The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible: A review

IN this review I recommend The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible which is a result of a lot of Modern research on the ancient texts found at Qumran, Egypt. The scrolls were found in caves tucked away for centuries by pious people who lived around 200-100 AD who obviuosly cared for their preservation. Today these scrolls or pieces of fragments consists of some 981 different manuscripts. All of them were discovered by local herdsmen in caves near Qumran between 1946-1947 and in 2017 in 12 caves from a Hellenistic-Jewish Settlement at Khirbet Qumran in eastern Judean Desert (West bank) was unearthed. The caves are loctaed some two kilometres from The Dead Sea and this explains their given name today. The Qumran texts dates back to the Second Century BC and the first century AD. Bronze coins found at the place also helps us date this period. The texts has been analyzed with radiocarbon and paleographic dating.

And the contents of these scrolls? The texts tells us a lot about historical events going around in the area at that time, such as Culture and Religion of course. The Dead Sea scrolls include the second oldest known surviving manuscripts included in the Hebew Bible Canon. Considering the time and context the texts were produced they tells us a lot about second Temple Judaism. Most of the scrolls are in Hebrew with some Aramaic and a very small number in Greek, And what about the material? Most texts are derived from parchments, some are from papyrus and some texts exists on copper. Traditionally the texts thought to have been written down by a Jewish sect known as the Essenes but some scholars now think they have been written by priests from Jerusalem, the Zadokites or other unknown Jewish groups. 40% are copies of texts we can find in the Hebrew Scriptures today. Some 30% are tetxs from the Second Temple era with texts not making it into the traditional Canon. Some wellknown non-canocial works are: Enoch, Book of the Jubilees, Book of Tobit, Wisdom of Sirach, Psalms 150-155). The rest 30% are the so called sectarian manuscripts compiled by groups of people we still don’t know that much about.

The Introduction to this work is valuable and presents the basics to anyone familiar or not with Scripture and dating of Scripture. It’s good to know that the term ”Bible” today means different to different people and cultures. The term ”canon” is also briefly explained. The Jewish Bible (the correct term or Acronym is TaNaKh) contains 24 books divided into three sections: Torah (5 Books), Neviim (Prophets) and Kethuviim (Writings). The Protestant Old Testament follows a similiar pattern but in different order: 39 books alltogheter, the 5 Books of Moses, Historical Books, Poetical Books and the Prophets. The order of the Catholic Church follows a similar pattern like the Protestant Churches but includes several deutero-canonical books which are not recognized as Canon by either Jews or protestants. These books are also known as Apocrypha.

The book goes on to describe the Essenses as the main group living at Qumran around 150 BCE to 68 CE. They are considered to be a very strict group of Essenses. Together with the pharisees and Sadducees the Essenses became the dominante streams within Hellenistic Judaism some 2000 years ago. The authors continue their Introduction with a brief sketch of the most important Bible mansuscripts we have today. It’s important to know a little about them because it shows how the Bible developed into a book. These three are known as [1.] The Masoretic Text (MT); [2.] Septuaginta (LXX); [3.] Samaritan Pentateuch (SP). I recommend this book to people already familiar with Bible Criticism and people just curious. The Introduction is excellent and may prompt you to learn more!

Learn more about the Dead Sea Scrolls at Biblical Archeaology Society which also has many free e-books for you to read.

‘Through a mirror, dimly’ – Can we trace 1 Cor. 13:12 back to rabbinic literature?

Do you think Paul (circa. 5-67 A.D) might have had a section from Babylonian Talmud (Yevamot 49B) in mind when he or an assistant (read: scribe), penned the first letter to the Christians in Corinth? To Christians through the ages the First letter to the Corinthians contain some of the most well-known verses from the New Testament. Chapter 13 is dedicated to the praise of love (agape) and is often quoted on weddings. In Pauline terms it’s not about any earthly love, but that of the spirit – agape. The message of the chapter is that love (agape) will survive prophecy. This post will focus on verse: “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.” (1 Cor. 13:12) + a very similar verse from the Talmud Bavli: “All the prophets gazed through a dim glass [literally: an ispaqlarya that does not shine], whereas Moses our Rabbi gazed though a clear glass [literally: an ispaqlarya that shine].” –Yevamot 49b.

I never read an N.T commentary which give a reference to Babylonian Talmud on the verse quoted which in a way can be fully understood since the Talmud Bavli (Babylonian Talmud) was finally a fixed “canon” about 600 when the Talmudic academies in Iraq finished it. But this fact doesn’t take away the possibilities of influence. We must also deal with some scientific context since the dimly mirror mentioned in both N.T and Bavli was a great scientific intervention in the first century and was made of polished glass rather than a speculum. In some translations, like the KJV the word “glass” instead of mirror is used.

I don’t know how established the Babylonian Talmud was as “text” when Paul was around but certainly he wasn’t unfamiliar with rabbinic commentary. I dare to say it contains traces of rabbinic literature and thought as Paul also was introduced to rabbinic scripture through the pharisee sect which was considered the most conservative. Religions also borrows themes and motifs from each other as they continue to develop. Paul presented his jewish background on several times in the N.T letters. “If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee[…]” — Philemon 3:5-7

The dating of the First Letter to Corinth is estimated to have been written about 50-60 A.D.I will exclude several verses in chapter 13 through these brackets […]. I put in some verses 8-10 to frame the context.

The New Revised Standard Version:

[…]”Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end.”- 1 Cor. 13:8-10 […] “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.” – 1 Cor. 13:12

Now, let’s compare the verse above to Babylonian Talmud, Yevamot 49b. I use a translation of the BT quote from The Zohar – Pritzker edition vol. I (Matt, 2004 p. 268): “All the prophets gazed through a dim glass [literally: an ispaqlarya that does not shine], whereas Moses our Rabbi gazed though a clear glass [literally: an ispaqlarya that shine].” –Yevamot 49b

Now, we have some more context! Let’s take a look at the word * ispaqlarya [אִסְפַּקְלַרְיָא] mentioned. It’s in Aramaic with the following meaning:

  1. speculum; lens; mirror
  2. glass
  3. windowpane
  4. In Jewish mysticism, of a later date than antiquity, it refers to prophetic vision

I don’t have to remind you about 1 Cor 13, but it’s clear there’s a parallel between mirrors and prophecy, ok. Now, let’s take a look at Talmud Bavli and see for ourselves where Paul likely got his inspiration! It’s important to remind you dear reader that plucking out verses is not a jewish habit, it’s something Christians do in their bible study.  WE need to take a look at a the entire section were this small quote appear.

The Rabbinic context : Yevamoth 49b. (Soncino Babylonian Talmud)

Yevamoth 49b is a large section of text dealing with various topics. The entire tractate Yevamoth is mostly concerned with marriage and off-spring. Footnotes relating to various other verses opted here:

SAID R. SIMEON B. AZZAI etc. [A tanna] recited: Simeon b. ‘Azzai said, ‘I found a roll of genealogical records in Jerusalem and therein was written “So-and-so is a bastard [having been born] from a forbidden union with] a married woman” and therein was also written “The teaching of R. Eliezer b. Jacob is small in quantity but thoroughly sifted”. And in it was also written, “Manasseh slew Isaiah”‘.

Raba said: He brought him to trial and then slew him. He said to him: Your teacher Moses said, ‘For men shall not see Me and live’ and you said, ‘I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up’. Your teacher Moses said, ‘For what [great nation is there, that hath God so nigh unto them], as the Lord our God is whensoever we call upon him’, and you said, ‘Seek ye the Lord when he may be found’. Your teacher Moses said, ‘The number of thy days I will fulfil’ but you said, ‘And I will add on to your days fifteen years’. ‘I know’, thought Isaiah, ‘that whatever I may tell him he will not accept; and should I reply at all, I would only cause him to be a wilful [homicide]’. He thereupon pronounced [the Divine] Name and was swallowed up by a cedar. The cedar, however, was brought and sawn asunder. When the saw reached his month he died. [And this was his penalty] for having said, ‘And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips’.

[Do not] the contradictions between the Scriptural texts, however, still remain? — ‘I saw the Lord’, [is to be understood] in accordance with what was taught: All the prophets looked into a dim glass, but Moses looked through a clear glass. As to ‘Seek ye the Lord when he may be found [etc.’] one [verse] applies to an individual, the other to a congregation. When [is the time for] an individual? — R. Nahman replied in the name of Rabbah b. Abbuha: The ten days between the New Year and the Day of Atonement. Concerning the number of thy days I will fulfil, Tannaim are in disagreement. For it was taught: The number of thy days I will fulfil.

The verses on Moses and dim glass are further exploited in the medieval midrashim such as the Leviticus Rabbah, 1:14. It contains numeruous homilies on Leviticus and was composed in the 12th century. With a supposed reference to a first century Sage Leviticus Rabbah, 1:14 concludes: “All the prophets had a vision of God as he appeared through nine specula while Moses saw God through one speculum.”

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The Babylonian Talmud today.

Resources:

  • Epstein, Isidore, and Israel W. Slotki. 1936. The Babylonian Talmud. Vols. 1-2, Vols. 1-2. London: Soncino Press.
  • Frankel, Ellen, and Betsy Platkin Teutsch. 1992. The encyclopedia of Jewish symbols. Northvale, N.J.: J. Aronson.
  • Nestle Aland : Novum Testamentum Graece (N28)
  • New International Version (NIV)
  • Matt, Daniel C. 2004. The Zohar Vol. 1. Vol. 1. The Zohar. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
  • Leviticus Rabbah – Hebrew version online here (Bar Ilan University).