Dead Sea Scrolls offer new perspective on Bible

By Jade Mardirosian
Staff Writer

The religion department hosted a lecture Wednesday on the topic of the Dead Sea Scrolls and their importance in learning about the Bible.

Dr. Sidnie White Crawford, Willa Cather professor and chair of classics and religious studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, presented the lecture titled “What the Dead Sea Scrolls Teach Us About the Bible.”

Crawford explained that through decades of research and interpretation, the previous picture of the Bible has been both complicated and clarified by the scrolls.

The Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered between the 1940s and the 1960s in caves near the ancient settlement of Qumran in what is today the north shore of the Dead Sea.

Most of the scrolls came out in pieces and were put together by scholars like puzzles. There were a total of 15,000 fragments taken out of the caves and assembled into 900 manuscripts. The scrolls are written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek and are dated in age from 250 BCE to 70 CE. A total of 25 percent of the scrolls are biblical from the Jewish Cannon of scripture.

“What the Dead Sea Scrolls teach us about the Bible is that the process of becoming the Bible was really a process of growth and change that took place over a matter of centuries,” Crawford said. “This had to do not only with the original composers of these books but also the communities that made them authoritative and eventually made them canonical.”

Dr. Lidija Novakovic, Baylor associate professor of religion, played an important role in bringing Crawford to Baylor. She described the scrolls as one of the major finds of the 20th century, with a great impact on scholarship.

“The Dead Sea Scrolls have shown us the wealth of Jewish thought. They have also given us a glimpse into a community that we knew something about, but didn’t know much,” Novakovic said. “What is amazing is this community coexisted with Jesus’ movement and yet the Gospel does not mention them. All of this is highly important and it helps us understand the diversity of Judaism in the first place.”

Crawford explained there are many examples of variants in the scrolls found at the site in Qumran and these variants were sometimes forced into a harmonization. An example of this is found on the scroll titled 4QDeuteronomyn, which includes the Ten Commandments.

In the Bible the Ten Commandments appear in both Deuteronomy and Exodus. Crawford uses a discrepancy between the two books’ versions of the Sabbath commandment as an example. Reading from the Torah, Crawford noted that in Deuteronomy the Hebrews are commanded to observe a day of rest because the Hebrews had been enslaved. In Exodus, however, they are told they must rest on the seventh day because the Lord rested after he made creation. The 4QDeuteronomyn scroll found at Qumran combines the Fourth Commandment from Deuteronomy and Exodus — the Hebrews are expected to observe a day of rest to honor the enslavement and God’s act of creation.

“That’s a harmonization; the scribe or the scribe’s predecessor took the Deuteronomy text and added the Exodus reason into it,” Crawford said. “This process went on in various biblical books sometimes to the point where a book could exist in two forms, two additions of the same book, and this occurred in the book of Jeremiah.”

Crawford said the scrolls came to be accepted in the Qumran community through various authorities.

“You have two sources of authority, the composers who worked under divine inspiration and then also the community who equally worked under divine inspiration to eventually accept these forms and in between we have a very interesting period of flux and change,” Crawford said.

Crawford is a member of the international publication team for the Dead Sea Scrolls and is responsible for editing 14 manuscripts from the Qumran collection.