Monday, January 17, 2011

The Dead Sea Scrolls and textual criticism

Biblical Archaeology Review published an article by Harvey Minkoff at least eight months ago which I have just now noticed, here. The piece describes variants in the Dead Sea scrolls and other parts of the larger Hebrew Bible tradition including the Septuagint. This article is ideal for a seminary student.


  1. Christian -

    In the article, the author makes this statement:

    What do the Dead Sea Scrolls tell us about the three major textual traditions? In the majority of cases (about 60 percent of the biblical scroll manuscripts), the scrolls follow the Masoretic text. About 5 percent of the biblical scrolls follow the Septuagint version; another 5 percent match the Samaritan text; 20 percent belong to a tradition unique to the Dead Sea Scrolls; and 10 percent are “nonaligned.” The key point is that the readings in the scrolls show that many variations in the biblical text are of long standing, and are not simply errors in later transmission.

    Of course, this statement is regurgitating a similar statement in Tov's Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible, but what I can't believe is that it simply assumes Tov's "nonaligned" category, that 10% of the DSS are unaligned to any other textual tradition of the Hebrew Bible.

    It is debated as to whether this category even exists (Peter Gentry, JETS 52/1, 19-41). There is a more technical article by Bruno Chiesa, "Textual History and Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Old Testament," in The Madrid Qumran Congress: Proceedings of the International Congress on the Dead Sea Scrolls, Madrid 18-21 March, 1991 (ed. Julio Trebolle Barrera and Luis Vegas Montaner; 2 vols.; Leiden: Brill, 1992) 1:257-72. which treats this very difficult matter.

    In essence, Chiesa challenges the non-aligned category of Tov on two grounds: 1) only significant errors can be used to determine genetic relationships and more importantly 2) the unique readings of Tov are far from being unique. Fundamentally, Chiesa reminds us not to count the variants but to weigh them.

  2. "This misunderstanding becomes significant because the verse is used as a prooftext in Matthew 21:2–7, which describes Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. Jesus sends two disciples to fetch an ass and a foal “to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet”; Matthew then quotes the passage in Zechariah and adds that the disciples did indeed bring Jesus an ass and a foal."

    This seems to have serious implications for inerrancy. Has anyone developed this further?

  3. Thanks, John, that is very helpful.

  4. This isn’t a problem for inerrancy. I’m working with the NASB.

    Mt. 21:2-3 speaks of the two disciples bringing “them” (in the NASB “them” is in italics in verse 2 but it is in regular type in verse 3). This would mean the disciples brought more than one animal to Jesus. Verse 7 specifically says the two disciples brought a donkey and a colt and say they laid their garments on “them” (plural).

    In the NASB, the quote in verse 5 of the passage in Zechariah appears virtually word-for-word with the way it appears in the book of Zechariah, the only difference being “the foal of a beast of burden” in Matthew and “the foal of a donkey” in Zechariah.

    Keep in mind here what each of the inspired writers is talking about. Zechariah is relating what the coming Messiah would be riding on (the colt, which is a donkey, a beast of burden), not how many animals the disciples would bring to Him. Matthew quotes Zechariah, thus noting the animal on which Jesus would be riding, but also tells us how many animals the disciples brought to Him. How many animals were brought to Jesus is a different issue from which animal He rode on. There is no contradiction.

    We see Jesus’ kindness here. While the colt was big enough to ride on, it was probably too early to separate it from its mother. Thus, Jesus tells them to bring the colt’s mother.

  5. Thanks, Jim. There's a textual issue here too. It's one of the variants where Origen mentioned that there were several different readings.

    Matthew doesn't quote Zechariah directly, at least not in most mss--he leaves out NEON after PWLON. I hardly think NEON would aptly describe an ass old enough for a grown man to ride.

  6. 10 years later and this article is gone (obviouosly). Do you know of another place that lists textual variants from the DSS, specifically in the ESV?

    1. One handy source that does that pretty well for English readers is the Dead Sea Scrolls Bible, by Eugene Ulrich. It doesn't show variants from the ESV. But it does show variants with the MT, which I'm pretty sure will generally tell you the same thing. It also indicates variants DSS biblical scrolls have with one another and with the LXX and Samaritan Pentateuch.

      Since this is an English tool it only indicates variants that are translatable in English. But with that caveat I believe that it's pretty thorough.

  7. It's actually still up on the BAS website. Seems they've had an overhaul of how the URL's are displayed: