Bible Review 11:1, February 1995

Tracing the Evolution of the Hebrew Bible

What the Dead Sea scrolls teach us

By Adam S. van der Woude

In some ways—oddly enough—the more than 200 biblical manuscripts in Hebrew found among the Dead Sea Scrolls have elevated the authority of the Greek Septuagint at the expense of the Masoretic text, the received Hebrew version preserved by the Jewish community for 2,000 years. Nevertheless, there is reason to believe that the received text had special authority even before the Christian era.

To understand why, we need to recall the situation before the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. Our modern translations of what Christians call the Old Testament and Jews call the Tanakha are based on the text of a complete manuscript of the Hebrew Bible in the Public Library of St. Petersburg in Russia, known as the Leningrad Codex, which dates from about 1008 A.D.b Several other medieval Bible codices are about a century older but contain only part of the biblical text.c Fragments of Hebrew Bible books dating from 600–900 A.D. were also found in the genizah of the Ezra Synagogue of Old Cairo at the end of the last century.d

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