The following is a good example of how translation and the interpretation of that translation can and has become in conflict with each other. This article is by Lance S. Owens.

Several prophesies appearing in the Book of Isaiah have become cornerstones of Judeo-Christian civilization. Perhaps the most renowned of these is Isaiah’s vision of universal peace at the End of Days: “And they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks: Nation shall not take up sword against nation; they shall never again know war” (2:4).

Versions and Translations of the Book of Isaiah
As you use the translator tool in the scroll viewer, we would like to call your attention to the complexities of translating the words of the Prophet Isaiah of around 2,800 years ago, as reflected in the different Hebrew variants and subsequent English translations. The museum’s mission here is to provide you the background information required to reach your own objective perspective when reading this English translation of the biblical text.
Basic Concepts:
Masoretic Version of the Hebrew Bible
The evidence emerging from the Qumran scrolls is that there were several concurrent versions of the biblical text, though one – now referred to as the proto-Rabbinic or proto-Masoretic – enjoyed a special status by the Greco-Roman period (3rd century BCE – 1st century CE). That apparently became the authoritative text for mainstream Judaism toward the end of the Second Temple, as evidenced by ancient parchment fragments of several biblical books (1st-2nd century CE) discovered in other parts of the Judean Desert (Masada, Wadi Murabba’at, Nahal Hever, and Nahal Tze’elim).
Through the activity of generations of sages (known as “Masoretes”), who faithfully preserved and transmitted the sacred words across centuries, an authoritative or Masoretic version of the Hebrew Bible gradually evolved, containing its definitive correct text, proper vocalization, and accentuation marks. The Aleppo Codex, transcribed by the scribe Solomon son of Buya’a and annotated by the scholar Aaron ben Asher in the 10th century CE in the Galilean city of Tiberias, is considered the finest extant example of this version.
Since then, the Masoretic version has become the standard authoritative text of the Hebrew Bible, from which modern translations were and still are being made. While there are numerous English online translations of this traditional text, the version you see here is the authoritative version of the biblical Book of Isaiah, as rendered by the Jewish Publication Society in 1917 and published by the American Israeli Cooperative Enterprise.
Great Isaiah Scroll Version
The text of the Great Isaiah Scroll generally conforms to the Masoretic or traditional version codified in medieval codices (all 66 chapters of the Hebrew version, in the same conventional order). At the same time, however, the two thousand year old scroll contains alternative spellings, scribal errors, corrections, and most fundamentally, many variant readings. Strictly speaking, the number of textual variants is well over 2,600, ranging from a single letter, sometimes one or more words, to complete variant verse or verses.
For example, the second half of Verse 9 and all of Verse 10 in the present Masoretic version of Chapter 2 are absent from the Great Isaiah Scroll in the Israel Museum’s full manuscript that you see here online. The same verses, however, have been included in other versions of the Book of Isaiah in the scrolls found near the Dead Sea (4QIsaa, 4QIsab), and the Hebrew text from which the ancient Greek version or Septuagint (3rd-1st century BCE) was translated. This confirms that these verses, although early enough, were a late addition to the ancient and more original version reflected in the Great Isaiah Scroll.
Keeping these basic concepts in mind, we recommend that you use the tools at your disposal in the following ways:
If you are a Hebrew reader, choose any passage of the Great Isaiah Scroll, and compare it to the Masoretic version of the same passage in the Aleppo Codex ( You may then assess the agreements and disagreements between both versions.
If you do not read Hebrew, please take the following suggested steps:
Choose a specific passage from the Great Isaiah Scroll version, and click on the online JPS English translation of the Book of Isaiah in the online viewer. Note that this translation reflects only the Masoretic version of the biblical book, and does not specifically reflect the present text of the Great Isaiah Scroll version.
If you wish to compare both versions, please click here, and you will see the first five chapters of the Book of Isaiah in parallel columns: On the left, the English translation of the Great Isaiah Scroll by Professor Peter Flint (Western Trinity University, Canada), and on the right, the JPS English translation of the Masoretic version. Thus you will be able to evaluate on your own the intricate issue of variant readings, which have obvious literary, historical and theological implications for the correct understanding of Isaiah’s original words.

The Dead Sea Scrolls Collection at The Gnostic Society Library

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The War Scroll (1QM), popularly known as “The War of the Sons of Light Against the Sons of Darkness,” is one of the seven original Dead Sea Scrolls discovered in Qumran in 1947. It contains 19 columns (originally there were at least twenty), of which the first 14–19 lines (out of at least 21–22) are preserved. The work is written in Hebrew in a square Herodian script and is dated to the late first century BCE or early first century CE. Seven additional fragments (4Q491-497) with similar contents have also been found, but the relationship between these texts to 1QM is not entirely clear; they may represent an earlier version of the War Scroll, or source materials on which the War Scroll was based.
Against the backdrop of a long biblical tradition concerning a final war at the End of Days (Ezekiel 38–39; Daniel 7–12), this scroll describes a seven stage, dualistic confrontation between the “Sons of Light” (the term used by Community members to refer to themselves), under the leadership of the “Prince of Light” (also called Michael, the Archangel) – and the “Sons of Darkness” (a nickname for the enemies of the Community, Jews and non-Jews alike), aided by a nation called the Kittim (Romans?), headed by Belial. The confrontation would last 49 years, terminating in the victory of the “Sons of Light” and the restoration of the Temple service and sacrifices. The War Scroll describes battle arrays, weaponry, the ages of the participants, and military maneuvers, recalling Hellenistic and Roman military manuals.
This work is not, strictly speaking, an apocalypse (namely, a heavenly revelation), and it lacks a “messianic” figure. Certain details, such as the advanced age of the combatants and the leadership of the priests, point to the idealistic nature of the war described in the work and impart a fictional quality to the treatise. Nonetheless, the War Scroll may indeed reflect genuine political tension in Judea between Romans and Jews, which would culminate in the outbreak of revolt in 66 CE. The scroll also sheds light on the New Testament Book of Revelation, in which a final war is also described between earthly and heavenly forces.
The Great Isaiah Scroll (1QIsaa) is one of the original seven Dead Sea Scrolls discovered in Qumran in 1947. It is the largest (734 cm) and best preserved of all the biblical scrolls, and the only one that is almost complete. The 54 columns contain all 66 chapters of the Hebrew version of the biblical Book of Isaiah. Dating from ca. 125 BCE, it is also one of the oldest of the Dead Sea Scrolls, some one thousand years older than the oldest manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible known to us before the scrolls’ discovery.
The version of the text is generally in agreement with the Masoretic or traditional version codified in medieval codices, such as the Aleppo Codex, but it contains many variant readings, alternative spellings, scribal errors, and corrections. Unlike most of the biblical scrolls from Qumran, it exhibits a very full orthography (spelling), revealing how Hebrew was pronounced in the Second Temple Period. Around twenty additional copies of the Book of Isaiah were also found at Qumran (one more copy was discovered further south at Wadi Muraba’at), as well as six pesharim (commentaries) based on the book; Isaiah is also frequently quoted in other scrolls (a literary and religious phenomenon also present in New Testament writings). The authoritative and scriptural status of the Book of Isaiah is consistent with the messianic beliefs of the community living at Qumran, since Isaiah is known for his prophecies of judgment and consolation, and his visions of the End of Days and the coming of the Kingdom of God.
Modern scholarship considers the Book of Isaiah to be an anthology, the two principal compositions of which are the Book of Isaiah proper (chapters 1-39, with some exceptions), containing the words of the prophet Isaiah himself, dating from the time of the First Temple, around 700 BCE, and Second Isaiah (Deutero-Isaiah, chapters 40-66), comprising the words of an anonymous prophet, who lived some one hundred and fifty years later, around the time of the Babylonian exile and the restoration of the Temple in the Persian Period. By the time our Isaiah Scroll was copied (the last third of the second century BCE), the book was already regarded as a single composition.
Several prophesies appearing in the Book of Isaiah have become cornerstones of Judeo-Christian civilization. Perhaps the most renowned of these is Isaiah’s vision of universal peace at the End of Days: “And they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks: Nation shall not take up sword against nation; they shall never again know war” (2:4).
What do the Dead Sea Scrolls Say? Why are They Important?
The question often asked by casual readers is simply, “What do the Dead Sea Scrolls say?”  Again, there is no one answer to that question.   The texts are diverse, they apparently do not speak with a single voice, or from a single viewpoint.  Most of the manuscripts found are heavily damaged fragments of scrolls, some very tentatively pieced together. Often the preserved scraps give only glimpses of what existed in the original text.
Readers approach the Dead Sea scrolls from a variety of perspectives and with differing interests. The texts “say” different things to different people. For students of Hebrew literature, the biblical texts and commentaries preserved in the DSS collection offer the opportunity for textual research using early and previously unknown source documents.  Experts in paleography find in the Scrolls material for analysis of developing and changing Hebrew writing styles.  Specialists in the history of Judaism find documents in the collection that shed new light on the diverse and heterodox trends present in Judaism during the intertestamental period.  Students of Christian origins see in the texts evidences of the apocalyptic, messianic foment from which Christianity arose. While the DSS certainly do offer insights into the Jewish cultural milieu that gave formation to Christianity, there is probably nothing in the Scrolls collection directly reflecting events or personages known to early Christian history.
After fifty years, it is still difficult to say how future scholarship will judge the importance of  the DSS discovery. Several individuals now suggest the Scrolls are globally less important than implied by decades of relentless publicity. Consider the balancing and sobering appraisal given by Dr. Eliezer Segal (Professor of Religious Studies, University of Calgary) in his 1994 article titled “The Dead Sea Scrolls Dud”:
Coming from someone who makes his living from the study of ancient Jewish texts, it might surprise some readers when I declare my conviction that the Dead Sea Scrolls are not all that important, and that their impact has been inflated out of all proportion by the media and various interested parties.
The intense public fascination with the Qumran scrolls was fueled by the expectation that documents contemporary with the beginnings of Christianity would provide valuable–or even revolutionary–new insights into the origin of that religion. The Christian scholars who controlled much of the research into the scrolls made every effort to uncover allusions to Christian concerns, and tiny fragments were fancifully pieced together so as to produce theological statements about divine or suffering messiahs. The archeological site at Qumran was even described as if it had housed a medieval European monastery.
These dubious conclusions have been utilized both as confirmation of Christian tradition and as refutations of its uniqueness or originality. Either way, they succeeded in transforming the esoteric world of Dead Sea Scroll scholarship into a lucrative industry whose potential market included much of the Christian world.
Not surprisingly, almost none of these alleged Christian links find factual support in the evidence of the scrolls. The simple truth is that the scrolls contain a representative sample of the diverse literature that Jews were producing during the latter part of the Second Temple Era, a time marked by factionalism and ferment in the Jewish community of Eretz Yisrael. As such, they reflect typical Jewish concerns, most notably in the area of halakhah, Jewish religious law, which, then as today, ignited the most virulent controversies between competing sects. These simple and obvious facts rarely get mentioned in the popular representations of the scrolls.
The scrolls do enrich our knowledge of a very complex time in Jewish history, though much of this knowledge is of value only to scholarly specialists, and even their more substantial contributions (in such areas as the development of the Hebrew language and Jewish legal exegesis) are unlikely to sell a lot of newspaper tabloids or TV sponsorships. (JFP, Aug. 25 1994, p.9 – text available online)
Popular interest in the Scrolls has been manipulated by suggestions – encouraged by at least some of those who once controlled DSS research – that the discovery would shed a startling new light on the origins of Christianity.   Of course, the original hypothesis about the Scrolls and the Qumran community appeared replete with just such promising possibilities for Christian-focused scholarship. Dr. Theodore H. Gaster (Columbia University) expressed the tenor of such scholarship in his 1957 publication Dead Sea Scriptures, explaining to readers that the Dead Sea Scrolls “furnish a picture of the religious and cultural climate in which John the Baptist conducted his mission and in which Jesus was initially reared…and whose religious ideas served largely as the seedbed of the New Testament.” Many Jewish scholars have rightfully resented this focus and bias.
Having spent many years studying early Christian history in light of the Nag Hammadi texts (the “other” collection of ancient religious manuscripts discovered contemporaneously with the Dead Sea Scrolls), it has always seemed ironic to me that the Scrolls attracted so much of this kind of publicity, while so little attention was given to the Nag Hammadi materials. Fifty years after their discovery, however, a more balanced perspective is developing towards both sets of documents:  The Nag Hammadi library is attracting increased interest, while once inflated expectations about the Dead Sea Scrolls are being properly moderated.
– by Lance S. Owens (copyright 2001)

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