The Great Isaiah Scroll – Science and Technology Reveals
Isaiah is considered by Judaism and Christianity to be the greatest of all the prophets making the Book of Isaiah the greatest of all the books of the prophets. The Talmud contains many references and interpretations of Isaiah’s prophecies with Sanhedrin 98 alone making ten references.
Paramount to the prophecies of Isaiah is having confidence that the Book of Isaiah in today’s Bibles is credible and authentic. The sciences of Archeology and Textual Criticism enhanced by technology play a major role in making that determination.
Septuagint LXX translation, produced from 285-247 BC, is the primary foundation for Christian Bible translations. Josephus, a Pharisee Jew, described in great detail about Egypt ruler Ptolemy Philadelphius who wrote to High Priest Eleazar in Jerusalem. The King requested six of the best elders from each of the 12 tribes to translate to Greek the Hebrew Scriptures directly from the official Hebrew text.
“…and when the membranes, upon which they had their law written in golden letters, he put questions to them concerning those books; and when they had taken off the covers wherein they were wrapt up, they showed him the membranes. So the king stood admiring the thinness of those membranes, and the exactness of the junctures; which could not be perceived, (so exact were they connected one with another;)…”
Upon completion, the Greek translation was reviewed again by “both the priests and the ancientest of the elders, and the principal men…” and finalized with a promise that it would never be changed. “Septuagint” is Latin means 70 as does the Roman Numeral “LXX” representing the 70 who worked together to for the translation.
Hebrew Bible translations are based on two surviving Hebrew Masoretic Texts (MT), the Aleppo Codex dated to 925 AD and the Leningrad Codex circa 1008-10 AD. About a third of the Aleppo text was destroyed in a synagogue fire resulting in a dependency on the Leningrad manuscript.
Spanning the timeline between the Septuagint and the MT is at least 1250 years. In the interim, many things impacted Judea– the Greek Empire, its language and Hellenism influences; the rule of King Herod; and domination by the Roman Empire which destroyed Jerusalem with the Temple in 70 AD.
Addressing these impacts opened the door to the Miqraot Gedolot HaKeter Project to produce a “precise letter-text” translation of the Masoretic text. Director Menachem Cohen, Professor of Bible at Bar-Ilan University of Israel, said the project was intended to address the “thousands of flaws of the previous and current editions.”
Dead Sea Scroll discoveries at Qumran, beginning in 1947 continuing over the next decade until 1956, revealed a treasure trove of ancient scrolls determined to be about 2000 years old. Two scrolls of Isaiah were among the discoveries, one virtually complete scroll known as “Qa” and the second scroll known as “Qb” which is about 75% complete.
Dated to c. 125 BC, The Scroll was written on leather comprised of 17 pieces sewn together, each strip containing from 2 to 4 pages. Predating the arrival of Jesus of Nazareth, it can be concluded that the scrolls could have been influenced by the Christian era.
A precept of the science of textual criticism is the shorter the time interval between the original and the existing text, the greater the level of textual purity – the shorter the timeframe, the fewer number of interim handwritten copies where variations are inevitably introduced.
Josephus reveals the translation of the Greek Septuagint is based on a side-by-side text of the Hebrew Law taken directly from the Temple suggesting textual purity of the highest degree. The downside, it was not Hebrew-to-Hebrew.
Differences are to be expected between a Greek translation from Hebrew text that was written with ancient Hebrew characters for which there was not a direct Greek equivalent. As with any translation, some words or phrases must be deciphered by the translators with a heavy dependence on the context.
Add in the comparison of The Scroll to the Masoretic Text. The variations posed a huge challenge to the project team where even the spelling of “Israel” appears differently.
“…the aggregate of known differences in the Greek translations is enough to rule out the possibility that we have before us today’s Masoretic Text. The same can be said of the various Aramaic translations; the differences they reflect are too numerous for us to class their vorlage as our Masoretic Text.” – Menachem Cohen
Focusing only on the two major controversial prophecies of Isaiah 7:14 and the Chapter 52-53 parashah makes it easier to digest the key differences. No significant variation is called out by experts for either Isaiah 7:14 nor chapter 53.
“The major difference between the Aleppo Codex and the Dead Sea Scrolls is the addition of the vowel pointings (called nikkudot in Hebrew) in the Aleppo Codex to the Hebrew words.” – Jeff A Benner
Isaiah 7:14 is entirely written in the future tense meaning it is a prophecy, that is undisputed. Several potentially meaningful differences occur between the MT and Septuagint that are impacted by The Scroll.
What the prophecy means depends heavily on the translation. Variations include the translation controversy of the two Hebrew words ha-alamah; a text pronoun difference and two name differences.
MT translates ha-almah as “a young woman” while The Scroll translated it as “a young maiden.”  In Hebrew, ha exclusive means “the” – specific vs. general. The Septuagint with its 70 Hebrew elders including priests translated the Hebrew words ha-almah into Greek as “ha Parthenos” precisely meaning “the virgin.”
Another is the pronoun difference where the MT says “she or you” will call his name; The Scroll says “he” will call his name; and the Septuagint says “you” shall call his name. In The Scroll, “he” refers to God whereas “she” refers to the mother and “you” refers to the audience.
Two other noteworthy differences are also in play. The MT and Septuagint use the word Adonai for “Lord” rather than “LORD” while The Scroll translation uses YHWH, the name of God. At the end of the verse, the MT writes Immanu-el as two words; however, The Scroll writes it as a single word “Immanuel.” In Hebrew, one word always indicates a name.
Isaiah Chapter 53 poses another controversy in the book of prophecies. Interestingly, The Scroll begins the parashah in Column XLIV with the Isaiah 52:13 reference to “my servant.” Most differences are grammatical and do not change the general text; however, there are some notable exceptions found in The Scroll.
An omission begins the differences in 53:2 where The Scroll includes in the margin, two words, “before us” while the MT says “before him.” No Bible translation includes these words in the first sentence which would otherwise say something like, “out of dry ground before us or him.
Perhaps the most significant difference between the Septuagint and the MT in Isaiah 53:7 is not settled by The Scroll which contains the Hebrew word חֹ֑לִי (choliy). The word has been translated mainly in Bibles as “grief,” “suffering” or “disease.” Various translations read “a man of sorrows and knowing grief/suffering/disease.
One last possibly significant difference revealed by The Scroll is the appearance of the word nephsho meaning “light.” The Septuagint includes the word as does some Bible translations (NASB, NIV, BSB, CSB, ISV, NHEB, WEB*); however, other Christian and Jewish Bibles including the MT translate the word as “it.”
The Great Isaiah Scroll, though not an official text of the Temple, was written 100-150 years after the Greek Septuagint while the Hebrew Masoretic Text followed a 1000 years later. How likely is it that The Scroll more accurately reflects the original Hebrew text written by the prophet Isaiah?
*NASB = New American Standard Bible; NIV = New International Version; BSB = Berean Study Bible; CSB = Christian Standard Bible; ISV = International Standard Version; NHEB = New Heart English Bible; WEB = World English Bible
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