Scrolls and Tablets

The biggest news for biblical scholars these days is that they can finally study the complete Dead Sea Scrolls. The scrolls were discovered more than 40 years ago in a rocky cave outside Jerusalem. But many of the scroll fragments were accessible to only a tiny group of researchers. Finally a California research library hauled 20 metal boxes out of a secret vault and opened them to the world. It was the entire scroll collection on film. Of course, the portion of the scrolls released earlier has already made dramatic contributions to biblical scholarship. For example, prior to the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the earliest copy of the Old Testament dated from the Middle Ages. Skeptics argued 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 were parts of almost every book of the Old Testament. These fragments were up to 1,000 years older than the medieval text. Amazingly, when compared to the later text, they matched nearly word for word. Proof that the Old Testament was accurately copied through the ages. Another example. Skeptics have always scoffed at supernatural occurrences like prophecy. They said Psalm 22 couldn't have been written by King David because it gives details of Jesus' crucifixion—which hadn't even been invented in David's day. So critics said the psalm must have been written near the time of Christ. But copies of the Psalms were also 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. And the Dead Sea Scrolls are only one of many archaeological finds confirming the reliability of the Old Testament. Critics have questioned 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's sale of 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 it is impossible for Genesis to have been written any later. The writer would have had to invent customs by then long forgotten. 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."


Chuck Colson


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