The Dead Sea Scrolls

Now, here’s a thing. – In March of this year, following an independent report, the Museum of the Bible in Washington announced that some of its most prized possessions –  fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls – were fakes. The museum is very well-funded and had spent a lot of money to acquire those fragments.

According to an article in the National Geographic magazine[1] the new findings don’t cast doubt on the 100,000 real Dead Sea Scroll fragments, most of are kept in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

Now you might be wondering, what exactly are the Dead Sea Scrolls, and why all the fuss?  Well, they are a set of authenticated ancient texts that include the oldest known surviving copies of the Hebrew Bible. The Israel Antiquities Authority[2] says about them:

“Scroll dates range from the third century BC …to the first century…  (AD)[3]  before the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 AD. While Hebrew is the most frequently used language in the Scrolls, about 15% were written in Aramaic and several in Greek. The Scrolls’ materials are made up mainly of parchment, although some are papyrus, and the text of one Scroll is engraved on copper.”

Not all the Dead sea Scrolls are biblical in nature – roughly 22% are and they number some 225 in total. When compared to the previously oldest known manuscript for the Old Testament (the 9th Century Masoric text)   the Dead Sea Scrolls do demonstrate the unusual accuracy of transmission over a thousand-year period. 

So, are the Dead Sea Scrolls important to us as Christians? I can answer that in three words – yes and no!

Yes, because they remind us that what we read are copies and translations of the original texts.  God has remarkably preserved his Word,  but we do need to be vigilant to ensure that the copies we rely upon are faithful to the original texts, with nothing added in and nothing taken out (as well as no other writings being given equal or greater status). We also need to be careful that the translations we use are faithful to those original copies, accepting that some words, phrases and even concepts found in the originals have no direct equivalent in English. If needed, the Dead Sea Scrolls do provide evidence of the antiquity and unity of the scriptures.

No, because our trust in the Bible as the Word of God comes from the endorsement of the Holy Spirit and the power the Spirit brings to the Word in our lives.  As we grow as Christians and learn how to read, understand and apply the scriptures the Spirit increases  our understanding and appreciation of this wonderful gift and convicts us of their validity. (Writing this article has certainly made me realise I need to make more to effort with my own Bible reading!)


[1] ‘’Dead Sea Scrolls’ at the Museum of the Bible are all forgeries’- National Geographic, https://www.nationalgeographic.co.uk/history-and-civilisation/2020/03/dead-sea-scrolls-museum-of-bible-are-all-forgeries

[2] ‘Dead Sea Scrolls – Introduction’ https://www.deadseascrolls.org.il/learn-about-the-scrolls/introduction?locale=en_US

[3] I have changed their use of BCE and CE (a modern terminology) to BC and AD, which most people recognise and which maintains the clear link to Jesus in our dating system.