The Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah

From the Differentiator magazine:
Vol. 19 New Series April, 1957 No. 2

There are two prominent features in St. Mark's Monastery Scroll of Isaiah. Substantially it has the same text as the Masoretic Hebrew text. The other feature is its extraordinary method of spelling.

Although the text is virtually the same as that printed in Hebrew Bibles, there are numerous small differences, most of which are of little account. Thus, there are about 190 readings which differ from the modern text, either of single words or clauses of no very great length, besides about 30 differences in prepositions used, and 30 differences in verb "tenses," persons, and voices. There are also over 80 additions to the Scroll, not found in the Masoretic text, while there are about 75 cases in which the Scroll omits a reading.

Perhaps the most important feature for us is the number of occasions on which the Scroll agrees with other Hebrew MSS, other ancient versions, Targums, or with textual suggestions and guesses by scholars, as against the commonly accepted Masoretic text. These cases number about 110 at least. Some of these are of importance, and may be genuine ancient readings.
Professor Millar Burrows, in his book on the Dead Sea Scrolls (1956), states that most of the differences between the Scroll and the Masoretic text consist of changes in spelling and in the grammatical forms of words. That is to say, the Scroll contains more changes in grammar and spelling from the original language of Isaiah than the Masoretic text has. Thus, he says that the Scroll represents a particular dialect of Hebrew, or a particular stage in the history of the language.

I can thoroughly agree with him that the spelling in the scroll is often grotesque. And often the scribe is by no means consistent in his idiosyncrasies of spelling. For example, on photographic plate XXXVII. (chs. 43-44) there are about 3,000 Hebrew letters in all. But of these, 143 letters are vowels which I counted, not found now in the Masoretic text. By contrast, plate XIII. (chs. 14-16) contains only 50 more vowel letters than the Masoretic text.

In many cases, in fact, vowel letters such as u, i, e (heh), and less frequently a, seem to be stuffed into words. In ch. 51:11 the word rashm (their head) is spelt ruashieme. Burrows cites a case where the word belthu becomes in the Scroll, beuliuthiu.

Scholars have concluded that such a lavish and unsystematic use of these vowel letters is not likely to be found in a MS written after the text had been standardized. There is a larger proportion of these vowel letters from ch. 34 onwards.

Another peculiarity is found in passages such as 41:7-11, where fourteen words are found ending with the letter commonly taken to be H, but which some people sound as e. But in the Masoretic text there is only a shorthand vowel mark which is sounded as -aw, beneath the letter K, which stands for the word "thee." It would seem probable that what was in the time of the Scroll sounded as -kaw, and spelt with the two letters KH, was later contracted to one letter, K, plus a shorthand vowel mark, but still retaining the same sound. In the next three lines in this chapter, verses 12-14, the same peculiarity occurs a further eight times. In ch. 37:28-30, the same is found nine times.

It might therefore be that the contracted method of shewing vowels in modern Hebrew bibles, by means of sundry dots and marks above or below the letters, came into use in order to save space.

The contrast between the Scroll and the ancient Moabite Stone inscription of about 900 B.C. is enormous. The latter contains very few really vowel sounds. The Scroll is packed with them. To pronounce some of the words must have required a trained elocutionist. The language of Moab was extremely close to pure Hebrew.

Burrows thinks vowel letters began to appear in Hebrew inscriptions as early as the eighth century B.C. but were fully developed at some later time. He says they occur much more frequently in the latest books of the O.T. than in the earlier books.

While he thinks the spelling of the Scroll is relatively late, its grammatical forms indicated by that spelling are older than those preserved in the Masoretic text.

As for the age of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Burrows thinks they were all written before 70 A.D., while the earliest of them may go as far back as the third century B.C. The Isaiah Scroll he thinks may date from a little before 100 B.C. or perhaps a little later.

It is therefore no wonder that so many books have already been printed, dealing with the various Scrolls found near the Dead Sea. Burrows lists about three hundred books, and the number is bound to swell as more and more Scrolls become deciphered.


These generally consist of only a single word or two in Hebrew, such as the following: and, with, on, yet, from, to,for, as, I thou, He, Me, to me, and-not, all, His name, Elohim, Jehovah. In ch. 38:6 four Hebrew words are found in the Scroll which are not in the common text; in ch. 38:20 twelve more Hebrew words are found, while in ch. 52:12 four more words are found. The addition in 38:20 makes Hezekiah sing after his recovery, "A living one! A living one! shall acclaim Thee, as I (do) today, a father to sons; and he shall make known to him Thy faithfulness, Jehovah, to save me!" Most of this is repeated from the previous verse.


These are not quite so numerous as the additions to the Scroll, but they are rather more substantial. The name Jehovah is not found three times, Jah is omitted once, and Adonai twice. Common words omitted are, in, for, to, from, the, all, now, his, its, thee, all. In ch.2:9-10 twelve Hebrew words are omitted in the Scroll, meaning, "And do not Thou forgive them. Enter into the rock, and hide thee in the soil, from the awfulness of Jehovah, and from the glory of His majesty." In ch. 4:5-6 fourteen Hebrew words are not found in the Scroll, due to clauses having a similar ending (homoeoteleuton). In ch. 16:8-9 twenty Hebrew words are not found in the Scroll, from the first mention of "the vine of Sibmah" until the next mention thereof. The cause is again homoeoteleuton: In ch. 23:15 twelve Hebrew words do not occur in the Scroll.


Not counting prepositions and verb tenses, there are at least 190 cases where the Scroll shews a different word than the Masoretic text has. Once the Scroll reads Adonai for Jehovah, and once Jehovah Elohim for Adonai Jehovah. Twice Elohim is read in place of Jehovah. Twice Jehovah is read for Adonai Jehovah, while six times Jehovah is read for Adonai. This fuller use of Jehovah in the Scroll is just what one would expect.

Words which were sounded almost the same, or written almost the same are often confused. Thus, in ch. 5:5, thou (athe) for now (othe); 9:9, shall feed (irou) in place of shall know (idou); 14:32, kings (mlki) for messengers (mlaki); 23:10, serve (obdi) for pass through (obri); 30:23, zroe (seed) for iroe (he will feed); 39:7, thy bowels (moike) for thee (mka).


The most interesting features about the Scroll must be those readings wherein it assists in clearing up a real difficulty in the text, or furnishes a better reading. But it would be too tedious for;the ordinary reader to wade through many examples, so only a few of the best cases will be mentioned here.

Isa. 3:11: "for the reward of his hands shall be given him," (margin: done to him). Instead of the Masoretic "shall be done," the Scroll reads a word fairly similar (ishub) meaning "shall return" to him, which is in harmony with the Septuagint Greek reading. Here the Revised Standard Version obliterates the true sense in its search for a smooth reading, "for what his hands have done shall be done to him." Rotherham reads, "what his own hand hath matured. . . ."

Ch. 9:17: "Therefore the Lord shall have no joy in their young men, neither shall he have mercy on their fatherless and widows." The RS.V. reads "the Lord does not rejoice. . . .and has no compassion on. . .." One senses easily a lack of parallelism here. Kittel suggests ifshch, will skip, or pass over, instead of ishmch (rejoice). The Scroll, however, reads "will not spare" (ichmuJ), which agrees with "will not have compassion." God's wrath was still strong because the people were evil.

Ch. 21:8: "And he cried, A lion. . . .." No one was ever able to understand why a lion comes in here. The Hebrew reads aryeh, which the Greek version reproduced as Ourian, that is Uriah. Years ago Kittel and others suggested ha-roeh, meaning "the seer," and this is what the Scroll also reads. The R.S.V. renders this as "Then he who saw cried." Ch. 33:8: "He hath despised the cities." This makes no proper sense. As the Hebrew letter D is very like the letter R, some have suggested that edim (witnesses) should be read in place of arim (cities). This is confirmed by the reading in the Scroll. The R.S.V. reads "witnesses are despised." The LXX., unable to make sense of the line, omits these words.

Ch. 41:25: "shall he call upon my name." The Scroll, reversing this to "I shall call in his name," supports the suggestion made by Kittel.

Ch. 44:24: "that spreadeth abroad the earth by myself." The last two words are in Hebrew mey ithi. But the same Hebrew letters, pronounced a different way, can yield mi ithi, as the Scroll reads, meaning, as the R.S.V. shews, "Who was with Me?" This is supported by 31 other MSS., LXX. and Vulgate.

Ch. 48:10: "I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction." This reads strangely, after "I have refined thee." But 2 MSS and the Scroll, instead of reading bchrthi, have bchnthi, meaning "I have tested (thee)." The R.S.V. agrees, and reads "I have tried you."

Ch. 51:19: Jerusalem is in a terrible plight. There is none to guide her and lead her. "Who shall be sorry for thee?" Isaiah names four terrors: "the desolation and the breaking, and the famine and the sword: by whom shall I comfort thee?" The last words should be, "who shall comfort thee," according to the Masoretic text, as corrected by Kennedy, Kittel, LXX., and other authorities. But the uncorrected Masoretic reads, "Who I shall comfort thee." The Scroll reads "who shall comfort thee," and the R.S.V. adopts this. But I observe that this has been challenged in a very able article in the May, 1956 issue of The Slavic Evangel (London and Chicago). This suggests that after Jehovah has asked, "Who shall express sorrow for thee?" He ends up by asking, "Who? I will comfort you." Strange to say, this is just what Henderson on Isaiah (London, 1840) read, "Who? I myself will comfort thee."


In the Scroll, there are spaces between each word. As it has been proven, by means of Carbon-14 examinations, that the Dead Sea Scrolls must have been wrapped up in their cloths in the first century B.C. or the first century A.D. (as such cloths would progressively diminish in radioactive carbon content), and as coins have been found in the Qumran buildings dated up till 68 A.D., close up to the date when Jerusalem was sacked, it is quite likely that the original Greek MSS of the New Testament Were written with word spacing, unlike those of the fourth century, in which any spacing is very minute or absent.

Here are some of the peculiar spellings of words in the Scroll; in brackets are the Masoretic spellings, with meanings: kia (ki; for); mia (mi; from); bia (bi; in me); omia (omi; My People); nqia (nqi; innocent); aial (ail; deer); auel (ael; tent); thaur (thar; shape); tme (tma; unclean); ne (na; please); ane (ine; behold); nuam (nam: he avers); lua (la; not); gi or gai (gia; ravine); nbi (nbia; prophet); mlu (mlau; they fill); thumr (thamr; thou art saying); zuth (zath; this); iuna (iune: dove); rishun (rashun; first); braush (brush; fir); therer (thder; elm); zb (zab; wolf); agzri (akzri; cruel); Ishoie (Ishoieu; Isaiah); Ichuzqie (Chzqie; Hezekiah); Drmshq (Dmshq; Damascus); eurrt (arrt; Ararat); Ivan (Iun; Greece).

In many other words, vowels are transposed. in extraordinary ways. It has been hinted that this is due to the peculiar dialect spoken by the scribes.

Within the next few years, as more and more of the Scrolls become deciphered, there are sure to be great surprises and discoveries. What a boon it would be if a Greek MS of the first century were among those discovered. Let us be grateful to God for bringing to light, step by step in the past few generations, so many irrefutable witnesses to the truth of His Word.

Alexander Thomson

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Listing of Articles

Who is our God? Chapter 1
Who is our God? Chapter 2
Who is our God? Chapter 3
Who is our God? Chapter 4
Who is our God? Chapter 5
Who is our God? Chapter 6
Who is our God? Chapter 7
Who is our God? Chapter 8
Who is our God? Chapter 9
Who is our God? Chapter 10
Who is our God? Chapter 11
Who is our God? Chapter 12
Who is our God? Chapter 13
Who is our God? Chapter 14
Who is our God? Chapter 15
Who is our God? Chapter 16
Who is our God? Chapter 17
A Female Deity?
Acts 7:15 & 16
All Things
Amos 3:6
An Answer to the Challenge of Hell
Angels & Men One Species?
An Interesting New Version
Are You an Ambassador?
Are You a Pillar?
Are You a Witness for Jehovah?
Are You an Israelite? Chapter 1
Are You an Israelite? Chapter 2
Are You an Israelite? Chapters 3 & 4
A Special Resurrection?
Baptized for the Dead?
"Beloved" or "Loveable"?
Brotherly Love
Book Review
Colossians 1:23
Common or Unclean?
Common Sense
Did Paul Visit Spain?
Did the Lord give up His Flesh?
"Divine" Fire?
Doctoring the Holy Scriptures
Does God know Everything?
Does God will Everything?
Does your Spiritual Life seem Unreal?
Did God hate Esau?
Earth our Future Home?
Emphasis in the Scriptures
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Ephesians 1:23
Erroneous Translations
Gleanings from A.T.
Heaven our Homeland
How is Christ God's "Word"?
How many were Crucified?
In the Christ All Shall Be Made Alive
Is Dust the Serpent's Food?
Is the Devil Impersonal?
Isaiah 26:14,19
James 4:5
Jehovah's Theocratic Organization
Jesus the Saviour
John 19:29
The Kingdom of the Hebrews
Leave it with God
Men or Mortals?
Misplaced Ingenuity
New Light on the Second Death
None Other Things
Objective Value of Prayer
Other or Different
Our Advocate
Paul's Chain
Paul the Sensitive
Paul versus James
Prevailing Prayer
Problems of Translation: I Cor. 7:21
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Psalm 66:18
Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth
Rogues and Rascals
Rom 9 & 10: Human Freedom & Human Choice
Romans 9:14-24
Romans 9:30 to 10:21
II Corinthians 5:16
II Peter 3:10
Seven Wicked Spirits
Shall We See God?
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Should we fear God?
The Bloody Husband
The Cherubim of Glory
The Corinthian Error
The Cunning Manager
The Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah
The Designation of Jesus as "God"
The Disruption Fallacy
The Disruption Fallacy #2
The Eighth of Proverbs
The Eleven "Generations" of Genesis
The Elohim
The Ends of the Eons
The Eternal Saviour-Judge
The Eternity of Hell Torments
The First Christian Convention
The Four Gospels
The Gentiles in Ephesians
The Greek Definite Article
The Hardening of Pharoah's Heart
The Hebrew Conception of Time
The Hebrews Epistle
The Hebrew Terms Rendered 'For Ever'
The Hope of Israel
The Life of Prayer
The Lord Jesus Revealing the Heart of God
The Lord's Relatives
The Lordly Supper
The Meaning of Ta Panta
The Ministry of Women Parts 1 & 2
The Ministry of Women Parts 3 & 4
The "Penalty of Sin"
The Poor in Spirit
The Primeval Laws
The Primeval Laws #2
The Problem of Evil
The Quality of Divine Love
The Rich Man and Lazarus
The Serpent of Genesis 3
The Soul and the Spirit
The Talmud of the Jews Parts 1 & 2
The Talmud of the Jews Parts 3 & 4
The Translation of Acts 28:25
The Trial of the Lord
The Truth of the Bible
The Two Seeds
The Works of Henry Clay Mabie, D.D.
"Three Days and Three Nights"
Translator's Incentive
Truthfulness and Mercy
Try the Spirits
Unto Eternity and Further
We have all been Wrong
What did Peter do?
What does Olethros mean?
What Happened to Jephthah's Daughter?
What is Destruction?
What is the Flesh?
What is the Sin unto Death?
Whence "Eternity"?
Who are the Saints?
Who is Jehovah?
Who Shall Deliver Me?
Why Pray?
Why the "Lake" of Fire?
Will God Punish?
Will the Lord Come for Us?
Will the Man of Lawlessness be Killed?


The Differentiator Revisited 2009