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.
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).
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."
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.
A.T. Last updated 27.6.2006