Significance for Biblical Study of the New Manuscript Finds -- By: Merrill Frederick Unger

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 113:449 (Jan 1956)
Article: Significance for Biblical Study of the New Manuscript Finds
Author: Merrill Frederick Unger


Significance for Biblical Study of the New Manuscript Finds

Merrill F. Unger

The Date and Contents of the Dead Sea Manuscripts

The last eight years have witnessed phenomenal archeological discoveries in Palestine which are of tremendous importance to Biblical studies and which are revolutionizing the approach to the text of the Old Testament as well as the background of the New Testament. In addition the new manuscript material is shedding a flood of light on the intertestamental period from Malachi to John the Baptist.

Since 1947 when a Bedouin shepherd stumbled upon a cave south of Jericho containing many scrolls of leather covered with Hebrew and Aramaic writing, besides some 600 fragmentary inscriptions, the archeological world has been set agog as a result of the historical and philological importance of this new material. In 1952 new caves containing fragments of later scrolls inscribed in Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic were found. The announcement of these startling archeological discoveries has been followed by the news of the recovery of additional manuscripts in still other caves in and around the Dead Sea area (James L. Kelso, “The Archeology of Qumran,” Journal of Biblical Literature, LXXXIV, Sept, 1955, pp. 141-46).

The Date of the Scrolls

Despite the fact that a series of fantastic attacks were

made against the antiquity and even the authenticity of the original group of these documents, three lines of evidence demonstrate that they have been correctly dated by W. F. Albright and other competent paleographers well before A.D. 70 (W. F. Albright, “The Bible After Twenty Years of Archeology,” 1932–1952, in Religion in Life XXI, 4, 1952, p. 540).

The first line of evidence is that of radiocarbon count, which dates the linen in which the scrolls were wrapped to a general era about 175 B.C. to A.D. 225 (cf. O. R. Sellers, “Radiocarbon Dating of Cloth from the Ain Feshka Cave,” Bulletin of the American School of Oriental Research, 123, Oct, 1951, pp. 24f). More precise is the paleographic evidence. The forms of the letters employed by the various scribes in the recovered scrolls represent a period of more than a century. The letters themselves are intermediate between the known script of the third century B.C. and the middle of the first century A.D. Albright says “All competent students of writing conversant with the available materials and with paleographic method” date the scrolls “in the 250 years before A.D. 70” (op. cit., p. 540).

Frank M. Cross, as a result of an intensive study of the evidence of the manuscripts from Qumran, defines three periods: An archaic...

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