THE QUMRAN SCROLLS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-8-68 8:15 a.m.
Now the sermon this morning, to me, is one of the most interesting that I have ever prepared in my life. The message is entitled The Qumran Scrolls, the Dead Sea Scrolls. And if you are listening on the radio, you are listening to the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. I have a background text. When I write my name in a book, almost always this will be the text that I will write under my name; Isaiah 40 and verse 8:
The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand forever.
The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand forever.
To me, one of the greatest archaeological discoveries in the earth is the Qumran Scrolls. It is an incredible, amazing, and unbelievable find. I shall speak of it first in the discovery. I shall speak of it second in the community that produced those scrolls. And I shall speak of it third in its meaning for us who love and believe the Word of God.
Now, we need forty hours, or forty weeks, or forty years. There is a library, literally a library of literature that has been written about these scrolls. Lee Roy Till just asked me had I had seen the latest issue of National Geographic. I said, “No.”
“Well,” he said, “I have it. It is just off the press and it presents the story, the dramatic story of these scrolls.” I am eager to see how National Geographic in its latest issue has done it. In previous years they have presented and written issues about this amazing archaeological find.
Now, where is Qumran? If I had a map here of Palestine, you would see from the Lebanese mountains to the north the water is gathered into the Sea of Galilee, then runs down through the Jordan to the Dead Sea, straight north and south. Now all of you have this picture in your minds. Now at the north of the Dead Sea, at the top of the Dead Sea, and to the west of it one mile; at the top of the Dead Sea to the west one mile, that is the Qumran community. It is seven and a half miles south of Jericho. It is on an elevation one thousand feet above the surface of the sea. Not only were these scrolls found in the caves of that Qumran area, but they also unearthed, excavated, the Qumran community. And there it is open to view today.
Now how it came to be discovered: in the spring of 1947, an Arab boy, a Bedouin lad named Muhammed ed-Dib, was searching for a stray goat from his herd. He happened to cast a rock into an opening and heard pottery shatter. He later went back and entered that cave. To his amazement he found seven earthen jars, just like that. This is an exact replica of one of the jars, and on the inside of it he found an ancient scroll. And this is an exact replica of that scroll.
When the lad found it and the strange writing on it, he took one of them to an antiquities dealer in Bethlehem. And the antiquities dealer said, “It is worthless.” The Bedouin then took his four scrolls to Jerusalem, and there they were sold for a few cents, literally, practically, comparatively, to the Syrian archbishop Athanasius Samuel.
Now, that’s four of them in the hands now of the Syrian archbishop in Jerusalem; the archbishop of St. Mark’s Syrian church in Jerusalem. Three of the scrolls were bought by Eliezer Sukenik, a professor of archeology in Hebrew University who died in 1953. And the story of those scrolls sounds like a mystery novel.
As you know, right after 1947 when they were discovered, the war broke out between the Arabs and the Jews. And the United Nations made a demarcation line from top to bottom, separating the Israeli state from the Jordanian state. The scrolls were brought by the archbishop Samuel to the United States, trying to sell them, and nobody would buy them.
Eventually, in a Wall Street Journal ad, a Hebrew industrialist, an industrialist in New York City, made provisions for the buying of the four scrolls in America for a quarter of a million dollars. And one by one they were clandestinely shipped back to Israel. When each one would arrive, they would send a telegram, “Father has arrived.” That is one manuscript. Then, “Mother has arrived,” that’s another manuscript. Then “The children have arrived,” two more manuscripts. And that meant that the Hebrew University had seven of those incomparable discoveries.
After it became known and the world learned of these unusual finds, archaeological teams began to comb the area. Also, the Bedouins continued their search, and there has been brought to view eleven of those Qumran caves, eleven of them that contained this written material. And there have been upwards of six hundred to eight hundred manuscripts and fragments of manuscripts that have been retrieved. And these manuscripts open to view the Judaistic life and religion and the Scriptures as they obtained in the life of our Lord in the years before and a few years after, the most important segment of history in the life of mankind. Now that’s a little summary of their discovery.
Now a word about the community that produced them; when was the community organized and what kind of a community was it? As you know, in 167 BC Antiochus Epiphanes sought to destroy the Jews’ religion and to substitute Greek religion instead. He took the sacred temple in Jerusalem and rededicated it to Olympius Jupiter. And he offered a sow on the high altar, on the brazen altar, and took its juice and poured it all over the vessels of the sanctuary in order to desecrate it in the eyes of the Jews and to make it unfit for the worship of Jehovah.
And in those days, in 167 BC, there was such a violent reaction against the attempt of Antiochus Epiphanes to force Greek religion upon the Jews and the worship of idols and idolatry that there was a priest by the name of Mattathias who rose up in anger and furor against the oppressors. And he had some wonderful boys such as Judas Maccabeus, and Jonathan, and Simon, and the Maccabees as they came to be known because the son Judas Maccabeus, Judas the Hammer, the Maccabees called Israel to battle, to revolt. And to the amazement of anyone who would read history, they won political and religious independence. But as so often happens with a great family, as the time goes on, they become ambitious and full of grasping greed. And the Maccabees became just that.
Even in the lifetime of those sons, the priesthood by the Book, and by the law of God was to be in the family of Aaron [Exodus 28:1, 40:12-15]. And from the days of Solomon down to the Maccabees, the high priesthood had been in the Aaronic family of Zadok [1 Kings 1:39; Ezekiel 44:15]. But the Maccabees dismissed the high priestly family of Zadok, and they assumed the high priesthood themselves. First, Jonathan assumed it, then his brother Simon took it. Then it went on down for a hundred years in the Hasmonean dynasty, through Alexander Jannaeus, through John Hyrcanus I, John Hyrcanus II; so, what they did in Jerusalem was to make a religious political combination, and you can imagine how worldly corrupt through Judaism and the priesthood in Jerusalem. Now as always in God’s people and in the family of the Lord, there are devout worshipers and followers of God. The Hebrew name for them is Hasidim. You can see them today. They look so strange and unfamiliar to us as we see them walking up and down the streets of Jerusalem and all over Israel; the Hasidim, the followers, the holy ones.
Well, in the revolt, in the reaction against the worldly corruption of the Hasmoneans, the Maccabeans, some of those Hasidim developed into the party of the Pharisees. But there were others who looked upon the Pharisees as compromisers, and they withdrew from this worldly corruption. But what should they do and where should they turn and how should they live?
Now about a half-century or more ago, in an old synagogue in Cairo, Egypt, there was an ancient manuscript, and it had this sentence, “God raised up for them a teacher of righteousness, a teacher of righteousness to lead them in the way of His heart and to make known to the last generations what He was going to do in the last generation of all.” Nobody knew where that quotation came from or to whom it referred. In this archaeological find in Qumran, we have found that the sentence came from Qumran, and it refers to an unusually gifted man whose name we do not know. He is always called the teacher of righteousness. He gathered together those holy Hasidim, those righteous ones, and he brought them to a community that had been anciently lived in. In Joshua that place is called the city of Salt [Joshua 15:62]. Under King Uzziah it was a fortification, and he built a circular cistern there [2 Chronicles 26:10].
Pliny the Elder refers to it in his Natural History, and Josephus—who for three years went out into the desert to learn the life of a sect called the Essenes—refers to a sect of them that married, that were not totally monastic in their lives. And in that place, Qumran, this teacher of righteousness gathered his Hasidim, about two hundred, and they came there to live.
Now the kind of a life that they lived; it was semi-monastic. It was not totally monastic because the men married and had families, and their life followed this kind of an order. Here in Qumran, where they have excavated, there is a communal house, the place of work and worship. But the people lived in the caves and in tents around. But in that monastery, there did they eat their communal meal. You will find the refectory there and the kitchen. And in that communal house they had their lustrations, they bathed ritually daily, wearing white robes. And in that house they had their pottery, making pottery. And in that communal house they had a tannery making parchments. And in that house they had a scriptorium. They had a long, oblong room in which they wrote God’s Word, copied God’s Word, made these manuscripts. And in that place also they were taught to love, to read, and to obey the Word of God, this Book I hold in my hands.
Now the community continued from about 160 BC to 68 AD. The destruction of the community lies in the story of the destruction of Israel in 70 AD. The war broke out; the revolt broke out against Rome on the part of the Jewish Zealots in 66 AD. It started in Galilee. Josephus was a general in the army in Galilee.
And when Vespasian, who then was the leader of the Roman legions, when Vespasian came into Israel, into Judea to destroy the revolt, in 68 AD, he came down and captured Jericho. And after the capture of Jericho, he hunted down the remnant of the Jewish people in the wilderness, in the hills of Judea. And that must have been the reason why the scrolls were hid in those caves.
In their frantic effort to save God’s Holy Word, they took those jars and they placed in them those sacred scrolls. And they hid them in the caves around their Qumran monastery, expecting, I would think, to come back to them one day and to continue their life again. But they never came back. The Roman legionnaires slew them, or they fled out of the pages of history into oblivion. And in 1947, their scrolls that were hidden were discovered, and we have them in our possession today.
When I was in the Arab section of Palestine in 1950, I saw heaps of those Qumran scrolls, of every kind and size and shape and fragment that you can imagine. And today those seven, along with many others of the fragments of the manuscripts, can be seen in the most effective shrine I think in the earth, the Shrine of the Book in Jerusalem. It is worth the trip to Israel just to look upon that glorious presentation.
Now, I have spoken of the community that produced them. Now in the brief moment I have left I speak now of the meaning of the scrolls for us who love God’s Word. This Book that I hold in my hand, this English Bible, is a translation of what is called the Masoretic Text, the Hebrew text, the Hebrew Old Testament. Masorah is a Hebrew word meaning tradition. And in 100 AD Rabbi Akiva took the many different texts of the Hebrew Old Testament, and he standardized it, he established it. And with much tradition concerning that text, it came to be known, the collection came to be known as the Masorah, the tradition.
And a Hebrew scholar who was learned in that Masorah, that tradition concerning the text, was called a Masorete, a Masorete. And the Hebrew text that they so wonderfully kept alive and copied and recopied with their many comments and traditions is called the Masoretic Text. Now, all of that Masorah was reduced to writing in about 900 to 1000 AD by those Masoretes in Babylonia and in Tiberias, and especially in Tiberias. And that is when we will find placed in the Hebrew text all of those Masoretic vowel points. Until then the Hebrew text was just consonants, and in Hebrew today you will find it to be just consonants.
Now the oldest Masoretic Text that we have, the manuscript, was written in about 930 or 950 AD. The oldest manuscript that we have for the Old Testament was copied in about 950 AD. Now keep that year in your mind; 950 years after Christ, the oldest manuscript of this Hebrew Bible.
What the Qumran discovery did, the oldest manuscript that we have from that Qumran community was transcribed, was copied in about 175 BC, 175 years before Christ. So what the Qumran discovery did was this. It took the Bible—which until that discovery, the earliest manuscript we had was 950 years after Christ—it took that Bible in its manuscript form back a thousand years and more; a thousand years.
How was that Bible, which had to be copied by hand because there was no printing press, how was that Bible copied, and copied, and copied? And how do we know there were not many mistakes in it? So by going back for another thousand years, we can follow the copying of that text and what came of it.
Now the Qumran discovery and I haven’t time to enter into this textual criticism, it would take hours to do it; the Qumran discovery has shown to us that the Masoretic text, this one we have in our Bible, is the truest text that God could have provided for our people. There were three lines of those texts. There was a Palestinian text; there was a Babylonian text, when they took the Bible to Babylon; there was an Egyptian text.
Now the Egyptians and the Palestinians had a tendency to modernize the Bible as we do today; all these translations to modernize it, bring it up to our present language and literature. But the Babylonians kept it just word for word, whether they understood it or not, and that we have found is the Masoretic Text, the one we have in our Bible, copied just exactly as the prophet delivered it and as the men of God wrote it, moved by the Holy Spirit [2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21].
All right, that’s the first thing we have learned. That the text we have in the Bible is the best text, the truest text, then, now, subsequently, afterward, before, through all time. It confirmed the truth of the Word of God. We have a true text in this Bible.
All right, there are many, many other things that come from those Qumran discoveries. I mentioned one of them because I am interested in Daniel, as you know. And if I ever get any time to study, I will go back to preaching through Daniel. The first volume of Daniel, as you know, Miss Brewster, has been published this fall, and if God will help me I hope every fall to publish a volume on Daniel until I am through with it.
All right, let me give you an instance of what the Qumran scrolls have done to the literature of the Bible. As you know, all of you have been listening to me preach through Daniel, as you know they attack Daniel because they think it is the most vulnerable. There is not a liberal in the world that believes in Daniel. They say it is a forge, they say it is a fraud! They say it is not possible for a man to prophesy the future. But Daniel prophesies. And he writes out accurately what came to pass. So the liberal says that Daniel, instead of being written in about 600 BC, as it purports to be, that Daniel was actually written in the days of the Maccabees, in the days of the Maccabees—five hundred years after it is supposed to have been composed—and that the prophecy is nothing but history brought back and written in the form of prophecy. That’s what the liberal says. And there is not a liberal in the world that believes in the authenticity of the Book of Daniel.
Now what has the Qumran scrolls done, say, to the Book of Daniel? Why, you will find in the Qumran scrolls fragments of every book in the Old Testament except Esther. And you will find fragments of the Book of Daniel among those Qumran scrolls. And, amazingly enough, those fragments include those places where Daniel changes from Hebrew to Aramaic, that would be between Daniel 2:3-4. And also you will find that those Qumran scrolls have fragments containing the place where it turns from that Aramaic back to Hebrew, which would be between Daniel 7:28 and Daniel 8:1.
Now the liberal scholars, scoffing at the Book of Daniel, said that in the centuries that followed its composition, why, these languages were brought back and forth such as you find them in Daniel, some of it was lost and some of it was added. But the conservative scholar says Daniel wrote it like that for the reasons—and then I haven’t time to go into those reasons. I preached on that one time. Daniel wrote it like that for those reasons. That was the inspired way of the delivery of the message. And to the amazement of the whole scholastic world, when those fragments of Daniel were found in those Qumran caves, the book was found exactly as it is here in the Bible! And yet, and yet that is the time that the book is supposed to have been composed. Yet in those Qumran caves here it is, a part of the Word of God.
Now the reaction of the liberal world has been terrific to those fragments of Daniel. For example, I read from one of the greatest scholars, Hebrew scholars, in all time where he said the Qumran scrolls cannot be dated as they are, starting in 150 BC up to 68 AD, because of Daniel! And he says the Qumran scrolls are going to have to be dated centuries later, and the Qumran community is going to have to be centuries later because it would present a view of Daniel according to the Word of God! That just goes to show how adamant liberal scholars are in accepting the Word of life and the Word of truth. But there is no doubt but that the Qumran community flourished for about two hundred years, between 150 or 160 BC to 68 AD. That is a settled conclusion!
And among those fragments you will find in the Word of God, you will find Daniel, and that Daniel that you will find in Qumran scrolls is exactly like the Daniel here in the Bible! Where it turned from Aramaic to Hebrew, there it is in the Qumran scrolls. Where it turned from Hebrew to Aramaic, there it is. Where it turned from Aramaic back into Hebrew, there it is.
All of which increasingly and emphatically points out the tremendous fact that what I have here in my hand, what I hold here in my hand is truly, and by God’s providential grace, actually and inerrantly God’s Holy Word! And when you read it, and when you believe it, and when you study it, when you follow it, when you practice it, when you accept it, you can have assurance by the finest scholarship and human ingenuity that can be brought to bear upon it if we needed it, you can be assured that you have the true Word of God in your hands.
Now for the rest of us we don’t need it. A long time before I ever heard of Qumran I believed the Word of God. And whether there had ever been a discovery of Qumran or not would make no difference to me, I believe this Book! I believe it is God’s Word! I believe every syllable of it is inspired by the Holy Spirit of God! [2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21].
But to those who stagger at the miracles of the Book and the prophecies in the Book, we have the certain verdict of archaeology, of all of the sciences of literature and study, of semantics, of nomenclature. Every turn of every shovel of every archaeologist who has ever lived, every shovel full has confirmed the Word of God.
There has never yet been an archaeological discovery in Babylon, in Palestine, in Egypt, anywhere in the earth, there has never been an archaeological discovery yet that denied the Word of God. There have been ten thousand times ten thousands of them brought to light by the archaeological spade, and every one of them confirms the truth and the accuracy of the Word of God. I go back to my text and I have to quit, “The grass withereth, and the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand forever” [Isaiah 40:8].
Well, I had another part to this sermon. I wanted to preach about John the Baptist and the Qumran community. John the Baptist grew up there, right there, if not in that exact place then right over there in the wilderness of Judea. John the Baptist grew up there. He knew these people.
And I wanted to add a message on the difference between the lustrations, the baptisms of Qumran, and the unique, heaven-sent pattern baptism of John the Baptist [John 1:33]. Would you all still like to hear about that? Ah, these things are so interesting to me. Now our time is gone.
On the first note of the first stanza when we stand up to sing, on the first note, if you are here this morning to give your heart to the Lord, or to put your life in the fellowship of our dear church, as God shall say the word and the Spirit shall lead in the way, you can still come down from the balcony on either side. And we’ll dismiss our other people to go to their Sunday school leadership responsibilities in a moment. There is room and to spare for you to come. A family you, or a couple you, or just one somebody you, make the decision now, and in a moment when we stand up, you stand up coming. And God bless you in the way, while we stand and while we sing.