The Discovery of an Unknown Dead Sea Scroll: The Original Text of Deuteronomy 27?

One reason I went in 1958 to Ohio Wesleyan University from southeast Florida was because my mother’s brother, Les Hamilton, graduated from there and she dreamed of following his footsteps but the depression denied her dream. I also desired to major in religion and continue my fascination with the Dead Sea Scrolls. The religion and philosophy department at OWU was acknowledged to be superb, especially in Christian Origins and Dead Sea Scrolls. My freshman thesis was on the importance of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

At OWU I met people that I admired and have continued to acknowledge as cherished viatori on this short and challenging via. Two in particular provided viaticum for nourishment over the years since I graduated in 1962. In honor of my alma mater and in recognition of my 50th anniversary, I wish to salute all these classmates and friends of OWU by dedicating this publication to Kathe Law Rhinesmith and George Conrades. My former classmates’ recent leadership at OWU is well known.

This popular publication announces the recovery of a Dead Sea Scroll.1 Along with approximately 40 other Dead Sea Scroll fragments, some relatively large, it was taken from the Holy Land to Europe by Arabs, notably those related to the man who served as mediator between the Bedouin who found the Dead Sea Scrolls and scholars who proved their antiquity and edited the early discoveries. The fragments were taken to Europe, often through Lebanon, in the sixties (whether before or after the so-called Six-Day War I am unable to ascertain).

I have spent 40 years talking to this famous Arab Christian family. They tell me that it was customary to collect the fragments in something like a basket. Most of them were sold and subsequently hailed as the greatest manuscript discovery of modern times; others (unknown to most specialists on the Dead Sea Scrolls) were hidden and taken to Europe before or after some of the wars between the Arabs and the Israelis. Why? These fragments had been judged in the 1950s and 1960s as the most valuable biblical texts, according to internationally renowned biblical scholars who lived in Jerusalem. The Arabs wanted to reserve the Dead Sea Scrolls for economically challenging times and sell them for millions of dollars.

The Purpose of Deuteronomy

The authors and compilers of Deuteronomy stressed unity and centralization, among other things. For them the altar on Mount Gerizim was part of ancient history that had been supplanted by David, who established Jerusalem as the capital, and Solomon, who christened the Jerusalem Temple as the only place on earth in which to worship the God of Israel.

What then is Mount Gerizim? It is the most southern of two mountains that rise above Nablus which is about four km. northwest of Shechem. The authors and editors of Deuteronomy salute Mount Gerizim as the Mount of Blessing.

On the top of the mountain archaeologists have found remains of an ornate Byzantine church and ruins that are much earlier.2 The Samaritans, who call themselves Israelites (Hebrew haššōmerōnî; Greek Samareitēs) and trace their present high priest back to Aaron, claim that Abraham and Joshua sacrificed near the remains of the church. They proudly show the precise location in which this occurred. Observing Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles, Samaritans thus claim to own the location of Mount Moriah (Gen 22:2). According to Deuteronomy 12:5, this axis mundi is where God chose to commemorate his name.

Non-Samaritans follow the Davidic tradition, stressed in Deuteronomy, that only on Zion is one to worship. Two examples from two contiguous psalms should suffice to prove that point:

Psalm 132:13–18 (NRSV)
13 For the Lord has chosen Zion;
he has desired it for his habitation:
14 “This is my resting place forever;
here I will reside, for I have desired it.
15 I will abundantly bless its provisions;
I will satisfy its poor with bread.
16 Its priests I will clothe with salvation,
and its faithful will shout for joy.
17 There I will cause a horn to sprout up for David;
I have prepared a lamp for my anointed one.
18 His enemies I will clothe with disgrace,
but on him, his crown will gleam.”

Psalm 133:3 (NRSV)
3 It is like the dew of Hermon,
which falls on the mountains of Zion.
For there the Lord ordained his blessing,
life forevermore.

Zion, of course, is Jerusalem, not Gerizim.

The Problem with the Text of Deuteronomy 27

The text of Deuteronomy shared by Jews and Christians stipulates that the Mount of Blessing is Gerizim (881 meters or 2849 feet above sea level) and the Mount of Cursing is Ebal (about 940 meters or 3084 feet above sea level). Note this excerpt:

When the LORD your God has brought you into the land that you are entering to occupy, you shall set the blessing on Mount Gerizim and the curse on Mount Ebal. (Deut 11:29 NRSV)

Thus, it is unthinkable that any text of Deuteronomy would report that God wanted Israel to build an altar on the Mount of Cursing, Ebal.

Yet that claim is precisely what is found in the present text of our Bibles. According to Deuteronomy 27:1–13, Moses, following God’s word, commands Israel to build an altar on Mount Ebal, the Mount of Offense. That reading is problematic, suggesting either a copyist error or some intentional alteration. Note the translation in the New Revised Standard Version (italics are mine):

Then Moses and the elders of Israel charged all the people as follows: Keep the entire commandment that I am commanding you today. 2 On the day that you cross over the Jordan into the land that the LORD your God is giving you, you shall set up large stones and cover them with plaster. 3 You shall write on them all the words of this law when you have crossed over, to enter the land that the LORD your God is giving you, a land flowing with milk and honey, as the LORD, the God of your ancestors, promised you. 4 So when you have crossed over the Jordan, you shall set up these stones, about which I am commanding you today, on Mount Ebal, and you shall cover them with plaster. 5 And you shall build an altar there to the LORD your God, an altar of stones on which you have not used an iron tool. 6 You must build the altar of the LORD your God of unhewn stones. Then offer up burnt offerings on it to the LORD your God, 7 make sacrifices of well-being, and eat them there, rejoicing before the LORD your God. 8 You shall write on the stones all the words of this law very clearly.

9 Then Moses and the levitical priests spoke to all Israel, saying: Keep silence and hear, O Israel! This very day you have become the people of the LORD your God. 10 Therefore obey the LORD your God, observing his commandments and his statutes that I am commanding you today. 11 The same day Moses charged the people as follows: 12 When you have crossed over the Jordan, these shall stand on Mount Gerizim for the blessing of the people: Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph, and Benjamin. 13 And these shall stand on Mount Ebal for the curse: Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan, and Naphtali.

This text and translation is inherited by all Jews and Christians (Protestants, Roman Catholics, and others) in the world. The lone exception is the Samaritans (their text in 27:4 reads “Mount Gerizim”).

For non-Samaritans this passage is problematic. Why? The Mount of Blessing is Mount Gerizim; there Israel gathers to bless (27:12). But, our text of Deuteronomy 27:4 records a very perplexing commandment: to build the altar on Mount Ebal, the Mountain of Cursing. Did some scribe mistakenly copy “Ebal” for “Gerizim”? Should we imagine that once the text read “Mount Gerizim.” For centuries, experts have assumed that the Samaritans changed the text and that “the received text” is original. There are reasons to doubt these experts; and a recently discovered text may prove their argument ceases to be persuasive.

Why? We now have textual support for another option.

Text and Translation of this Challenging Dead Sea Scroll

2012Summer-Charlesworth1The image at right improves the clarity of the ink and leather through infrared photography. The Scroll is in black ink on brown leather. It is about 40 millimeters wide and contains four lines of text. The leather is mutilated with at least two holes and a tear from above line three through line four. There are no margins, no horizontal or vertical lining visible, and no writing on the back.

Only this little piece remains from a full leather scroll of Deuteronomy. The scribe who copied this biblical text knew archaic forms of the Hebrew letters that can be dated perhaps to 175 B.C.E. and later forms that date from around 50 and even conceivably to 30 B.C.E. Thus, this copy of Deuteronomy was most likely inscribed in the latter part of the first century BCE.

Most importantly, in the middle of line two in this fragment, the scribe wrote bhrgrzim; that means “on Mount Gerizim.” Except for Samaritan manuscripts, all extant Hebrew manuscripts of this document preserve “on Mount Ebal” in that verse. Note the translation of this challenging scroll (brackets [] circumscribe restored letters):

1 (Deut 27:4) “[when yo]u [have crossed] the Jo[r]dan, you shall set up
[these stones, about
2 [which I charge you t]oday, on Mount Gerizim, and coat [them
with plaster. (Deut 27:5) And there, you shall build an altar to the LORD
your God, an altar of]
3 st]ones. [You must] not [wie]ld upon them an iron (tool). (Deut 27:6) [Of
unhewn] st[ones you must build the altar of the LORD]
4 [you]r [God], and you shall offer upon it burnt offerings to the
LOR[D your God.]”

Note how different this text is from “our text” of Deuteronomy 27:4: “when you have crossed the Jordan, you shall set up these stones, about which I charge you today, on Mount Ebal, and coat them with plaster.”

Now it should be more obvious that our common text should render shock. Our received text preserves a command to build an altar on Mount Ebal, the Mount of Offense. How significant is the new discovery?

Finally, we have a more reliable text for Deuteronomy 27:4. Since we do not have the original manuscript, we should not claim what the original author may have penned; it is possible it was lost through other alterations over centuries.

The two words—Ebal and Gerizim—are too dissimilar to the form and sound in Hebrew to warrant a mistake caused by faulty seeing or hearing. They are also too different for us to imagine that a copying scribe made an error. We should ponder who would deliberately alter the biblical text, and why?

Reflecting on the Conceivability that the Received Text of Deuteronomy 27:5 is Original

A scholar must contemplate all possible scenarios for a reading and its alleged variant. Too many experts fail to ask: “What is a variant?”

Some Rabbis and Christian pastors would be prompted to defend the accuracy of the received reading. They would argue that this text has become sacred from over 2000 years of study and worship. They are certainly correct about the sacredness of tradition; but that recognition should have nothing to do with discerning the earliest and best reading (and possibly speculating on what was in an original text). Scholars now recognize that the biblical texts evolved from numerous divergent readings to one standard reading (the received text or Masoretic Text). Our task is to seek to discern what reading seems earliest and is the best extant reading.

Why would Deuteronomy 27:4 and Joshua 9:30 report the building of an altar on Mount Ebal, the Mountain of Curse? Perhaps, some Hebrew (before Saul, David, and Solomon) wished to establish a cultic center on Mount Ebal as a sociological and theological response (faithful to the Moses traditions) to the massive Cannanite temple nearby at Shechem. A subsequent composition could reflect the building of such an altar.

Another possibility is the surprising discovery of “an ancient altar” on Mount Ebal, the highest peak in the region. Perhaps later texts were created to justify this altar from Scripture. On 6 April 1980, Adam Zertal of Haifa University found what he claimed was an ancient altar on Mount Ebal.3 Because of the discovery of only “unhewn stones” and a massive amount of animal bones in ashes, almost all from male and kosher animals, one can surmise that the structure is an altar that seems connected to Israelite cultic traditions known in the Bible and the Mishnah.  Because of pottery found in situ, it is certain that “the altar” dates from about the 12th century BCE.

Scholars are debating the purpose and date of the Elbal altar, as well as its relevance (if any) for biblical texts and exegesis. Some scholars are convinced that “the altar” is a farm house or a tower.4 If it is not an altar, then it has no relevance for our present research. If it is an altar, it does not seem related to the traditions about Joshua. He faced south and spoke to the Hebrews; the alleged altar is on the north side of Mount Ebal.

While the structure has no parallels in ancient architecture, it does seem constructed in line with the Bible and the Mishnah. If the building is too late to fit what we imagine, or know, about Joshua, it may have little relevance for the much later writings by Israelite and Judean scribes. All scholars concur that Deuteronomy was composed centuries after Joshua.

If these archaeological and textual traditions are ancient and reliably connected to biblical history, then one can imagine they are somehow related to the traditions that Abraham (Gen 12:7) and Joshua (Gen 33:20) built an altar at Shechem. If so, that is very intriguing, but Shechem is in a plain and not a mountain. It is neither Mount Ebal nor Mount Gerizim.

All these observations are often related to etiological legends; that is, they may have originated late to add credence to something believed. Cumulatively, they fail to construct a convincing case for most scholars that among the varied pre-70 readings of Deuteronomy the received (Masoretic) text is original. We are thus led to search for other reasons to explain the text was changed.

Speculating on the Reasons the Text was Deliberately Altered

Why did some scribe—or school of scribes—choose to change Deuteronomy 27:4? At the outset, let us admit that it is conceivable that the scribe or scribes wished to harmonize Deuteronomy with the earlier traditions in Joshua. In Joshua 8 we learn:

Now Joshua built an altar to the LORD God of Israel on Mount Ebal, as Moses the servant of the LORD had commanded the children of Israel, as it is written in the Book of the Law of Moses: “an altar of whole stones (which) upon them no one has wielded an iron (tool). (Joshua 8:30-31 [my translation that shows the link with Dt 27:5).

I have not discerned a significant variant reading that in Joshua 8:30 “Ebal” is “Gerizim.”

Scholars surmise some editing of Joshua 8:30-35. On the one hand, this section seems to be a later interpolation because it interrupts the flow of the narrative. In our texts, it jumps from 8:29 to 9:1.

On the other hand, we have another non-Hebrew version of the Hebrew Bible that often is not just a translation but preserves ancient Hebrew readings. It is the Greek Bible or Septuagint; and it is ancient, antedating 200 BCE. The Greek places this section of Joshua between Joshua 9:2 and 9:3. For us, we may now imagine that some scribe harmonized Joshua with a reading in Deuteronomy. He did so by inserting a new series of verses.

Such harmonization is obvious in the copying of biblical texts. Is this the only or best solution?

Judeans and Samaritans were often bitter enemies. In the time of Hillel and Jesus, they often killed the “other.” That is, Judeans killed Samaritans; Samaritans killed Galilean Jews. That hatred is not only mirrored but turned on its head in Jesus’ Parable of the Good Samaritan. Most likely, Jesus tried to get Judeans to comprehend that a Samaritan can obey the Torah in ways that may be more faithful than priests and Levites.

Let us pause to ponder the history of Pontius Pilate. Such a review reveals that Samaritans are known to have killed Galilean Jews who were going to worship in the Jerusalem Temple. The Judean (Hasmonean) general, John Hyrcanus (135-105/4 BCE), lead an army to Mount Gerizim and burned the Samaritan altar (or temple) about 112 BCE37. That time is less than one hundred years before out manuscript was copied.

Note the report by the first-century Jewish history, Josephus, a Judean and descendant of Hasmonean priests:

With Syrian cities stripped of manpower, Hyrcanus now rebelled against the Macedonians and no longer assisted them. He also attacked neighboring enemies and defeated them, including the Samaritans. Hyrcanus took Mount Gerizim, destroying the temple there, and then marched against the city of Samaria. (Ant 13.254)5

The reliability of this account is accepted by historians of Early Judaism. According to the polemics of the author of 2 Maccabees, the Samaritans called the Gerizim temple “the temple of Zeus-the-Friend-of Strangers” (6:1-2). Actually, the Samaritans today point out that they have an altar not a temple.

Less than one hundred years after Hyrcanus destroyed “the temple” on Mount Gerizim, one can imagine scribes in Jerusalem copying the Torah. We know that under the Hasmoneans, beginning before 100 BCE, Judeans were not only influencing Galileans but also shaping (and altering) the words of Scripture.

I hypothesize that Judean scribes, after Hyrcanus, supplied the reading “on Mount Ebal” as in the Bibles we share. Here are my reasons: 1) The scribes knew about the recent destruction of the temple on Mount Gerizim. When they looked at Deuteronomy 27, did they wonder how any text could refer to Moses’ command to build an altar on Mount Gerizim? 2) Many of the Jerusalem scribes were pro-Hasmonean and hated Samaritans and their elevation of Gerizim over Zion. 3) Conceivably, the copyist imagined that the Samaritans were not “Jews,” but belonged to the “many nations” that were to be obliterated from the Holy Land. He may have thought that God ordered their “altars” to be destroyed (Deut 7:1–5).38 4) These Judean scribes certainly knew about numerous different readings of a biblical book, might have imagined the reading they wanted was in one of them, and were trained to correct and even change manuscripts (most of the Dead Sea Scrolls I edit reveal marginalia, corrections, and alterations). 5) Thinking that Moses would not have commanded building the altar where the Samaritans had worshipped, they might have felt constrained to change the text before them. 6) They would wish to justify Hyrcanus’ actions and continue to celebrate that only Jerusalem is the Holy Mountain and “The House of God.” 7) As the evolution of the canon of biblical books sometimes proves, scribes changed Scripture or added to it so that it would better serve their own theological contexts. Thus, the text was changed by Jerusalem scribe; they are most likely the once who preferred and emphasized the superiority of the Masoretic Text. This explanation explains the text that is read today in synagogues and churches.

Is the reading in the Dead Sea Scroll now in focus before us the only one that contains the preferred reading: “Mount Gerizim”? As stated previously, it is in the Samaritan Pentateuch. Among the tens of thousands of manuscripts of Deuteronomy, I have found it in only two other manuscripts, one in Latin and one in Greek. The Old Latin Manuscript Codex 100 has “garzin.”6 A Greek manuscript, Papyrus Giessen 19 (which preserves Deut 24-29), has en ar(?) gar[i]sim, “on Mount (?) Garizim.”7

In my judgment, it is highly unlikely that both a Latin scribe and then a Greek scribe changed their exemplars in precisely the same way and in the same place. It is more likely that they were working from a manuscript that had the better extant reading—the one now preserved in a Dead Sea Scroll.

Deuteronomy, the Dead Sea Scrolls, Jesus, and the Palestinian Jesus Movement

The three books most popular at Qumran (where the Dead Sea Scrolls were read before 70 CE) are the Psalms (37 mss), Deuteronomy (30 mss [not counting the present fragment]), and Isaiah (21 mss [but there are some fragments not yet announced]). When one recognizes that Deuteronomy is the only book in the Pentateuch that claims precisely that it is a record of Moses’ laws (viz., Deut 1:5; 4:8), gives prominence to the Torah (Law) and its interpretation, and mentions God’s covenant with Israel twenty-six times, one can readily comprehend why the scroll was popular to the Qumranites. They stressed the supreme importance of a precise interpretation of Torah (especially in the Pesharim) and God’s “New Covenant” with them alone.

Precisely these same three books were the most popular ones to Jesus and his earliest followers. Jesus is reputed to have heavily used the Psalms, Deuteronomy, and Isaiah. The latter was probably his favorite prophet.

As we all know (and many of us learned about this report in religion courses at OWU), Jesus was popular in Galilee. His reputation spread to Judea; and he is described teaching in the Jerusalem Temple. According to the Fourth Evangelist, Jesus spoke to a Samaritan: “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem” (John 4:21 NRSV). Jesus is speaking to a Samaritan woman in Samaria at Jacob’s well; when Jesus reputedly said “on this mountain” he referred to Mount Gerizim. Why? He was speaking to a Samaritan who believed God had told his faithful to build an altar on Mount Gerizim. Something extremely important evolves from our study of the best reading in Deuteronomy 27:4. Let me explain.

According to many New Testament passages, Jesus is questioned by scribes sent out from Jerusalem; that is, from Judea. Note this passage from Mark 7:1-8:

Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, 2 they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. … 5 So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” 6 He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.’ 8 You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”

Why would Jerusalem scribes quarrel with Jesus? No scholar seems to have asked this focused question. The above passage clearly refers to traditions Jesus claimed were not based on the commandments but on Pharisaic interpretations (= alterations) of Torah. If some of the scribes were changing Scriptures Jesus knew, cherished, and used as the basis for his teaching, he would not be pleased. These learned “doctors of the Law” would also be upset that Jesus seemed to know Torah better than them and they had been trained in the Holy City and within “the House of God.”

Thanks to research on the biblical texts found in the eleven caves near Qumran, we know that the words of Scripture were fluid, appearing differently in divergent manuscripts;  some scribes thus felt empowered to change a text. Their work antedated and was contemporaneous with Jesus. The newly discovered text of Deuteronomy, announced now in this magazine, helps us understand some scribal practices probably in Jerusalem.8 Does this new insight help us understand some of the traditions associated with Jesus?

Conclusion: Questions Raised

The Samaritan High Priest and Charlesworth on Mount Gerizim. Charlesworth is receiving the Samaritan medal of honor for his services to Peace and Scholarship.

The Samaritan High Priest and Charlesworth on Mount Gerizim. Charlesworth is receiving the Samaritan medal of honor for his services to Peace and Scholarship.

The biblical manuscripts found in the Qumran caves antedate by over 1000 years the manuscripts used to establish the Hebrew Bible and all modern translations based on it. Almost always the Qumran biblical manuscripts prove the antiquity and reliability of our Scriptures. Occasionally, as with the newly discovered portion of Deuteronomy, we will be able to change texts and translations (and some of them, like Deut 27:4, were considered corrupt).

We are left with many questions; here are some for future study:

  • What text of Deuteronomy did Hillel prefer?
  • What text of Deuteronomy did Jesus know?
  • Why did Judean scribes interrogate the Galilean Jesus?
  • What other original portions of Scripture were preserved best by Samaritans?

We have glimpsed some of the excitement created by divergent readings preserved in biblical scrolls over 2,000 years old. These texts formerly were considered set and determinative for theological reflection—and for services in synagogues and churches. We have also observed the importance of studying texts within contexts and the sometimes surprisingly scribal alterations of what is signaled in our culture as “sacra scriptura.” We have also noted the extreme importance of words, especially when they are deemed Scripture.

Most likely many scholars will urge the text and translation of Deuteronomy to be changed in all subsequent Bible. These reflections disclose the exciting world in which Hillel and Jesus lived. Their time in the early first century CE was the zenith of Early Judaism and “ground-zero” of Christian Origins. Now, thanks to the discovery of a Dead Sea Scroll, the two siblings may study the preferred text of Deuteronomy 27.

Appendix: An Historic Speculation Now Confirmed

In 1722, during the Enlightenment and before the American Revolution, a gifted scholar speculated on the original text of Deuteronomy 27. In 2011, we celebrated the 500th anniversary of a translation of the Bible know around the world and honored for its elegance, the King James Bible; it appeared in 1611. Willliam Whiston, who remains famous for his translation of Josephus in the 18th century, authored a book in 1722. His book has a riveting title: An Essay Towards Restoring the True Text of the Old Testament and for Vindicating the Citations made thence in the New Testament (London: Senex, 1722). Whiston’s pioneering reflections are the following:

First, the quotations of the Bible “in the New Testament, in Josephus, in the Apostolic Constitutions, and the Apostolic Fathers” sometimes agree with the Samaritan Pentateuch, and sometimes differ from the present Hebrew and Greek manuscripts of the Bible. [We have found proof of this claim.]

Second, Whiston opined that the Samaritans did not admit “one voluntary corruption into their whole Pentateuch.” [This is an interesting but unproved opinion.]

Third, Whiston claimed that the Samaritan Pentateuch “is the most authentic record now extant in the church that relates to the time before the coming of our Saviour; and by consequence the greatest treasure relating to those times now extant in the whole Christian world.” [Perhaps it is wise to study not only the readings in the Masoretic Text but also within the Samaritan Pentateuch.]

Fourth, Whiston focused on one place in the Samaritan Pentateuch that is extremely important.  According to Whiston, the tradition in Deuteronomy 27:4 enjoining an altar to be built and sacrifices offered “not at Mount Ebal, as our present copies, both Hebrew and Greek, have it, but on Mount Gerizim where the Samaritans built an altar is most likely the original reading.” Whiston held the unpopular opinion that although the Samaritan Pentateuch is “universally rejected by the learned, both Jews and Christians,” it may “upon a fair examination” free the Samaritans from accusation of falsifying the sacred text. Most likely, some Jewish scribes caused “the corruption in this matter.” Here are Whiston’s reasons:

  1. That in all other cases, Samaritans cannot be censured by anyone, which makes it unreasonable to attribute the corruption to Samaritans without convincing proof. [This claim is worth debating.]
  2. That it seems likely “that the altar for divine worship and sacrifice, as well as for the inscription of the laws … should be at the Mountain appointed for the blessings, as Gerizim was; and not at that appointed for the curses, as was Ebal.” [This receives agreement.]
  3. That this seems to “the very place where Joshua set up a stone for a witness unto the Israelites, because, as he speaks, … was expressly at Shechem, or close by Mount Gerizim, and not at Mount Ebal.”  [Too many assumptions seem to be made.]
  4. That when “the woman of Samaria said to our Saviour, from her Samaritan Pentateuch, that their fathers worshipped in that mountain of Gerizim; which probably refers to this very matter and these very texts: our Saviour’s answer seems to allow, from his Jewish Pentateuch, that what she said was true.” [This claim implies that Jesus knew the reading preserved in the announced Dead Sea Scrolls. There are reasons to take this claim seriously.]
  5. “I see no other sufficient reason for the Samaritan’s choice of Mount Gerizim before Mount Ebal, but because the ancient place for worship was in their old genuine copies Gerizim and not Ebal. For had it been otherwise, they would naturally have made choice of Ebal, which was not but a little way from Shechem and Gerizim, and recommended by their Pentateuch; which would, in that case, have” served just as well “as the other.”

A study of the topography in Samaria indicates that long before Abraham and Joshua wandering tribes would hail the green fertile Gerizim as blessed and the barren and hard Eocene chalked Ebal as cursed. Why? As one looks at both mountains, even today, one sees that only one mountain has many springs and foliage and the other remains barren without life-giving springs.

The five observations led Whiston to the remarkable conclusion that shortly after Jesus, the incomparable Jewish historian, Josephus, also knew and used a text that referred to building the altar on Mt Gerizim. That text has been found and is now announced in this magazine. Note Whiston’s conclusion:

  1. “It seems to me that Josephus, the Jewish Historian, read in his Hebrew copy the same that the Samaritans still read in theirs; and to have had” in the Hebrew scroll known to him “Gerizim, and not Ebal. For he informs us that this altar was in a plain, between Mount Gerizim,” and not on Mount Ebal which is “not far from Shechem.” The altar on Mount Gerizim is “in the Samaritan” copies of the Pentateuch, but not found “in the Hebrew” manuscripts (except for this one DSS).[Whiston continues:]Josephus “also takes particular notice, for which the Scripture here gave him to occasion, that such oblations were never to be made” on Mount Gerizim “any more after that day.” He wanted “to guard against” any inference that Mount Gerizim was an acceptable place to worship, as that would give authority to Samaritans. Admittedly, the extant copies of Josephus were copied many centuries later and altered to be agreeable “to our present Hebrew;” that is, the text supports the absurdity “that this altar was on Mount Ebal.” Such alterations are obvious; they contradict what Josesphus “had before said, that it was between the two mountains, and near Shechem.” We “may justly” postulate an “interpolation, or correction” to support the received Hebrew and Greek copies of the Pentateuch.” These were frequently altered by copyists. Whiston concludes: “I think” there is insufficient evidence “to charge the Samaritans with a voluntary corruption of their Pentateuch, even in this single place, where they were under the greatest temptation, much less in any other place whatsoever.” (pp. 168-71)

These words and this judgment may now be studied by English readers, since this year is also the time when a Samaritan and his assistant publish the first translation of the Samaritan Pentateuch with a comparison of the received [Masoretic] text. It is published by Eerdmans.

Most surprisingly, one of Whiston’s fundamental speculations is now confirmed by a new manuscript discovery. How? The Dead Sea Scroll announced here contains the reading Whiston surmised must have been the intent of the author of Deuteronomy.

Footnotes

1 The manuscript is now owned by Azusa Pacific University. The Princeton Dead Sea Scrolls Project is publishing the critical edition of this scroll by professors at APU. My own expanded study will appear in the H.-W. Kuhn Festschrift that is edited by Professor Joerg Frey.

2 Y. Magen, et al., Mount Gerizim Excavations (Jerusalem: IAA, 2004).

3 See The New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavation in the Holy Land, edited by E. Stern, vol. 1, pp. 375-77. A. Zertal, The Manasseh Hill Country Survey (Leiden, Boston: Brill, 2004).

4 M. Sturgis, It Ain’t Necessarily So: Investigating the Truth of the Biblical Past (London: Headline, 2001).

5 P. L. Maier, translator and editor, Josephus: The Essential Writings: A Condensation of Jewish Antiquities and The Jewish War (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1988) p. 221.

6 See the apparatus criticus in J. W. Wevers, ed., Deuteronomium (Septuaginta 3.2; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1977) p. 287. Professor Ulrich rightly states (in an email of 8 Aug 2008) that the many so-called Samaritan Pentateuch readings in the Greek translation (LXX) manuscripts are more widespread than scholars usually think. And most of the divergent readings are in fact “Jewish.” For the Vetus Latina of Deuteronomy, see vol. 4 published by the Stiftung Vetus Latina (Vetus Latina Institut, D-88631 Beuron).

7 The manuscript is in the Universitätsbibliothek in Diessen. See the improved edition of Pap. Giessen by Tov in RB 78 (1971) 359. He advises that it is impossible to discern if the scribe one “Mount Gerizim” in one or in two words (see p. 360 and p. 373 n. 20).

8 The blessings and curses written in the famous climax in Deut 27-30 influenced a Dead Sea Scroll (More Works of the Torah) and also Paul’s Galatians. Each Jew recalls that the curses have already fallen on Israel and await an eschatological completion.

Back to the Summer 2012 issue of OWU Magazine

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