The Leon Levy Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library

As promised, the first of my Resource Reviews, collected here.

The Digital Scrolls Library

A few months ago, the Tyndale House posted a link on Facebook to an amazing resource that I thought was worth highlighting here as a first review. The Leon Levy Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library is the result of the work of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), who have used the latest digital technology to provide high resolution images freely to the public. The site offers hundreds of manuscripts and thousands of fragments found in the Judean Desert between 1947 and the early 1960s.

Not only that, but the site is actually quite beautiful and user-friendly – not often the case for online biblical studies resources! My favorite feature of the site (beside this interesting historical timeline) is the multi-criteria archive search page, where users can sort by archaeological site, language, scroll content, and even more technical filters like material, historic period, and manuscript type. The Greek manuscripts and fragments add up to just over 130 items, a remarkable resource for LXX and OT scholar alike.

This nice video does some of the work for me:

The Significance of Qumran for LXX Studies

Much could be said here, so I will limit myself as much as possible. The discovery of the Qumran documents was a paradigm-shifting event in the world of biblical studies. Prior to the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS), the amount of primary manuscript evidence for the Hebrew Old Testament had been largely limited to material from the 11-13th century C.E. and later. Important exceptions to this were of course some evidence in the Cairo Geniza (see the collection here), the Masoretic Leningrad Codex, and the Greek OT content of the Vaticanus and Sinaiticus uncials (both 4th century C.E.). Due to this lack of evidence, OT textual criticism was (far more) difficult. When the DSS were found, however, suddenly scholars had access to primary materials up to a millennium older than what they had on hand, precipitating a new era in OT scholarship.

Most of the DSS date between the 3rd century B.C.E. and the 1st century C.E. The collection includes religious literature far afield from what is today considered the canonical Old Testament, although that too was found. As a sectarian community, the Qumran covenanters had texts detailing their unique religious practices, commentaries, wisdom texts, calendars, and so on. Most are written in Hebrew, but Aramaic, Greek, and even unidentified languages were also used. Amazingly, every book of the bible was discovered (except, curiously, the book of Esther).

The payoff for LXX studies, of course, is the Greek texts among the collection. As little OT evidence as existed in Hebrew, there was even less for the Greek OT, particularly from the pre-Christian era. One of the most significant aspects of the DSS for LXX studies is that the evidence is pre-Hexaplaric, i.e. represents texts not influenced by the 3rd century C.E. text critical work of Origen. Origen’s efforts were massive and admirable, but disastrous for later textual critics.

While no significant divergences in the Greek DSS appeared in comparison to the major uncials, some scholars believe the latter may reflect updating or revision of some kind, usually attributed to Christian scribes. In short, the DSS shed unprecedented light upon the history of the Greek translation of the OT, and provided a sea of primary evidence on which scholars of Hebrew OT studies would set sail as well. May the voyage continue!

An excellent overview of further points of interest for LXX studies can be found in Jobes & Silva, Invitation to the Septuagint (Baker, 2000), chapter 8. (Buy here). Also see E. Tov, “The Contribution of the Qumran Scrolls to the Understanding of the Septuagint,” 285-300 in The Greek and Hebrew Bible (Brill, 1999).

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