Isaiah Scroll, The, Francolino J. Goncalves, Anchor Bible Dictionary (ed. David Noel Freedman), Doubleday, New York 1992.


Isaiah Scroll

Isaiah Scroll

ISAIAH SCROLL, THE (1QIsaa) Nineteen copies of the book of Isaiah have been found among the Qumran biblical mss. Most of these are very fragmentary. The most important among them are two scrolls coming from cave 1, in particular the scroll 1QIsa.a The second, 1QIsab, only preserves a part of the text of Isaiah, because the scroll has been badly damaged.

1QIsaa was among the first mss first discovered by the bedouin at the end of 1946 or the beginning of 1947. It was also the first to be identified. Physically, the scroll is made up of seventeen sheepskin sheets, sewn together by a linen thread. Its average height is 26.2 cm, and it is 7.34 m long. Apart from some minor lacunae at the beginning and in the lower part of the scroll, 1QIsaa contains the complete text of the book of Isaiah, arranged in 54 columns. A facsimile of this scroll is now in the Shrine of the Book at Jerusalem.

1QIsaa was written by a single hand in the latter half of the 2d century B.C., probably between 125 and 100. Omissions were filled in and corrections were made for about a century afterwards. 1QIsaa, like the other Isaiah manuscripts found at Qumran, precedes by about a thousand years the most ancient manuscripts of the book of Isaiah previously known.

Although 1QIsaa and the consonantal basis of the MT are basically identical, there are a few hundred textual variants. Drawing his conclusions from an analysis of the spelling, pronunciation, morphology, vocabulary, and syntax, Kutscher (1974) has shown that 1QIsaa presents an example of the Hebrew of the Second Temple period. This is distinct from classical Hebrew and is representative of a more recent stage of the language than that attested by the MT. A great number of the textual variants between 1QIsaa and the MT are purely linguistic. These are due to the influence of late 2d -century B.C. Hebrew on the text of the book of Isaiah. More precisely, 1QIsaa contains a deliberate linguistic updating of the text, carried out at a time when Aramaic and Greek were spoken alongside Hebrew in Palestine. This updating is most strikingly obvious in the modernization of the spelling; full forms are found consistently in chaps. 34–66 and somewhat less so in chaps. 1–33. Every instance of the vowels o and u, whether long or short, is rendered by waw; the pronominal suffixes and the verbal endings are followed by he. ˒Alep follows the endings of words normally ending in -ı̂, -ô, or -û. The act of reading is thus made easier for people whose first language is Hebrew, but who are not very literate, as well as for those for whom Aramaic was the first language. In fact, the fuller forms are intended in some cases to distinguish the Hebrew pronunciation from that of Aramaic.

The updating of the language is shown equally in the replacement of certain terms which had fallen into disuse or become rare at the end of the 2d century B.C. by others in more common use. For example, in 13-10 1QIsaa uses the synonym y˒yrw, very common in the Bible and in rabbinic Hebrew, to replace the verb yhlw (“cause to shine”), rare in the Bible in this sense (Isa 13-10; Job 29-3; 31-26; 41-10) and not found in rabbinic Hebrew. Likewise in 33-7; 42-2; 46-7, 1QIsaa replaces ṣ˓q (“to cry out”) with its synonym z˓q, which was more common after the Exile.

In most instances where variants are not simply linguistic, the 1QIsaa readings are secondary, and show characteristics similar to those of the ancient versions. Thus 1QIsaa often changes terms and expressions under the influence of either the immediate context, a more remote parallel passage in Isaiah, or another biblical book. For example, in 43-19, instead of the word nhrwt (“rivers”), 1QIsaa has ntybwt (“tracks”), a term probably suggested by the context. This term is found in the singular in 43-16, where it is likewise associated with drk (“path”), for which it provides a better parallel. In 51-2, 1QIsaa replaces w˒brkhw w˒rbhw (“I have blessed him and made him multiply”) with w˒prhw w˒rbhw (“I have made him fruitful and made him multiply”) because of the frequency with which the latter pair of verbs is found, especially in Genesis (Gen 1-22, 28; 8-17; 9-1, 7; 17-20; 28-3; 35-11; 47-27; 48-4; Lev 26-9; Jer 3-16; 23-3; Ezek 36-11). Sometimes 1QIsaa amplifies the text. For example, in 30-6a it inserts the word wṣyh (“and aridity”) between the terms ṣrh wṣwqh (“anguish and distress”). The term added is probably taken from 35-1, 41-18, and 53-2.

Finally, one may mention a particularly interesting category of textual variant resulting from exegesis. Occasionally the author of 1QIsaa has altered the text, normally very slightly, in such a way as to make it conform to his interpretation. One may cite 8-11 as a simple but significant example. In place of the word wysrny, 1QIsaa has ysyrnw/y (the final letter is uncertain). So, whereas the Masoretes derive the verb from the root ysr (“he corrected me so that I would not follow the path of this people . . .”), 1QIsaa sees there the Hip˓il of the root swr (“he turned me away from following the path of this people . . .”). This text is applied in 4QFlor 1,14–15 to the community of Qumran, seen as the community of those whom God has separated from the remainder of the people. So this explains the variant of 1QIsaa- it is the fruit of the updating process, which sees in the community of Qumran the accomplishment of the oracle of the prophet.
In conclusion, one can say that the specific contribution of 1QIsaa, as of the other Isaian mss from Qumran, is related to the history of the textual tradition of the book of Isaiah. When one adds to that the witness of the LXX, the mss of Qumran have confirmed that, unlike other biblical books, there was only one text of the book of Isaiah from the 3d century B.C.

That being said, the mss from Qumran show at the same time a considerable fluidity of this text. 1QIsaa represents, in a general way, a secondary text with reference to the MT. It is to some extent a revised updated edition of the book of Isaiah. It occasionally comes close to a commentary (Pesher). The author of 1QIsaa modernizes the language of the book and introduces different kinds of harmonizations and expansions. On occasion, influenced by his exegesis, the author does not hesitate to change the text. He exhibits a fairly broad liberty with regard to the text, a liberty he shares with the Gk translators, who were roughly his contemporaries. It is this liberty that is perhaps the most important common trait between 1QIsaa and the LXX of Isaiah, two texts which have often been compared. This innovative approach did not serve as a precedent in the Hebrew textual tradition of the book of Isaiah.

The Qumran mss also witness to a conservative tradition in regard to the book of Isaiah. This conservatism is represented by 1QIsaa and by the majority of the other examples of the text of Isaiah found at Qumran, all of which are closer to the MT than is 1QIsaa. This tendency will be accentuated and strengthened. In the end, it will dominate and will have as its consequence the definitive stabilization of the text of Isaiah.


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Burrows, M.; Trever, J. C.; and Brownlee, W., eds. 1950. The Dead Sea Scrolls of St. Mark’s Monastery. Vol. I, The Isaiah Manuscript and the Habakkuk Commentary. New Haven.

Evans, C. A. 1984. 1QIsaiaha and the absence of Prophetic critique at Qumran. RevQ 11- 537–42.

Hoegenhaven, J. 1984. The First Isaiah Scroll from Qumran (1QIsa) and the Massoretic Text. JSOT 28- 17–35.

Koenig, J. 1982. L’herméneutique analogique du Judaïsme antique d’après les témoins textuels d’Isaïe. VTSup 33. Leiden.

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Qimron, E. 1979. E. Y. Kutscher, The Language and Linguistic Background of the Isaiah Scroll (1QIsaa). Indices and Corrections. STDJ 6a. Leiden.

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Talmon, S. 1962. DSIa as a witness to the Ancient Exegesis of the Book of Isaiah. ASTI 1- 62–72.

Ziegler, J. 1959. Die Vorlage der Isaias-Septuaginta (LXX) und die erste Isaias-Rolle von Qumran (IQIsa). JBL 78- 34–59.

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