December 03, 2006

Every jot and tittle

This story is good enough that it deserves to be true. According to Radagast at Rhosgobel ("The Dead Seas scrolls", 12/1/2006):

While flipping around the TV channels today I stopped briefly on one of our local religious stations. The person preaching was rambling on about the glory of god and how the bible was the word of god (or something like that); to help make his point that the bible was the word of god, he introduced the Dead Sea scrolls. He said that they were 3,000 years old and that scholars had found that they were identical to the modern day bible. In fact, he said, "Every dot over every 'i', every cross of the 't', every comma, and every period is in the exact same place as in the bible in your hand" (quote paraphrased).

Can anyone provide chapter and verse, in the form of the name of the preacher, and the particulars of the broadcast? Or better yet, put the clip on youtube. If you have any further information, please send it to me. I sincerely hope that this one turns out to be not only a good story, but also true, unlike some similar quotes from earlier times. It would be nice to see that the preachers are still able to make up bigger lies than the science writers.

[Update -- Bradley Skaggs suggests that the preacher may have been Grant Jeffrey, who had a show at 10:00 p.m. on TBN on the date in question, and whose website mentions the Dead Sea Scrolls in a way consistent with Radagast's paraphrase:

I have had the privilege of exploring the Dead Sea Caves where thousands of ancient biblical manuscript fragments were found in 1947 that confirm the astonishing accuracy of the text of the Scriptures.

Another quote, however, suggests that Jeffrey has a more accurate picture of the date of the scrolls, and understands that they were not written in English:

If someone had asked a minister in 1947 to prove that the original Hebrew Scriptures from the Old Testament were reliably copied without error throughout the last two thousand years, he might have had some difficulty in providing an answer. The oldest Old Testament manuscript used by the King James translators was dated approximately A.D. 1100. Obviously, that old manuscript from A.D. 1100 was a copy of a copy of a copy, etc. for over two thousand years. How could we be sure that the text in the A.D. 1100 copy of the Scriptures was identical with the original text as given to the writers by God and inspired by Him? However, an extraordinary discovery occurred in the turbulent year before Israel became a nation. A Bedouin Arab found a cave in Qumran near the Dead Sea which ultimately yielded over a thousand priceless manuscripts dating back before A.D. 68, when the Roman legions destroyed the Qumran village during the Jewish war against Rome. [...]

The most incredible discovery was the immense library of biblical manuscripts in Cave Four at Qumran that contained every single book of the Old Testament with the exception of the Book of Esther. Multiple copies of several biblical texts such as Genesis, Deuteronomy and Isaiah were found in Cave Four. Scholars were able to reach back a further two thousand years in time to examine biblical texts that had lain undisturbed in the desert caves during all of the intervening centuries. The scholars discovered that the Hebrew manuscript copies of the most authoritative Hebrew text, Textus Recepticus, used by the King James translators in 1611, were virtually identical to these ancient Dead Sea Scrolls. After carefully comparing the manuscripts they discovered that, aside from a tiny number of spelling variations, not a single word was altered from the original scrolls in the caves from the much copied A.D. 1100 manuscripts used by the Authorized King James Version translators in 1611.

I can't evaluate Jeffrey's claim about the exactness of correspondence, but it differs mainly in emphasis from what the wikipedia entry says: "Although some of the biblical manuscripts found at Qumran differ significantly from the Masoretic text, most do not." And this page at BYU suggests that the claim on Jeffrey's web site might be a bit exaggerated and misleading, but are not completely invented:

About a fourth of the scrolls are copies, in whole or in part, of every book in the Old Testament except the book of Esther. [...]

Some of the biblical texts from Qumran differ significantly from conventional wording and even among themselves. And there is evidence of additions and deletions in some texts, suggesting that in some instances scribes felt free to alter the texts they were working on. [...]

However, other biblical manuscripts are very close to the text found in the Hebrew Bible, known as the Masoretic text, which was composed by Jewish authorities centuries later, between A.D. 600 and the middle of the tenth century. This consistency is remarkable because these manuscript copies are at least a thousand years older than previously known biblical manuscripts and even predate the canonization of the Hebrew Bible!

So either Radagast misheard, or Jeffrey got carried away on TV and said stuff different from what he wrote on his web site, or Jeffrey wasn't the guy Radagast heard.]

[Update #2 -- A K M Adam comments:

I can't resolve the conundrum of which preacher your correspondent may have been listening to, but as a worker in the biblical vineyard I was tickled by the transcribed characterization of the "the most authoritative Hebrew text, Textus Recepticus."

First, not surprisingly, the reliable manuscript to which Jeffrey adverts is not a known by the name he uses. The conventional standard Hebrew manuscript is the Masoretic text, of which the earliest complete exemplar was the Aleppo Codex (now incomplete, leaving the Leningrad Codex as the earliest surviving complete version).

But (second) Jeffrey was presumably not referring to a Hebrew manuscript at all, but to Erasmus's edition of the Greek New Testament, which is known as the "Textus Receptus" (not "Recepticus," though Google shows an embarrassing superabundance of the erroneous form -- I will resolutely resist the temptation to tease out the linguistic logic that renders "recepticus" an intelligible ersatz equivalent of "receptus").

So, if Jeffrey really was comparing Old Testaments with Old Testaments, he was not using the Textus Receptus; and if he was using the Textus Receptus, he was not examining the Old Testament; and either way the Textus was Receptus, not Recepticus.

But apart from that, I leave it for you to estimate whether he was making any mistakes.

Grace and peace,
A K M Adam
Professor of New Testament
Seabury-Western Theological Seminary

Well, maybe Mr. Jeffrey is careless enough even in writing to license the unkind suspicion that he might, in preaching, taken further flight from the facts in an attempt to inspire his audience. This is almost certainly the process that produced the "women talk three times more than men" and "men think of sex every 52 seconds" factoids. (Though just to keep things clear, that was not Jeffrey's doing, it was a more secular preacher.)]

[Update 2/20/2007 -- Radagast writes:

A few days after you made your post I did finally figure out who the preacher was; it was John C. Hagee. He was on at 1pm that day (link).

I sadly haven't been able to find a recording of the sermon, and there's precious little on his website about the Dead Sea scrolls, but I did find a PDF that includes the line "You think of Isaiah, who wrote the book in the Bible that was found in the Dead Sea Scrolls validating the reality of the Word of God." That sounds a lot like the same mindset that was behind what I heard that day.


Posted by Mark Liberman at December 3, 2006 01:50 PM