Skip to comments.Challenging History: The Dead Sea Scrolls
Posted on 09/25/2007 4:48:34 PM PDT by brityankEdited on 02/12/2015 10:28:19 PM PST by Jim Robinson. [history]
Challenging History: The Dead Sea ScrollsBy: Neil Altman, For The Bulletin
Editor's Note: According to an exhibit at the United States Library of Congress, young Bedouin shepherds, searching for a stray goat in the Judean Desert in 1947, entered a long-untouched cave and found scrolls in a jar and under debris on the floor. That initial discovery by the Bedouins began a search that lasted nearly a decade, eventually producing thousands of scroll fragments from 11 caves.
During those same years, archaeologists tried to identify the people who deposited the scrolls. They found the Qumran ruin, a complex of structures located on a barren terrace between the cliffs near the caves and the Dead Sea.
Within a fairly short time, the scholars initially concluded that the scrolls and the Qumran ruin dated from the third century B.C. to A.D. 68. This meant that the scrolls, coming from the late Second Temple Period (a time when Jesus of Nazareth lived), were older than any other surviving biblical manuscripts by almost a thousand years.
Since their discovery nearly half a century ago, the scrolls and the identity of the nearby settlement have been of great scholarly and public interest as well as heated controversy. Why were the scrolls hidden in the caves? Who placed them there? Who lived in Qumran? Were its inhabitants responsible for the scrolls and their presence in the caves? Of what significance are the scrolls to Judaism and Christianity?
In this article, Neil Altman, who has devoted much of his life to studying the scrolls, examines the latest evidence regarding the age and authenticity of these controversial artifacts. While his conclusions are not accepted by everyone in the field, they bring up compelling questions surrounding some of the most famed group of documents in human history.
The Dead Sea Scrolls, the crown jewels of biblical scholarship, have been guarded for 60 years.
Soon after the existence of the scrolls came to light, a scholarly debate broke out over whether the writings were indeed pre-Christian. Though it was commonly accepted that the scrolls were ancient, many respected scholars had begun to argue that the texts were much more recent in origin.
In short order, a scholarly elite emerged and took possession of the artifacts, keeping them hidden from scrutiny. Recently, that group has been challenged to bring the scrolls to the public for closer examination.
Now, there is accumulating and compelling evidence that undermines everything we originally thought about the scrolls - including an explosive finding in China that suggests these historic texts date from medieval times.
A Mysterious Connection Appears
Part of that evidence is a new scroll, the Moshe Leah Scroll.
Leo Gabow, the late president of the Sino-Judaic Institute in California, recalled in his institute's journal: "In July of 1983, a curious article appeared in the Israeli newspaper Maariv. ... 'A Jew Looking for Correspondents.' His name is Moshe Leah. He is 35 years old. ... He lives in Taiwan."
In a correspondence with Leah that lasted over three years, Gabow learned that Leah's grandfather fled with his parents to Taiwan from Kaifeng, China, that he was Jewish on his mother's side and that he and his brother were given Jewish names.
(Indeed, just two months ago it was revealed that a 1984 exhibit in the Nahum Goldman Museum in Tel Aviv on the Jews of Kaifeng featured two photos of the Moshe Leah Scroll.)
His ancestors were deported to Babylon and stayed there despite the "King of Babylon defeating our enemy ... and allowing Jews to return to Israel (516 B.C.)." While most Jews went west and returned to Israel, some Jews, like Moshe Leah's ancestors, went east, where they later "came to the Orient for the deal of tea and ivory."
Most importantly, Leah's mother owned two ancient Hebrew scrolls, including one scroll that Leah called "the Book of Geshayeher." Scholars would call it by another name: an Isaiah scroll, similar to the famed text found in the Qumran caves.
Why was the scroll in China? Gabow contacted many scholars and sent photos of the Moshe Leah Scroll to help unravel the mystery. Many saw distinct similarities to the famed Dead Sea Scrolls.
Michael Pollak, vice president of the Sino-Judaic Institute, author of five books and a leading expert on Chinese Jewry, was the first to make a breakthrough.
"The lettering is Hebrew and is in Chinese calligraphic style," Pollak said, "especially the long, giraffe-like lamed." (The lamed is the Hebrew letter "L" - a style which is a signature feature of the Dead Sea Scrolls.)
Rabbi Dr. Nathan Bernstein, of La Habra, Calif., not only found Aramaic words mixed with the Hebrew on the Moshe Leah Scroll, but was also the first to recognize the Book of Isaiah in the Leah scroll.
Rabbi Dr. Emanuel Silver, curator of the Hebrew section of the British Library's department of Oriental manuscripts, confirmed what others had seen.
"Anybody slightly acquainted with the Dead Sea Scrolls," he wrote, "will notice at a glance the overall similarity of the hand that wrote the Moshe Leah scrolls to that of certain documents of the Dead Sea caves, and anyone a little familiar with the Dead Sea texts will be struck by the resemblances in orthography."
Scroll Writing In Asia
The connection of the Dead Sea Scrolls to Asia is deeper than many have believed.
Most prominently found in the scrolls was the Chinese character "ti," which meant "god, divine king, deceased king, emperor," according to Dr. Victor Mair, graduate chairman of Chinese at the University of Pennsylvania, in a 1991 Washington Post article.
The appearance of "ti," which he dated between the second and ninth century A.D., has been confirmed by growing number of sinologists. Donald Leslie, an Australian sinologist and leading expert in Kaifeng Jewry, would confirm Mair's dating and present the possibility that it could be later. He wrote in 1992 that it is unlikely that Jews and the Chinese knew much, if anything, about each other's cultures before the time of Jesus.
"There is no hint in Western sources of any knowledge of the Chinese language or writing until perhaps a thousand years later," Leslie wrote in 1992.
Mair identified several Chinese characters on the scroll, and even more have been discovered since, including "tien," which means "sky, heaven or god."
In addition, Gabow had a copy of the Khotan text, a business letter that came from Chinese central Asia and had been dated from the eighth century A.D.. It had numerous Hebrew letters matching those in the Dead Sea texts.
This information raised a simple question: If, as commonly believed, the Dead Sea Scrolls were written before Christ's time and then buried in caves until the 20th century, how could the same script show up in China in the eighth century A.D. - or even later?
Was The Moshe Leah Scroll Authentic?
The key to the string of revelations was the Moshe Leah Scroll. Its mere existence suggested that the dating of the Dead Sea Scrolls was wrong.
Unless the Moshe Leah Scroll was a well-done forgery.
Its authenticity was investigated in the 1980s, but further details were apparently stowed away. It was not until March of last year that the Sino-Judaic Institute found and revealed documentation of the investigation and correspondence.
As others had found, the research showed parallels between the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Moshe Leah Scroll and other texts. As one document significantly states, "at least four paleographers have independently identified the calligraphy in the available passages (of the Moshe Leah Scroll) as closely akin to that of the Dead Sea Scroll era."
The research also indicated that the scribe of the Moshe Leah Scroll was interested only in the prophetic passages of Isaiah and omitted the "prose" and "chronological" verses.
According to the reports, those verses were intentionally "left out by design" by the scribe.
On the same token, the Isaiah scroll in the Moshe Leah contains Aramaic words that are lacking in the Qumran Isaiah Scroll. On the other hand, the Qumran Isaiah Scroll contains Western numbers and Tiberian Masoretic vowels (both of which started somewhere between 10th and 12th century A.D.) that are lacking in the Moshe Leah Scroll.
What did it mean? The Moshe Leah could very well predate the Dead Sea Scrolls.
No ordinary forger (and certainly not Moshe Leah, who didn't even know Hebrew, according to Pollak) could have so expertly lifted out such specific passages and elements from the Dead Sea Scrolls. The scroll wasn't a fake.
The Meaning Of Red Ink
Another discovery that has cast doubt on the Dead Sea Scrolls is the appearance of red ink. The term "Red Letter Day" comes from the Christian usage of red ink to mark holy days, such as Easter, on the medieval calendars and to illuminate medieval manuscripts by highlighting words or even letters.
So why, then, is there red ink on the Dead Sea Scrolls, a supposedly pre-Christian text? And not just red ink - Western numbers in red ink.
Scholars had use of the color photographs of the Isaiah scroll, published by Dr. John C. Trever, since 1972, but most strangely, the red ink on the scrolls went unnoticed until recently.
"There appears to be a two-digit numeral at the top of the scroll. ... The color might be called 'red.' The numeral appears to be '23,'" wrote Dr. Fredric C. Putnam in a 2005 scholarly report.
Putnam, formerly an Old Testament professor at the Biblical Theological Seminary in Hatfield, was among many scholars to confirm the discovery of both the red ink lettering and the Western number on the Isaiah Scroll. But not all scholars saw the number exactly the same way.
"I can see the dot [between the 2 and the 3]," said the late Al Grove, academic dean and Old Testament professor at Westminster Theological Seminary. A dot was used in medieval times to indicate that the 2 and 3 were numbers, not letters.
The color mystery grows. A few scholars have just begun to note that red ink was covered up by black ink on the Great Isaiah Scroll. Others have seen green ink and other colors.
Upon looking at the published color photos from Qumran Cave 4, University of Pennsylvania librarian, archaeologist and contributing scholar Dr. John Weeks cited that, in addition to black ink, "I can see letters printed in red, as well as green or blue ink."
According to Dr. Hayim Sheynin, the former head reference librarian of Philadelphia's Gratz College and an internationally known Hebrew paleographer of medieval manuscripts, green ink first appears in the 11th century A.D. Just as Jews borrowed the use of red ink from the Christians, they also borrowed the use of green ink from the Arabs.
Sheynin stated that he has seen Western numbers in red ink on Hebrew manuscripts that were written by the 16th and 17th centuries, as well as wording in red ink by the 15th century, a trend that occurs only in non-biblical texts.
In addition, rabbinic law forbade red or colored ink for biblical manuscripts. A senior Dead Sea scholar acknowledges that Jewish law would probably not allow the red ink found in the texts.
For texts that supposedly predate the birth of Christianity, the presence of colored inks is too hard to ignore.
A Mysterious Metal
One of the best-kept secrets of the Dead Sea Scrolls has been the discovery of metals in the black ink. That finding was buried in unpublished results, and wasn't unearthed until 1996. The presence of metals further points to the scrolls being of medieval origin.
Scientific testing of the scrolls in the early 1950s found silver, manganese, iron and other metals in the black ink used on the scrolls. Scholars tried to downplay the discovery of these metals by saying that some of them, like copper and lead, were byproducts of leaching from a bronze inkwell. Yet silver, manganese and iron are not components in the making of bronze. The 1990s tests also detected the presence of strontium and titanium but could not tell if they were pure. (In its purest form, neither element was isolated until the 1800s.)
The presence of metals also contradicts the scholarly claim that the authors of the scrolls used Dead Sea water for ink, for the salty water contains no titanium, according to a chart of a scientific study from an Ivy League physicist. Scholars tell us that ink spiked with metals came after the writing of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Others tests revealed that cinnabar, a metal, was the prime element used in much of the red ink. Yet in biblical times, cinnabar was extremely expensive. Only King Herod himself could afford it for use as paint - and the authors of the scrolls called themselves "the poor" (a Christian term).
Cinnabar was not commonly used for ink in the Middle East until almost 1,000 years later. Scholars assume that the cinnabar on the scrolls came from Spain, but it was invented by the Chinese for ink. Arabs put metal in ink and probably borrowed the manufacture of cinnabar ink from the Chinese and made it very inexpensively.
Also, metals are corrosive on leather. After just 200 years, they begin to eat through the inked area. Many medieval texts with iron- or cinnabar-based ink have holes in the manuscripts where the ink was used. But from the color photos, there are no holes in the Dead Sea Scrolls in the areas of the cinnabar red ink, which suggests the process is just starting - and pinpoints the scrolls on a much shorter timeline.
The advent of carbon-14 dating has been a monumental leap in historical analysis. Proponents of the original dating of the scrolls have pointed to carbon-14 findings as validation, but the issue is not that simple. Other carbon-14 tests have yielded more modern dates. In addition, the process itself has been called into question.
A little noticed "correction" in Biblical Archeology Review revealed that the carbon-14 date on linen from Qumran was from13th or 14th century A.D. - not the original B.C. dating. (Also unmentioned from the fragment they tested: The Qumran linen had a border of silk - another connection to China.)
Moreover, Greg Doudna's 1998 treatise "Dating and Radiocarbon Analysis" from The Dead Sea Scrolls After Fifty Years notes that scholars in the 1950s routinely brushed castor oil onto the texts to improve the visibility of the writing. But castor oil comes from seeds that contain modern carbon, which would give "an erroneously young radiocarbon date," and lend itself to a younger finding. Doudna paints a picture of young scholars applying the oil "oblivious to the havoc this process might be creating for future radiocarbon dates."
This was not the only substance brushed on the scrolls. A number of other substances, including "British Museum Leather Dressing," were also applied to the scrolls.
It is not known if one of these substances, old oil, was applied to the scrolls. If it were, it would have affected the carbon-14 dating immensely. Indeed, an article in Radiocarbon (2001) noted an experiment in which scientists brushed old oil onto a French medieval manuscript, and the result yielded a carbon-14 date ranging from 90 B.C. to A.D. 20. The authors note the inability of completely removing "repeated treatments of oil" as the scrolls circulated among scholars, a "situation of saturation" that would give an erroneous carbon date.
Scroll paleographers originally dated the scrolls from the Wadi Murraba'at Caves (which are part of the Dead Sea Scroll corpus) as no later than A.D. 135. However, carbon-14 research from noted Cornell professor James Weinstein revealed dates of A.D. 585 and A.D. 660 for textile material found in one of the caves. In addition, a nearby buried piece of linen from the same cave was carbon-14 dated at A.D. 1285-1310. The differences are too great to ignore.
In 2004, two scientists and a Dead Sea Scrolls scholar re-examined the carbon-14 and paleographic results arrived at by scholars. They concluded in their report (entitled "Redating the Radiocarbon Dating of the Dead Sea Scrolls" in the 2004 scholarly journal Dead Sea Discoveries) that, "when taken as a whole, the C14 dates showed that neither paleography nor C14 dating is a sufficiently precise tool to contribute conclusively to the debate over the accurate dating of the scrolls."
Continued Investigation Needed
Though it has taken more than 25 years, the "discovery" of the Moshe Leah Scroll has now become a major contribution to Dead Sea Scroll research.
Scholars still disagree about the age of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and further research is still needed. But an overwhelming number of scholars have come to the same conclusion: The Moshe Leah Scroll is not a forgery.
It would be in the best interest of the scholars who believe in the antiquity of the Dead Sea Scrolls to discredit the Moshe Leah Scroll because of its striking paleographic similarities to the Dead Sea Scrolls. If those scholars acknowledge it as authentic, however, the obvious conclusion would be that the Dead Sea Scrolls would have to be dated in the medieval era - after A.D. 500 - at the earliest. Then, the claim of the Dead Sea Scrolls' antiquity will have run its course.
Neil Altman is a Philadelphia-based writer who specializes in the Dead Sea Scrolls. He has a master's degree in the Old Testament from Wheaton Graduate School in Wheaton, Ill., and was an American Studies Fellow at Eastern College.
©The Evening Bulletin 2007
Ping for more Biblical History.
Which, of course, is false. The Greeks opened up an "improved" Silk Road, and that had been operating for maybe 1300 years by the time Alexander went to Afghanistan and the Indus.
I would imagine Jews and other Levantines were among the very first people to take advantage of the Silk Road, and might even have made the long trek all the way to the silk boll ports in Japan.
Even further back in history, there's very good evidence that the same folks who invented Sumerian hieroglyphics (cunuiform writing) also invented a substantial chunk of Egyptian hieroglyphics and a really serious chunk of Chinese hieroglyphics and characters (which were added to a more widespread system best typified these days by the Shang Dynasty characters or American Plains Indian sign language).
It's easy to believe the scroll in question was written over numerous times and kept pliable with all sorts of stuff.
Found it quite entertaining to see that practical, not just ceremonial maintenance, was performed even up to near modern times.
Not bad for a Jewish family with a long lineage and little contact with the remnant of the priestly caste or the scribes.
Thanks for the History ping BBL
2,500 years of Persian Monarchy video
Check out Cyrus the Great profile page chuck full of good stuff
From LDS Studies
Between the Testaments: Period between Malachi and John the Baptist- Audio
Judah between the Testaments
LOL. Someone knew.
Interesting. Has there been any further exploration among the KaiFeng Jews as to other surviving documents?
As I understand it, they are in a rather strange situation, having received ‘official’ recognition as a minority group from the government in BeiJing, while having local government officials refuse to recognise this status.
Xiongnu, otherwise known as the Huns, travelled far and wide. It doesn’t surprise me they shared DNA with Finno-Ugrian peoples. But Cheddar Man, that’s a little more surprising.
And I don’t think Westerners knew much about China in the first century either. Their writings certainly don’t reflect much knowledge of the far east. Trade goods don’t mean much. They were carried by intermediaries.
In 1903, skeletal remains were found in a cave in Cheddar, England. The remains of a 23 year-old man, who was killed by a blow to the face, were discovered to be at least 9,000 years old. Ninety-four years after the discovery of "Cheddar Man", scientists were able to extract mitochondrial DNA from his tooth cavity. Mitosearch: 7MRU2
Name Haplo mtDNA Sequence
Cheddar Man U5a 16192T, 16270T
The Chinese connection (to the Dead Sea Scrolls)
The Star | Nov. 4, 2006 | NEIL ALTMAN
Posted on 11/30/2006 8:40:52 PM PST by John Philoponus
Note: this topic is from 2007.
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