Scrolls and Tablets

The big news for biblical scholars these days is that they can finally study the complete Dead Sea Scrolls. The scrolls were discovered more than forty years ago in a rocky cave outside Jerusalem. But many of the scroll fragments were hidden away, accessible to only a tiny group of scholars. Finally, a few months ago, 20 metal boxes were hauled out of a secret vault in a California library, and opened to the world. It was the entire scroll collection on film. Of course, the segments of the scrolls released earlier have already made dramatic contributions to biblical scholarship. For example, the earliest copy of the Old Testament used to be from the Middle Ages. Skeptics argued that we couldn't trust it—that it had been changed over the centuries by careless scribes and by editors who inserted their own religious teachings. But among the Dead Sea scrolls scholars found an almost-complete text of the Old Testament, 1,000 years older than the previously existing one. Amazingly, the two versions match nearly word for word. Proof that the Old Testament was accurately copied through the ages. Another example. Skeptics have always wanted to get rid of anything in the Bible that smacks of the supernatural—things like prophecy. They decided that Psalm 22 couldn't have been written by King David because it gives details of Jesus' crucifixion—which hadn't been invented in David's day. The psalm must have been written much later, skeptics said, just before the time of Christ. But copies of the Psalms were found among the Dead Sea scrolls. And if copies were already in existence at that time, clearly the originals were written even earlier. That silenced the critics. Of course, the Dead Sea Scrolls are only one of many archaeological finds confirming the reliability of the Old Testament. Critics have always taken issue with the early chapters of Genesis, where we read about several puzzling customs: Sarah giving Abraham her handmaid as a surrogate wife; Abraham adopting a slave as his heir; Esau selling his birthright for a paltry bowl of porridge; and so on. These customs are so alien to the modern reader that critics treated them as fairy tales, invented centuries later and projected into the past like so many Paul Bunyan stories. But in recent decades clay tablets have been dug out of the Near Eastern deserts describing exactly the same customs. Proof that the descriptions in Genesis fit the time they were written. In fact, many of these customs are unique to the patriarchal period. There's no record of them at any later time. So Genesis could not have been written any later. The writer would have had to invent customs by then long forgotten. It's as though ancient Greece were forgotten, but we just happened to invent stories about a couple of philosophers named Plato and Aristotle. So next time you hear people dismiss the Bible as a patchwork of ancient folktales, tell them about the Dead Sea Scrolls. Tell them about the clay tablets. The historical evidence supports the Bible all the way back to the time of the patriarchs. Historian Paul Johnson puts it well: "It is not now the men of faith, it is the skeptics, who have reason to fear the course of discovery. Originally aired March 31, 1992


Chuck Colson


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