The ability to analyze and compare the hundreds of biblical fragments from the caves of the Judean Desert has changed our understanding of the formation of the biblical text. Although great care has been taken through the ages to preserve the stability of the received text of the Hebrew Bible—the Masoretic Text (MT)—there is not absolute agreement on the wording of particular passages, among all manuscripts of biblical books. Often, differences among the texts (“variants”) are minor, such as the presence or absence of a single vowel letter, but there are significant variants as well. Before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible relied mostly upon variants preserved in translated versions, especially the ancient Greek Bible, the Septuagint. The discovery of the biblical manuscripts at Qumran has allowed scholars to examine very early copies of biblical passages, in the original language, providing “witnesses” to early forms of the text. The multiplicity of differing versions or readings of specific passages, some of which appear similar to the later Masoretic text, others to the Septuagint or the Samaritan Pentateuch, offers new insight into the fluidity of the textual traditions during this period.
In addition to the biblical scrolls, which are the most valuable resource for text criticism, the Qumran discoveries also include other witnesses to the biblical text—biblical citations in non-biblical texts, and biblical passages preserved in religious artifacts found at the site: phylacteries (tefillin) and mezuzot , which contain excerpts from Exodus and Deuteronomy (including Exod 12:43-13:16; Deut 5:1-6:9; 10:12-11:21; Deuteronomy 32.)
Isaiah Scrolls from Cave 1