The Great Isaiah Scroll – Science Revelations
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 prophetic books in the Bible. The Talmud contains many references and interpretations of Isaiah’s prophecies with Sanhedrin tractate 98 alone making ten references.
Paramount to the prophecies of Isaiah is having confidence that his prophecies are reflected accurately in today’s Bibles. The sciences of archeology and textual criticism enhanced by technology play a major role in making that determination.
Produced from 285-247 BC, the Septuagint LXX translation is the primary foundation for Christian Bibles. Josephus, a Jewish Pharisee, described in detail the origin of the translation. Egypt ruler Ptolemy Philadelphius wrote to Priest Eleazar in Jerusalem requesting six of the best elders from each of the 12 tribes of Israel to make a Greek translation from the official Hebrew text.
Elders including priests traveled to Egypt with scrolls from the Temple for the translation project. King Ptolemy was most impressed with the condition of the scrolls:
“…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” in Latin means 70 as does the Roman Numeral “LXX” representing those who worked together on 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 to fill in the missing text.
Spanning the timeline between the Septuagint and the MT is at least 1150 years. In the interim, many events transpired in Judea– the Greek Empire with 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. These seismic events affected the purity of the MT translations.
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.
For good reason, the Qa scroll has been dubbed “The Great Isaiah Scroll” and is on display in Jerusalem at the Shrine of the Book. “The Scroll” can be viewed in its entirety on the Internet.
Dated to c. 125 BC, The Scroll was compromised of 17 pieces of leather sewn together, each strip containing from 2 to 4 pages of text. It serves as a side-by-side older Hebrew text comparison for the MT and, by predating the arrival of Jesus of Nazareth, it precludes the claim of any Christian influences.
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 time frame, the fewer number of interim handwritten copies where variations are inevitably introduced.
Josephus revealed the translation of the Greek Septuagint is based on a side-by-side Hebrew text taken directly from the Temple suggesting textual purity of the highest degree. Translation nuances are to be expected in the Greek translation because some ancient Hebrew characters do not have 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.
Inevitably, the lack of not having a side-by-side text significantly impacted the MT purity. The variations posed a huge challenge to the Miqraot Gedolot HaKeter 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
Focus is placed only on the two major controversial prophecies of Isaiah 7:14 and the Chapter 52-53 parashah. The differences are found in the very small vowel punctuations seen more easily with technology enhancements.
“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 making it an undisputed prophecy although there are several potentially meaningful differences between the MT and Septuagint reflected by The Scroll. 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 the words as “a young maiden.” In Hebrew, ha exclusive means “the” – specific to the noun that follows. The Septuagint translated the Hebrew words ha-almah into Greek as “ha Parthenos” precisely meaning “the virgin.”
Pronoun differences appear where the MT says “she” will call his name; The Scroll says “he” will call his name; and the Septuagint generically refers to “you” earlier in the text. “He” refers to God in The Scroll whereas “she” refers to the mother in the MT and “you” refers to the audience.
Two other noteworthy differences are the MT and Septuagint use of 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.
Interestingly in Column XLIV, The Scroll begins the Isaiah 52-53 parashah with the 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 is Isaiah 53:7 with the Hebrew word חֹ֑לִי (choliy), but the issue is not settled by The Scroll. The word has been translated mainly in Bibles as “grief,” “suffering” or “disease.”
One last possibly significant difference revealed by The Scroll is the appearance of the word nephsho meaning “light” in the equivalent verse 53:11. The Septuagint includes the word as do several Christian Bible translations (BSB, CSB, ISV, NAB, NHEB, NIV, NRSV, WEB*); however, other Christian and Jewish Bibles including the MT translate the word as “it.”
How likely is it that The Great Isaiah Scroll more accurately reflects the original Hebrew text written by the prophet Isaiah?
Updated September 27, 2022.
This work is licensed under aCreative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
BSB = Berean Study Bible
CSB = Christian Standard Bible
ISV = International Standard Version
NAB = New American Bible
NHEB = New Heart English Bible
NIV = New International Version
NRSV = New Revised Standard Verson
WEB = World English Bible
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[33 Cohen. “The Idea of the Sanctity of the Biblical Text.” Footnote #4. Benner, Jeff A. “The Great Isaiah Scroll and the Masoretic Text.”
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