The Dead Sea Scrolls are a series of complete and incomplete scrolls containing biblical literature, as well as some other writings that have not been identified as parallels to any biblical books. Found in Qumran, located in the Judean Desert, these scrolls have been a controversial topic in an archeological sense as well as in a religious aspect. Apparently, the scrolls were copied from other scrolls and then stored in caves near the place that they are assumed to have been written. Theres been a lot of speculation as to the true origin of the scrolls, but common opinion has it that they were copied at Qumran, a settlement near the site that they were found, and then were stored in nearby caves surrounding the settlement.
Some of the contents of the scrolls, as mentioned above, had never been seen before in the archeological or religious communities. Being so, much skepticism concerning the scrolls, their meaning, their true origin and their authors has arisen. Of course, not all of these topics can be tackled at once and surely not all of the questions can be answered, especially because there is no proof of their true origin or their true authors, but certainly one can attempt to enlighten others with the hardships that are faced, even now, by the scribes who wrote them. In viewing the living conditions during the time that the scrolls were written and then comparing the conditions to those of today, one will have a much deeper understanding of what hardship means in the scribal world. Based on this comparison and a near-complete list of typical errors that plague current and ancient authors, one will not only see the types of difficulties involved with replication, but will also realize through doubt and reason that using these scrolls as a source of biblical facts is a hazardous idea.
A scribes task may seem easy to some, yet when one actually takes a look at the detail and specificity that is put into their work, one can see that a scribes job is probably just as easy as it is for a two-year old to color within the lines of a picture in their coloring book. Today, with the use of modern technology and well trained professionals, it would be safe to say that simple copying of books and literature is not exactly easy, but is definitely a task that is relatively straightforward and achievable, with little or no room for mistakes. We have scanners that can reproduce images of complete documents, computers equipped with word processors that have accessories such as spell-checker, grammar-check, word counts, and numerous other advancements that simplify the mission of compilation and copying. Not to mention the beloved machine known as the Xerox that creates instant, photographed duplicates of virtually anything on paper. Even when an author is writing a novel, they are afforded the opportunity to use a word processor in which they can input their ideas directly into a machine that is capable of checking their spelling and grammar within a few seconds of the command. And the luxury of having a button that instantly gives synonyms for words that they are at a loss for. How much easier can writing be?! In this time where such lovely machines play such a huge role in our everyday life, its so easy to forget that the human race still reigned this planet without their use. Meaning, life went on. Humans did the same things two thousand years ago that we do now. Events were probably modified a bit, but the typical things that humans do today had to have been done long ago, without the comfort of technology as we now know it.
Its a safe bet to say that the chairs that we sit on during a normal day are by far more comfortable than beds used by the princes of old. The tables from those ancient times were most likely not made with the same amount of care and perfection as they are today. Tables were made of stone and raw wood. How hard it must have been to get a tabletop to be flat, without bumps and without the sloping and drooping action of the middle portion. And how hard it must have been to write on such facilities. But then the fact that scribes used to sit on the floor and copy scrolls, crouching over a writing tablet with a piece of parchment across it, gets thrown in and one then pities the scribes that performed so marvelously in such horrible conditions. At least, deemed horrible to those accustomed to modern civilizations way of life.
Aside from the physical conditions that the scribe was writing in, one needs to take into consideration the possibility of time constraints that they might have been working in. For instance, war is imminent and a community wants to keep alive its heritage so they appoint a scribe to write down all the important books of literature and religion that applies to their way of life. Now the scribe is put under pressure to not only copy all these scrolls and books, but now he has on his head that he needs to have it all done very soon or else nothing will live on. Stress is not the way to work when dealing with perfection. Stress may increase ones efficiency, but only if the work being done is expected to be mediocre and imperfect. The scribes writings were important.
Even if war was not the time impeding factor that the scribe was working under, he still had the obligation and duty to copy all these books for the community library where they would be kept safe and preserved. A library is the foundation for the religious community, no matter what religion one speaks of. A library can have the same caliber of importance as a courthouse. It holds laws and it holds heritage. Tradition. Its what the religion is based and what continues to make the religion thrive.
So now the scribes faces his duty with a very unsuitable writing position as well as a responsibility to have them completed within a certain timeframe. The writing position one can and may get used to, but the pressure for time causes many other problems. When one rushes to complete a job, many errors are liable to take place.
When time is a necessity that one does not have, they stay awake for long stretches of time, making sure that every minute is used for the sole purpose or their task. The scribe is the same way. He will stay awake for hours upon hours, slaving away at his obligation to complete the copying of the scroll. Fatigue is sure to fall upon him after some great length of time and his eyesight and judgement are liable to get a bit hazy.
Say this is a religious setting and the scribe has a pretty good knowledge of the book that he is copying. If he has that much knowledge of the materials content, then he at least has the general meaning of the material. For example, a scribe is working on the book of Genesis and is writing about the burial of Jacob. The scribe remembers something about Esau being at the burial scene and that his head is severed during that scene and the head gets buried next to Jacob. Keep in mind that the scribe is being rushed to finish this book and he is still very tired from lack of sleep and working on copying this book all day long. He doesnt have time to research and he knows that these events happened, but he just isnt sure if it was in the text itself. So the scribe makes a judgement call and interjects the commentary into the text that he is copying, thinking that if anything, hes only enhancing the documents beauty and its content of information. The word composed might be a better term to use for some of their writings rather than copied because that is what happened quite frequently during that time era. Oral laws and customs were added into texts for purposes of preservation.
There are also many cases where there were words, sentences, even paragraphs were omitted from texts. The reasons for these omissions is not for certain, but it would be safe to assume that: 1) the scribe either felt that the information was not needed based on the information being redundant, self-explanatory or otherwise worthless to the literature or: 2) the scribe skipped a line on accident and continued writing like nothing happened or didnt know that he had skipped anything or: 3) he was tired and didnt realize his mistake.
Another error, which almost seems common in the ancient writings, is the mistake of confusing one letter for another. When copying an original or even a third-generation duplicate, one must keep in mind that no one is perfect, not even the scribes. Therefore, questioning if a word or letter is correct concerning the context of the text, one must keep in mind how many times the piece of information has been passed down and copied. A simple letter can change the whole meaning of a word. Add the letter L to the word WORD and you get WORLD. But thats not the only confusion that there is with letters. The capitol letter I can resemble the lower-case letter of l remarkably. The confusion of these letters can cause serious problems with the meanings of words. Either it makes no sense in context or the word has no meaning at all and in the long run, the sentence loses its whole meaning.
In the scrolls, this confusion is even more problematic. A prime example would be the letters Dalet and Resh. They look almost identical except for the little tail reaching off the end of the Dalet. If you were to switch the last letter in the Hebrew word Dor, which means generations, from a Resh to a Dalet, one would come up with the word Dod, meaning uncle. Another example is the letter Mem. This letter is comprised of two Hebrew letters, the Vav and the Chaf, combined at the top and bottom. If these two letters were to get separated mid-word so that they would be viewed as two individual letters rather than just the one, the Mem, again, the same consequences follow. These kinds of typos are so easy to do yet they are very hard to detect.
Given the vast array of situations and obstacles that a scribe in ancient times had to deal with, it seems to be a bit ludicrous to place ones beliefs in the hands of a scribe and/or scholar that is unknown. The above obstacles could easily have impaired the scribes ability to copy the scrolls correctly. When the Septuagint was completed, it was known who assisted in the translation and the copying as well as the time that it was copied, making it easier to visualize what working conditions were like. The Septuagint was accepted because of this factor.
In the Dead Sea Scrolls case, however, the author is unknown and the working conditions do not seem promising. Speculation only leads to doubt in this case. Use of the scrolls alone in biblical study would be hazardous to the religious and non-religious communities alike due to the fact that the scrolls do not exemplify uniformity and do not adhere completely to the texts that religions all around the world use today.