Wikimedia Commons Psalms Scroll Public Domain in the US. The Israel Antiquities Authority 1993; photographer not named.
Most people have heard of the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS). Few people really know what they are and fewer still understand their significance. The DSS were found in caves near the Dead Sea and contain ancient scrolls. The oldest fragment goes back to the late fifth century BC and the youngest fragment is early fourth century AD. They have been meticulously documented and dated using a variety of methods. One important point is that these documents are copies and the documents they were copied from were older and used a much older writing style.
Writing style in this instance means the choice of alphabets and the way the letters were formed. Using this writing style as a dating method, the oldest book, a nearly complete copy of the book of Genesis, dates to no later than the time of king Ahab and Elijah/Elisha, the ninth century BC.
Before dismissing writing style as a dating method, a modern calligrapher could meticulously copy a Gothic script without understanding the words. Someone else knowledgeable in Gothic script could say that the type of script came only from one time period, perhaps even narrowing down the original location and date within a few decades. In the case of Hebrew they used the same script for hundreds of years. It is possible that the original of the extant copy of Genesis goes back to Moses, but there is no solid evidence for that old of a date.
The important point is that when we are told that we do not have “evidence” that the Bible was written when it claimed to be written, that simply is not true. Not only do the Dead Sea Scrolls exist, but most of them are digitized and can be examined online.
The DSS were written on parchment, papyrus and bronze in Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek and Nabataean. There are a total 12 caves, numbered 1-11 with cave four divided into a and b. No complete or significant manuscripts (MSS) or fragments were found in caves 9 and 10.
There is 40 volume print set of the various MSS of the DSS published by Oxford University Press published between 1955 and 2009 known as Discoveries in the Judean Desert. Many sources, such as Olive Tree Bible Software have the DSS available online, digitized originals, print originals and translations into English.
The texts themselves are divided into Biblical and nonbiblical texts, with the nonbiblical texts making up the majority of the total. There are 39 complete, or nearly complete, copies of the Psalms, 33 of Deuteronomy, 25 of 1 Enoch. Until the discovery of the DSS, 1 Enoch was thought to be a much later compilation of earlier material, no older than 2nd or 3rd Century AD. Now conservatives believe 1 Enoch to be much older, probably preexilic. If writing style as a dating method is valid, then 1 Enoch is one of the oldest books in the world, only a few hundred years younger than the Epic of Gilgamesh.
The material in 1 Enoch is considered to be wild, fanciful. One liberal commentator described 1 Enoch as “an acid trip on steroids.” It supposedly describes Enoch’s trips through heaven and hell led by the angels. It is certainly easy to understand why it was usually considered a combination of John’s Revelation, Dante’s Inferno and the Old Testament prophets. Except the DSS tell us that 1 Enoch is older than all of them. It opens with the following words.
“1 The words of the blessing of Enoch, wherewith he blessed the elect and righteous, who will be 2 living in the day of tribulation, when all the wicked and godless are to be removed. And he took up his parable and said -Enoch a righteous man, whose eyes were opened by God, saw the vision of the Holy One in the heavens, which the angels showed me, and from them I heard everything, and from them I understood as I saw, but not for this generation, but for a remote one which is for to come. 3 Concerning the elect I said, and took up my parable concerning them: The Holy Great One will come forth from His dwelling, 4 And the eternal God will tread upon the earth, (even) on Mount Sinai, [And appear from His camp] And appear in the strength of His might from the heaven of heavens. 5 And all shall be smitten with fear And the Watchers shall quake, And great fear and trembling shall seize them unto the ends of the earth. And the high mountains shall be shaken, And the high hills shall be made low, And shall melt like wax before the flame And the earth shall be wholly rent in sunder, And all that is upon the earth shall perish, And there shall be a judgement upon all (men). 8 But with the righteous He will make peace. And will protect the elect, And mercy shall be upon them.
“…in the vision clouds invited me and a mist summoned me, and the course of the stars and the lightnings sped and hastened me, and the winds in 9 the vision caused me to fly and lifted me upward, and bore me into heaven. And I went in till I drew nigh to a wall which is built of crystals and surrounded by tongues of fire: and it began to affright 10 me. And I went into the tongues of fire and drew nigh to a large house which was built of crystals: and the walls of the house were like a tesselated floor (made) of crystals, and its groundwork was 11 of crystal. Its ceiling was like the path of the stars and the lightnings, and between them were 12 fiery cherubim, and their heaven was (clear as) water. A flaming fire surrounded the walls, and its 13 portals blazed with fire. And I entered into that house, and it was hot as fire and cold as ice: there 14 were no delights of life therein: fear covered me, and trembling got hold upon me. And as I quaked 15 and trembled, I fell upon my face. And I beheld a vision, And lo! there was a second house, greater 16 than the former, and the entire portal stood open before me, and it was built of flames of fire. And in every respect it so excelled in splendour and magnificence and extent that I cannot describe to 17 you its splendour and its extent. And its floor was of fire, and above it were lightnings and the path 18 of the stars, and its ceiling also was flaming fire. And I looked and saw therein a lofty throne: its appearance was as crystal, and the wheels thereof as the shining sun, and there was the vision of 19 cherubim. And from underneath the throne came streams of flaming fire so that I could not look 20 thereon. And the Great Glory sat thereon, and His raiment shone more brightly than the sun and 21 was whiter than any snow. None of the angels could enter and could behold His face by reason 22 of the magnificence and glory and no flesh could behold Him. The flaming fire was round about Him, and a great fire stood before Him, and none around could draw nigh Him: ten thousand times 23 ten thousand (stood) before Him…”
Everything, or most of this material, is found in the Word of God. But according to the DSS, if the technique of dating based on writing style is accurate, 1 Enoch is older than Isaiah, Ezekiel and Daniel. While this still does not make the book of 1 Enoch inspired, it is more than just interesting.
Next is Genesis with 24 copies, followed by Isaiah with 22 copies. These are some of the oldest MSS among the DSS. Understand the significance of the number of Isaiah copies, dating from the third century BC. The Great Isaiah scroll with all 66 chapters dates from 125 BC.
To an honest person, the Great Isaiah scroll is the death knell of the JEDP theory, higher criticism and the concept of a redactor. Higher criticism claimed that the Old Testament was written by various different groups and these various pieces were woven together about the first century BC by editors known as redactors who changed the stories to make what we know as the Old Testament. One of the ways they divided the books of Old Testament was to divide Isaiah into two parts, the section after chapter 39 beginning with chapter 40 through chapter 66 as deutero-isaiah. Deutero-isaiah, it was claimed, could not have been written by the eighth century BC historical Isaiah. The DSS now prove the second part of Isaiah to be much older than the critics believed. It is also proved to be the same age as the first 39 chapters of Isaiah.
The next book in the frequency list of DSS with 25 copies is The Book of Jubilees. The Book of Jubilees, also called Little Genesis, is considered inspired by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. It is not considered Scripture by other Christian Churches, however it is considered to be highly reliable.
Next is the book of Exodus with 18 copies scattered among the DSS. Exodus is followed Leviticus with 17 copies, Numbers with 11 copies, followed by the twelve (what we call the Minor Prophets today, but the Hebrews treated as one book) with 10 copies, Daniel with 8 copies, Jeremiah 6 copies, Ezekiel 6 copies, Job 6 copies, Kings (what we know as 1st and 2nd Samuel) 4 copies and one copy of Sirach.
Ownership of these scrolls is scatted to museums all over the world, though viewing them in digital collections is easy. Most of the scrolls are not books of Scripture. There are hundreds of these non-Biblical texts are most of these not familiar titles to the average reader. These non-Biblical texts include calendars, commentaries, letters, records of historical events, rules such as the Community Rule, and portions of the Damascus Document, legal texts, poetry, liturgies, financial and civil documents, military correspondence, contracts, personal documents such as marriage contracts and wills. There are far more non-Biblical texts than Biblical texts.
The word “text” is used because these are written on pottery and wood and exist in fragments as well as scrolls. Some of these documents are quite interesting, but their greatest importance is establishing a certain date. Everything is written about the life and times of the 3rd century BC through the 2nd Century AD. While several books of the Old Testament, such as Judges, Esther and Proverbs are not found in the DSS, the DSS is both older and more complete, dating to much earlier than liberal dating schemes claim. The traditional 275-300 BC date for the beginning of the translation of Septuagint (LXX) is confirmed to be possible by the DSS. Liberal “scholarship” claimed that the many books of the Old Testament had not yet been “redacted” by 300 BC. The DSS prove that the Old Testament clearly existed by then.