Standardization of the Text

Qumran StepsFinally, the Scrolls give us much information regarding the difficult questions of the standardization and canonization of the Jewish Book, the Bible. Several issues are involved here—the stabilization of the text and the determination of the contents of the canon. However, it is precisely in these issues that there is great disagreement among scholars.

Regarding this there are two positions. One holds that there was no concept yet of a specific authoritative list—what we call a canon.[1] The other view, which I hold, argues that Qumran texts show evidence of a concept of the tripartite canon—Torah, Prophets, and Writings—but that the Writings was not yet a closed and totally defined corpus. In my view, the canon of all Jews in the Land of Israel followed this same development.[2]

In the Scrolls we can also follow the fixing of the text of the individual books. The Scrolls bear witness to the existence of a variety of text types in Second Temple times, and a complex process by which eventually the Masoretic consonantal text, give or take some textual variants, became the norm. When we move from the variety of text types found at Qumran, to the more or less Masoretic collection at Masada, to the revision of Greek Bibles, toward the Masoretic Text in the Bar Kokhba Caves, we can see how the MT emerged dominant in the first two centuries of our era.[3] At the same time, the final decisions about the canon were made, and the Pharisaic-rabbinic supporters of proto-MT became the dominant influence on the future development of Judaism.


The history of the Jewish book in antiquity has been radically transformed by the evidence of a collection of actual, physical books. This evidence promises to help us to better understand the formation of the written texts that underlie the development of Judaism and those that shaped the debates and disputes of Second Temple times. Further, these manuscripts help us to understand the composition, transmission, and collection of both biblical and non-biblical texts in antiquity from a technical point of view. Much more importantly, they open up a window to the realistic background against which there developed the unique combination of written and oral culture, of the scribal and the oral, that has characterized Judaism throughout the ages. Scholarship about the written  part of this cultural transmission has been totally reshaped by the Dead Sea Scrolls.

[1] E. Ulrich, “The Canonical Process, Textual Criticism, and Latter Stages in the Composition of the Bible,” in “Sha’arei Talmon”: Studies in the Bible, Qumran, and the Ancient Near East Presented to Shemaryahu Talmon (ed. M. Fishbane and E. Tov; Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1992) 267-91.

[2] Schiffman, Reclaiming, 161-180.

[3] Schiffman, Reclaiming, 400, 407.

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