En-Gedi Scrolls and the Accuracy of the Bible
Any honest person who has studied the process of how ancient books have come down to us in modern times knows this remarkable fact: the Bible is the most accurately transmitted book in the history of the world. Skeptics and those of other religions (such as Islam) often attempt to cast doubt on the biblical text by claiming that the words that were in the originals have been lost over thousands of years of copying. This accusation is patently false. The accurate and meticulous transmission of the 66 books we call the Bible is nothing short of divine. To document this truth would take entire volumes of thousands of pages each, which has been done, but we have no room to repeat it here. One good summary article of that vast research is the AP article “3 Good Reasons to Believe the Bible Has Not Been Corrupted.”1
One astounding fact about the Bible’s transmission is that new information continues to come to light, silencing the skeptic, and bolstering an already irrefutable case. One such discovery was made in 1970 near the area where the Dead Sea scrolls were found. A group of scrolls known as the En-Gedi scrolls came to light, but were badly damaged by fire and were unreadable with the technology available at the time.2 While the dating methods used to date the scrolls are not completely reliable, experts place the date of the writing near A.D. 300. That means the scrolls predate the Masoretic Text from which the King James Version was translated by about 500 years.
By using technology known as volume cartology, computer scientist Brent Seales and others were able to “map” the text and identify the writing. When they did, they found an ancient Hebrew text that coincided perfectly with the Masoretic Text of Leviticus 1:1-8. Newitz wrote:
What’s incredible about these chapters, according to archaeologist Emanuel Tov, is that they are virtually identical to the medieval Masoretic Text, written hundreds of years later. The En-Gedi scroll even duplicates the exact paragraph breaks seen later in the medieval Hebrew. The only difference between the two is that ancient Hebrew had no vowels, so these were added in the Middle Ages.3
Were this situation to have occurred with some other ancient text (such as the Quran or even the texts of ancient writers such as Herodotus or Thucydides), scholars would hail the event as unprecedented. In truth, however, this is a “run-of-the-mill” normal occurrence for the biblical text. The accusation that the biblical text has been miscopied or corrupted, in light of such evidence as the En-Gedi scrolls, is vacuous and unsustainable.
Emanuel Tov went on to say this about the En-Gedi text: “[It is] 100 percent identical with the medieval texts, both in its consonants and in its paragraph divisions…. [T]he scroll brings us the good news that the ancient source of the medieval text did not change for 2,000 years.” Newitz added, “In other words, the Jewish community managed to retain some of the exact wording in passages from their biblical texts over centuries, despite massive cultural upheavals and changes to their languages.”4
Indeed, such text preservation is unparalleled when compared to all other ancient documents in the world. We should recognize and appreciate the Providential care by which the biblical text has come down to us. And we should let that knowledge spur us on to study the Holy Bible, knowing that the words we read are those that God inspired.
1 Dave Miller (2015), “3 Good Reasons to Believe the Bible Has Not Been Corrupted,” Reason & Revelation, 35:86-89,92, http://apologeticspress.org/APContent.aspx?category=13&article=5196&topic=103. For more extensive information, see Neil Lightfoot (2003), How We Got the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker), third edition.
2 Annalee Newitz, “One of the World’s Oldest Biblical Texts Read for the First Time,” https://arstechnica.com/science/2016/09/scholars-use-x-rays-to-read-ancient-biblical-text-for-the-first-time/.