Did you know that the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) is one of the greatest archaeological finds in history? Between 1947 and 1956 roughly 900 manuscripts were discovered in caves along the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea. Among these manuscripts were biblical books, community rules, hymns of thanksgiving called the Hodayot (הוֹדָיוֹת), and even re-written versions of famous scriptural stories! These finds not only drastically transformed our understanding of Second Temple Judaism but also gave scholars insight into the faithful translation, interpretation, and preservation of the Hebrew Bible.
Before the discovery of the Scrolls, the earliest extant (available) biblical manuscripts came from around 900 CE. Thus, the monumental discovery of the DSS took the dating of available biblical manuscripts back some 1000 years! Dated between 250 BCE and 68 CE, the Scrolls contain fragments of every biblical book, except for Esther. The differences between the Dead Sea texts and later Hebrew versions are very slight and often do not affect the meaning of the text. Slight changes in spelling, also called orthography, and minor additions or omissions are some of these small changes between texts. Despite relatively insignificant orthographical variants, the vast similarities we see across centuries of Hebrew manuscripts highlights the great care that Jewish scribes took when transmitting the biblical text.
Only a small percentage of the caves have been excavated, yet new scrolls continue to be unearthed – with the most recent discovery early this year! Thus, more pieces of biblical history lie in wait to be discovered!