THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-8-68 10:50 a.m.
Now the title of the sermon this morning is The Qumran Scrolls, The Dead Sea Scrolls. I have a background text, not for exegetical purposes but as a background, my favorite text in the Bible, Isaiah chapter 40, verse 8: "The grass withereth, the flower fadeth, but the Word of our God shall stand forever."
To me one of the greatest archaeological discoveries in human history is the discovery of the scrolls of the Bible at Qumran. It is an incredible find. It is an amazing providence. And it does so much for us who believe the Word of God, who preach it, who find in it the assurance of our hope in God now and in the world that is to come. First of all, the discovery of the scrolls themselves; then second, the community that wrote them, that copied them; and third, the meaning of these scrolls for us today who love and treasure this holy Word.
First, the discovery: if you can keep in your mind the picture of a map of Palestine, up here at the top would be the anti-Lebanon ranges. And then from the water, pouring down from those high mountains, snow-capped, there is the gathering of the waters in the Jordan River that pours into the Sea of Galilee. Then the Jordan, the name means "descender," the Jordan goes down and down until finally it empties itself into the Dead Sea.
Now at the top of the Dead Sea, at the north part of the Dead Sea and one mile to the west, is an ancient community called Qumran. It is named after a dry watercourse that comes down and through the hills of Judea and empties out into the Dead Sea; the Qumran. And there, on the little plain built up by the dry watercourse, a thousand feet raised above the face of the Dead Sea and one mile to the west of it is this Qumran community.
Now, how it was discovered: there was a Bedouin boy, an Arab nomad, who was seeking for a stray goat. His name was Mohammed Ed Dhib. And as he was searching around that place of Qumran for his stray goat, he took a rock and threw it into an opening. To his great surprise he heard pottery shattering. He came back and into the cave and he found seven earthen jars just like that. This is an identical replica of what that lad found in the caves. And on the inside of those earthen jars he found strange-looking writing on scrolls that were made out of leather, out of parchment.
The boy took the scrolls to Bethlehem and laid them before an antiquities dealer who said they were worthless. The boy took them to Jerusalem, and when the archbishop of the Syrian church, called St. Marks, saw them, he bought four of them from the boy for a pittance, for just a little amount of money.
And three of the scrolls were bought for a pittance by an antiquities dealer in Bethlehem, and they finally came into the hands of a professor of archaeology in the Hebrew University in Jerusalem by the name of Eliazar Sukenik. And that meant that the Hebrew University had three of the scrolls and the archbishop of St. Marks had four.
The archbishop, Athanasius Samuel, took his four scrolls to America ostensibly, he said, to keep them safe because they were discovered in the spring of 1947 and immediately thereafter, as you know, the war broke out between the Israelis and the Jordanians, the Arabs in Palestine. He found no sale for them here in America. One of the strange things of the academic community of the American scene; they looked at those scrolls, the American School of Oriental Research looked at them, and they refused to buy them.
There was a Jewish industrialist in New York City who read an ad in the Wall Street Journal. And immediately sensing something of the tremendous worth and value of these scrolls he got in touch with the professor of archaeology in Jerusalem, in the Hebrew University, and arrangements were made for them to be bought for a quarter of a million dollars. And they were sent back to the Hebrew University, back to Israel, in a clandestine way. The whole story reads like a novel, a mystery.
When the first one came they received the word "Father has come." When the second manuscript came the word was sent back to America, "the Mother has come." And when the other two were sent and they were saved, the word was sent back, "the children have come;" all of it very secretive.
Now there are many other things connected with the scrolls that were fantastic. For example, an antiquarian dealer, an antiquities dealer in Bethlehem bought a bushel of them, a bushel basket, and he hid them in the ground for safekeeping. And when finally they were dug up in the moist earth, they were nothing but a gluey, indecipherable mass. And nobody will ever know the contents of that precious basket of those Qumran scrolls that were buried by that antiquities dealer in Bethlehem.
Now as time went on, archaeologists combed the place and the Bedouins continued to search the area. And there have been eleven caves that have been discovered and opened. And in those eleven caves there have been toward 600 to 800 different identifiable manuscripts, some of them whole such as you find in the Hebrew University in the Shrine of the Book, the whole manuscript; some of them in little fragments, but all of them infinitely precious. Now this is the story of the discovery of the scrolls.
Now we shall speak of the community in which they were written. It came out of a pious, Judaistic, religious group that separated themselves from the worldly and corruptible, political life of the Hasmonean dynasty. Now let’s spell that out. In 167 B.C. Antiochus Epiphanes, the king of Syria, sought to destroy the Jewish religion and to substitute for it Greek idolatry. He took the temple in Jerusalem and dedicated it to Olympus Jupiter. He offered a sow on the great altar, and took the juice from it and spread it all over the temple and all over the sacred vessels in order to make it impossible for a Jew in ceremonial cleanliness to worship there. And by law it was punishable by death to worship Jehovah God, and the Scriptures were summarily sought and destroyed.
In those days there was a priest in Modan, which is west of Jerusalem, by the name of Matthithias and he had five glorious boys. And Matthithias refused to bow before the edicts of Antiochus Epiphanes, and lifted the standard of revolt. His first son, who followed him – for Matthithias soon died thereafter being an old man – his first son was named Judas, whom they called Maccabeus; "Judas the Hammer." And from him came the word the Maccabees; actually they are the Hasmonean family. And when they lifted the standard of revolt, all of the pious Jews found themselves under his banner.
But, as often is said, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. It was not long until the Maccabeans themselves found their government and their tyranny filled with all kinds of personal grief and corruption. The biggest thing that they did that violated the spiritual sensitivity of the Hasideans, the deeply pious and religious Jews, was that the Maccabees – Jonathan first, who was brother of Judas Maccabeus, and then Simon his brother, and then on down through Alexander Jannaeus and John Hyrcanus and John Hyrcanus the Second – the Maccabees seized the high priesthood. For a thousand years the high priesthood had been in the family of Zadok. It was so in the days of Solomon. It was so all the years and centuries through to the days of the rebellion of the Maccabees. When, therefore, the Maccabees dismissed the Zadok high priesthood which is the only priesthood according to the Bible that could minister in God’s sanctuary. When the Maccabees seized the high priesthood and took it to themselves and made themselves high priests they welded together a political, religious, monstrous government in Judea that, as I say, highly insulted and infuriated these Hasideans, the "holy ones," the Israel that loved God’s Word and sought to be obedient to its every precept.
Now in the reaction against the Maccabean tyranny, these Hasideans formed themselves into a party called the Pharisees. But there were other Hasideans, other pious ones in Israel, who looked upon the Pharisees as compromisers because they stayed in the government, and they stayed in Jerusalem, and they stayed in the mainstream of Judaistic religion. There were other of those Hasideans who sought somewhere to go and something to do by which they could lead the pure life that they loved, and to withdraw from the corruptible and greedy world.
Well, in those days there was an unusual and gifted man who arose. About half a century ago in a manuscript in an ancient synagogue in Cairo there was this sentence, "God raised up for them a teacher of righteousness to lead them in the way of His heart, and to make known to the last generation what He was going to do in the last generation of all."
Nobody knew what that referred to. But when the Qumran scrolls were discovered we learned that it came from Qumran. In those days in about 165 and following B.C., in those days there appeared a wonderfully gifted man whose name we do not know. He is referred to always as the teacher of righteousness. He was a man endowed with great qualities of leadership. He had an original mind and a keen interpretation of prophetic Scriptures.
So he gathered these pious ones, these holy ones, these Hasideans, and he took them out into the Judean wilderness and there built the community of Qumran. Now it was a semi-monastic order. It was not totally monastic because they married, they had wives and children. But it was a communal life and they had a monastery, a communal house, complex of houses. They themselves, the members of this Judaistic sect of Qumran, lived in the caves around and in tents. But in the communal house they worked and they worshiped.
Now in their worship they bathed every day. They had many ceremonial lustrations and they were dressed in white robes. And there in that communal house they read God’s Word, and they preached God’s Word, and they sought by precept to instruct the community in God’s word.
There in their work, there in the refectory, they ate their communal meal with the kitchen nearby. And in that monastery they had a pottery in which they made these jars, and they also had a cannery in which they prepared the parchments in which to write all of these sacred books. So the Qumran community gave itself to the Word of God. And in that complex they had a scriptorium, an oblong room, in which the men sat who wrote those manuscripts copying the Word of the Lord. Now in the Qumran community all of the parts of the Bible have been found either in scroll or in fragmentary parts. There are representatives of all of the books of the Old Testament except the Book of Esther.
Now what became of the Qumran community? It was founded in about 160 to 150 B.C. In 68 [A.D.] it ceased to exist and the reason for it seems to be apparent. In 66 A.D. the zealots moved the Jewish nation of Judea and Galilee to revolt against the Roman yoke. Josephus the great historian was a general in the army in Galilee. And in the rebellion that ensued, the great Roman general Vespasianus was sent down to destroy the nation. And in 68 A.D. he captured Jericho, and in the history he then sought out and destroyed all of the Jews who lived in the hill country. So it must have been that when Vespasianus captured Jericho, and when his armies began to comb the hills to slay any Jew that they could find, it must have been then that the Qumran community took their precious scrolls and placed them in these jars and hid them in those caves, hoping someday to come back to them and rebuild their community and their communal life again.
As you know, Vespasianus, then made emperor of the Roman Empire, turned the war over to Titus and in 70 A.D. Jerusalem was destroyed, the temple was destroyed, the nation was destroyed, and the inhabitants of Qumran were either slain or having fled out of the country also fled out of history. And it is just now that we have come into the marvelous treasure of what they did in copying the Word of God, and in hiding the scrolls in the caves that surrounded their community.
Now, last and briefly, there have been literally a library of books written on the Qumran scrolls. This is just a bare introduction. Now last, what does it mean to us who love the Word of God? What do those scrolls bear in message to us? Many, many things, all of which are incomparably wonderful.
First of all, in the Qumran scrolls we have a verification and an authentication of the text that we have here in the Bible. Printing came late, late, late; and for centuries and for millennia the Bible was copied by hand, the scribes copying from this copy to this copy to this copy. How do you know you have a true copy of the Word of God? How do you know that so many errors crept into the text until you hardly know what the original text was?
The Qumran scrolls, more than any other discovery of antiquity, has verified for us the true text of the Word of God. The Book that I hold in my hand is a translation of the Hebrew Masoretic text. And it is that text that we read in our Bibles as being God’s Word in the Old Covenant, in the books of the Old Testament.
Now there is a word in Hebrew, masora. It means tradition. And a man versed in that tradition is called a Masorete. And the text is referred to that they loved and gave to the world as the Masoretic text. It was fixed, it was established, in 100 A.D. out of all the texts that were used of the Bible, it was established by Rabbi Akiba in 100 A.D. And thereafter that Masoretic text was discussed and traditions gathered around it and all the words in it and that is called the masora, that tradition that concerns the text of the Hebrew Bible.
And in about 900 to 1000 A.D. those Masoretes, those Jewish scholars learned in Hebrew text, wrote down all of that tradition concerning the text of the Bible, the text of Rabbi Akiba, and they also put the vowel points because Hebrew is written in a consonant style, no vowels. They also put the vowel points in it and that Masoretic text is the one that we have in our bibles.
Now through the centuries, and the centuries, and the centuries, as it was copied, how do you know that you have a true text? The earliest manuscript of a Masoretic text was copied in about 915 A.D., and beyond that we had no idea what a text would look like; the earliest one, about 915 A.D. Now the Qumran scrolls give to us a text of the Bible that was written in about 175 B.C. That means that we can take that text of the Bible back, and back, and back and look at it a thousand years earlier. Any text that we have ever known until the discovery of the Qumran scrolls, what do we find?
This is what we find: by studying the Greek Septuagint and the Samaritan Pentateuch we find that there were three kinds of text of the Old Testament Scriptures. One was the Palestinian text, one was the text that was circulated in Egypt when the Jews went to Egypt, and the third was the text that was circulated in Babylon when the Jews were carried to Babylon. Now when all three of those texts came back to Palestine, as they did, there were variations in them, and the variations were caused by this: the Palestinians and the Egyptians had a tendency to modernize their text just as we do today. You have these modern translations of the Scriptures; so, the Palestinians and the Egyptians had a tendency to modernize the text.
But the Babylonians wrote that thing just as it was. They never modernized it nor did they attempt to change it. They just wrote it as it was. If they couldn’t understand a word they just copied it down anyway. And the copies of the text of Babylonia were exactly as it was back there in the ancient day when God spoke through the mouths of the prophets.
Now what we have found out is this, that the Masoretic text, the one that we have in our Bibles, the Hebrew Bible used by the Jewish people today, the Masoretic text is that Babylonian text, when they copied it word for word whether they could understand it or not, they copied it just as it was in the book. And we have found that the Masoretic text, this Bible that we hold in our hands, is a truer copy of the actual Word of God than the Qumran texts that are 1000 years older. So faithfully, and so meticulously, and so religiously did the scribes copy those texts until the one we have in our hands today is truer to the actual original than any of the texts used 1000 years before the one that we know today, the Masoretic text. It’s one of the most phenomenal things of all literature, this confirmation of the Word of God that we hold in our hands when we open our Bibles; the English translation of the Masoretic text.
All right, one other instance briefly. How does it affect our knowledge of the Word of God itself? Because I am interested now especially in Daniel, and this fall the first volume of expository sermons on Daniel have been published, and if I ever have opportunity to study I will begin again preaching in the Book of Daniel. And each fall there will be a volume published of those expository sermons, those expositions of the Book of Daniel. Now in the Book of Daniel, and the reason especially that I have assumed this responsibility to go through Daniel is, as I preached through the Bible there were five volumes of sermons that were published on the Revelation, and Daniel is an integral part of that prophetic stream that found its consummation in the great and final apocalypse, the Revelation.
Now Daniel is the most assailed of all the books of the Bible. The man who does not believe in the supernatural, and does not believe in prophecy, and does not believe in the intervention of God in human history, he seeks to deny the inspiration of the Bible. Now as he seeks to deny that inspiration, what he does is attack it at its weakest point. And he thinks the weakest point of the Bible is the Book of Daniel, without exception; without exception.
Every liberal in the world believes that Daniel is a fake, a fraud, a forgery. Now what do the Qumran scrolls do with the Book of Daniel? Well, to the amazement of the scholastic world, the Book of Daniel in its fragments, as it has been found in the Qumran scrolls, the Book of Daniel is exactly as it is here in our Bibles; exactly.
As you know, in the Book of Daniel in chapter 2, at the end of verse 3, in the beginning of verse 4, it goes from Hebrew into Aramaic. Then, as you know, in our Masoretic text, at the end of chapter 7 and the beginning of chapter 8, it goes back from Aramaic into Hebrew.
Now in the scrolls, in the fragments of the scrolls that have been found in the Qumran caves, exactly where our Hebrew Bible and our translation of it, exactly where it goes from Hebrew into Aramaic, there in the Qumran scrolls does it go from Hebrew to Aramaic. And then exactly in those Qumran scrolls where it goes from Aramaic back into Hebrew there it goes back into Hebrew; exactly. Yet – and listen to this – the liberal says that the Book of Daniel was not written until about 160 B.C. And yet that is the time that those Qumran scrolls had been found.
In other words, Daniel was a part of these Holy Scriptures. In the Qumran community when the liberal says that the Book of Daniel was written, it had just been composed. Now it takes time, according to the liberal, and many, many centuries, time for a manuscript to lose its original language and some of it to be in Aramaic and the rest of it in Hebrew.
So when the liberal saw that the Qumran scrolls would make Daniel written centuries before 165 B.C., when they say it was composed, why I read one of their greatest scholars who said, "The Qumran community could not possibly have flourished between 165 and 168 because the Book of Daniel then would be authentic!" So he said, "It must be that the Qumran community was a community that flourished long after."
But there is not one bit of evidence to show other that the Qumran community existed from about 165 B.C. to 168 A.D. And in those fragments and in those scrolls you will find the Book of Daniel as the Word of God, exactly as you have it here in our Bibles.
I have to conclude. There have been thousands and thousands of artifacts. There have been thousands and thousands of fragments. There have been thousands and thousands of inscriptions. There have been thousands and thousands of antiquities that have been dug up by the archaeologists. There has never yet been one thing by the archaeologists that has denied that Book. Out of the thousands, and thousands, and thousands, and unnumbered thousands of artifacts, and inscriptions, and stones, and pottery that have been uncovered by the archaeologists, there has never yet been one thing found that contradicted the Word of God. But contrary-wise; out of the thousands, and thousands, and thousands, and thousands of these historical reminders and confirmations that have been uncovered by the archaeologists, every one of them, every one of them confirms the truth; the historical truth, the spiritual truth of this Book I hold in my hands.
Now I conclude. We don’t need the confirmation. I was a Christian a long time before 1947. We don’t need the confirmation, we who love God and love that Book. We don’t need the confirmation. I believe every syllable in that Book. I believe it was inspired by the Lord God. I believe its message is from heaven and that God sent it to us that our souls might be delivered and that we might be saved to Himself, and that we might live a beautiful and devout life in this world. I believe every syllable of that Book.
But it is a mighty thing to me when I know that the finest scholastic discoveries in the world confirm that faith. And without fail they do. Every page of manuscript, every piece of pottery, every inscription, everything that we can learn about ancient days, confirm the truth of the Word of God. As my text avows, "The grass withers"; it does. "The flower fades"; it does. "But the Word of God shall stand forever." Blessed is the man who builds his hope and his life upon the unchanging Word of God.
Now we must sing our hymn, and as we sing it, a family you to give your heart to Jesus; a couple you to come into the fellowship of the church; or just one somebody you responding with your life; on the first note of the first stanza, come. Come. Come. Make the decision now. Make it now. Do it now. And in a moment when we stand up to sing, stand up coming. There is still the open stairway on either side at the front. There is a stairwell at the back on both sides, and there is time and to spare if out of the balcony you will decide for Christ and come. The throng on this lower floor, into the aisle and down here to the front, "Pastor, here I am. This is my wife and these are our children. All of us are coming today." Or just one somebody you; make the decision now in your heart, and on the first note of the first stanza step into the aisle and down here to the front. "Here I am preacher, and here I come." Do it now. Make it now, while we stand and while we sing.