Bible Review 16:4, August 2000
The Most Original Bible Text: How to Get There


At last, almost all of the Dead Sea Scrolls have been transcribed, transliterated, translated and either published or nearly published. But as soon as this task is accomplished, scholars are faced with a new challenge: How can they improve the text of the Hebrew Bible, or Old Testament, based on insights from the scrolls?

The Dead Sea Scrolls did not, as some early dreamers speculated, include long lost books of the Bible. They did not utterly transform our image of the Hebrew Bible. Indeed, one of the most important contributions of the scrolls is that they have demonstrated the relative stability of the ancient biblical text. This text, it turns out, has been preserved remarkably well in the standard Hebrew edition of the Bible, the Masoretic Text.

Nevertheless, there are differences (some quite significant) between the scrolls and the Masoretic Text. Furthermore, these differences have made scholars rethink variant readings found in other ancient manuscripts. How should scholars treat these variants? Should they try to determine which readings are the most original and then incorporate them in a new critical edition of the Hebrew Bible? Or should they continue to use the Masoretic Text as their base? The question is not merely academic; for any changes made to scholarly editions of the Hebrew Bible will have repercussions for decades of research and will affect all future Bible translations.

In this section, Ronald S. Hendel of the University of California, Berkeley, argues that scholars can reconstruct a more original Bible if they “Combine the Best from Each Tradition.” James A. Sanders, president of the Ancient Biblical Manuscript Center in Claremont, California, responds by urging scholars to “Keep Each Tradition Separate.”

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