashville, Nelson, 1978), p. 7. [back]
5. Estrada and White, p. 114. [back]
6. Carsten Peter Thiede, The Earliest Gospel Manuscript? (Great Britain, Paternoster, 1992)