The Dead Sea Scrolls

POSTED BY: holzapfel

02/08/10


This past month Andrew Lawler published an essay on the Dead Sea Scrolls in the Smithsonian magazine (“Who Wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls?” [January 2010]: 40–47). The media likes controversy, and Lawler highlights it in this interesting essay.

Since the first discoveries in 1947, the Dead Sea Scrolls have captured the imagination of the public, including Latter-day Saints. The importance of these textual discoveries on the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea can hardly be overestimated. They open an important window onto the past, particularly for the period when the paucity of sources made it frustrating for scholars attempting to reconstruct the Jewish world during the intertestamental period. They also illuminate the world of John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth, although it is doubtful that either of them spent time at the site where the scrolls were copied.

In the end, some 800 manuscripts were found in eleven caves near the northwest shore of the Dead Sea. Among them were the oldest copies of the Old Testament, except for the book of Esther. Additionally, numerous unknown texts were discovered at the site, increasing our appreciation for the complex and interesting world of Second Temple Judaism. Most of the manuscripts are written with square Hebrew characters (Aramaic or Assyrian script), but a few manuscripts exhibit what scholars call the Paleo-Hebrew script. The dating of the manuscript range from as early as 300 BC until just before the Romans destroyed the site in AD 68.

From the very beginning, many scholars believed those who collected, copied, and hid the massive library were the Essenes, a first-century Jewish sect known only, until the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, by what other people had written about them. Scholars never unanimously accepted the identification, although a majority has done so reasoning that it as the best explanation for the documents and the site.

In the latest installment of the debate, some consensus has been reached. There is almost universal agreement that many of the scrolls found at the Dead Sea were not produced at the Dead Sea site. One of the current theories, highlighted in Lawler’s article, is that Jews fleeing the advancing Roman army during the Jewish War gathered at Qumran, a fort, and brought with them the writings they felt were sacred and important. This proposal suggest that “the scrolls reflect not just the views of a single dissident group [Essenes] . . . but a wider tapestry of Jewish thought” (p. 44).

If anyone ever wanted to get inside the world of academia to see how scholars deal with controversial topics, this essay will surprise and depress you as it highlights the intrigues of one such debate. In the end, the debate concerning who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls will continue to attract attention, but it will most likely never be resolved, leading us to consider the possibilities.


­Did Jesus Sweat Blood?

POSTED BY: holzapfel

02/12/09


Click to enlarge

In a recent blog, I outlined the story of the earliest New Testament manuscripts. Because no original text (autograph) has survived the ravages of time, scholars are attempting to reconstruct the texts through examining more than 5,700 Greek manuscripts (not copies of the original autographs and not even copies of copies of the originals). I also highlighted the fact that some material found in the King James Version (1611) came from manuscripts dating from a very late period (the best available at the time). Since 1611, much earlier copies of the New Testament manuscripts have been discovered, shedding important light on the transmission of the text, including insights on the corruption of the text (deletions and additions).

Regarding a famous passage in Luke 22, Bart D. Ehrman, author of The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), argues that scribes added the detail that the Savior’s “sweat was as it were great drops of blood” (Luke 22:44). Ehrman states, “This image of Jesus ‘sweating blood’ . . . can be found in only one passage of the New Testament, Luke 22:43-44, and this passage is not present in our oldest and best manuscripts of the Gospel of Luke.” He continues, “It appears, in fact, to have been added to Luke’s account by scribes who wanted to emphasize Jesus’ full humanity and great human suffering. For these scribes, Jesus was not merely a divine being who could rise above the trials and tribulations of this life: he was human in every way and suffered the kind of agony any of us might suffer if we knew that we were soon to be subjected to a humiliating and excruciating death by crucifixion. While this appears to have been the scribes’ view of the suffering Jesus, it is not Luke’s” (491). Ehrman and other scholars speculate that this verse was introduced into the New Testament around the fifth century AD.

Latter-day Saints, like many other conservative New Testament readers, continue to accept Luke’s poignant account of the suffering in Gethsemane and have been unwilling to delete this material from their readings of Jesus’ last twenty-four hours. Additionally, Restoration scriptures confirm Luke’s account, providing them additional reasons to hold on to this story (see Mosiah 3:7; Doctrine and Covenants 19:18).

Recently, a bright, articulate New Testament scholar has raised questions about Ehrman’s claim. Thomas A. Wayment, my BYU colleague, published a groundbreaking study in one of the world’s premier journals on the New Testament regarding a third-century papyrus fragment (P69). He argues, “The fragment was subject to subsequent scribal correction in at least two instances” (“A New Transcription of P. Oxy. 2383 (P69),” Novum Testamentum 50 [2008], 351). He discovered through multispectral imaging (a technology developed by NASA and first applied to ancient manuscripts by BYU) that a third-century scribe copying from another manuscript began writing the account of Jesus’ suffering as in Luke 22 but then corrected himself. This implies that the account of Jesus’ suffering was well known as early as the third century. As a result of Wayment’s careful work, we now must reevaluate the proposal that a later fifth-century scribe added these verses for theological reasons.

This article is significant. First, it signals a new day in Latter-day Saint scholarship. With well-trained Mormon New Testament scholars like Wayment, we can now completely engage in wider scholarly dialogue about the New Testament. Second, this article highlights the importance of multispectral imaging technology in New Testament studies. Finally, it raises a serious question about dogmatic assertions by some scholars about how the original text of the New Testament read. Of course, ongoing discoveries and studies of Greek New Testament manuscripts and fragments may yield more insights into the story of Jesus in Gethsemane.