Isaiah and the Greek Septuagint

Great Isaiah Scroll

Great Isaiah Scroll, photo by Ardon Bar-Hama for the Israel Museum

Reader question: How do the Dead Sea Scrolls books such as Isaiah differ from the later Greek Septuagint copies – were there multiple copies?

Do they come from two different peoples/groups? When Christians quote Isaiah 53 they add in “pierced” and the Dead Sea Scrolls don’t say pierced.

Answer: The question you ask is very complex.  There are a number of Qumran Hebrew biblical manuscripts that actually demonstrate a Vorlage (the underlying Hebrew text) of the textual form preserved in the Greek manuscripts of the Septuagint.  However, if we take, for example, the Isaiah A and B manuscripts from Cave 1 from Qumran: Isaiah A is quite close to the Masoretic text in its text form, except that it is written in the Qumran writing practice that includes lengthened endings and a whole variety of linguistic characteristics of a kind of spoken insider dialect known to us only from Dead Sea Scrolls.  Isaiah B, on the other hand, is essentially a proto-Masoretic text, the basis of the Hebrew texts used in the synagogue today.  However, if we were discussing Jeremiah, we can point to a Hebrew manuscript found at Qumran that actually is much more similar to the Septuagint in regard to the order of chapters.  So, as you can see, this is not a simple question at all.  I can guarantee you that there is no Jewish conspiracy regarding the Bible.  Some of the interpretations in the Septuagint are simply that, later interpretations not inherent in the original Hebrew text.  I can further assure you that nothing in the Dead Sea Scrolls supports Christianity beyond the overall evidence it provides of the Bible and Judaism in the pre-Christian era.

5 Responses to Isaiah and the Greek Septuagint

  • Ken M. Penner says:

    To address the second part of the reader’s question, we may point out that both Dead Sea Scrolls copies (A and B) of Isaiah 53:5 match the Masoretic Hebrew text (with above-mentioned spelling variations). In other words, the Dead Sea Scrolls do have the word translated “pierced”; this is not a Christian addition.

  • admin says:

    Thank you for your comment. I suspect that I was overly oblique. My point was that in the case of Isa. 53:5 the issue is not textual but exegetical. Christians understand this text to refer to the piercing of the servant, that is the messiah. Jewish tradition, whether it translated “wounded” (as does the Christian new RSV), “disgraced,” or “made to tremble,” takes the servant as the collective people of Israel and does not see this verse as referring to a crucified messiah. (A few Jewish sources take the servant as the messiah but that is a decidedly minority point of view.).

    L. Schiffman

  • It is my understanding that the Greek/Septuagint has the Torah and maybe Jewish linguist, and the rest by Gentile translators. Then, there is Marcion’s version.This is the one many use now.

  • kalman chodakiewitz says:

    I wanted to have some clarity from you on your professional opinion of the Google translation in partnership with the Israel museum of this specific scroll. I understand that the translation itself of the Mesoratic version from a collective jewish perspective translates this differently than Prof. Flynt, the scholar credited in the google repository. The scholarly jewish translation is “FROM our sin…”, Yet the official translation of this scroll released reads as “FOR our sins.” Below is a the copy and pasted excerpt with the translation by the academic scholar of a christian background. I would like to know your thoughts as an academic scholar and Jewish scholar on this translation verse the collective jewish translation? The reason for my asking is that this specific excerpt is used currently for christian missionary efforts and also for jewish counter missionary efforts, and I think society needs to have a more academic context of this one singled out passage that seems to “rock the boat” and give pseudo scholars intellectual arsenal to prey on the uninformed for the sake of an agenda that is not truth seeking or context seeking at heart.

    “Chapter 53 : Verse 5
    But he was wounded for our transgressions, and he was crushed for our iniquities, and the punishment that made us whole was upon him, and by his bruises we are healed.

    Translation: Professor Peter Flint (Western Trinity University, Canada) and Professor Eugene Ulrich (University of Notre Dame)

  • F Jones says:

    I don’t think it’s as simple as this. An Orthodox Christian view of the subject:

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