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The Dead Sea Scrolls
Hassan Uddin Ahmad


The Dead Sea Scrolls are greatly significant to Qur'anic studies. Yet the Muslim Ummah knows little about this "ayat" of Allah. The word "ayat" as used in the Quran literally means a sign. The 6, 236 ayat of the Qur'an, for example, have been communicated to us by Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). The other set of ayat or signs of Allah are spread throughout the universe. Different aspects of nature evident in the physical universe, like the creation of the sun, moon, stars and the earth in the rain changes of seasons, in the growing of the trees, in differences in the colors of the human race. The archaeological monuments and the ruins of the part which tell the stories of those who lived in the land are yet another set of ayat.

The Nag Hammadi Scrolls

In 1945 and 1947 ayat of greatest significance were brought to our notice by Allah. This can be regarded as the most important manuscript discovery ever made in the field of Biblical studies, having a direct bearing on Aur;anic studies. The Nag Hammadi Scrolls were found on the west bank of the Nile in upper Egypt in 1945. This is a collection of 13 codices of Gnostic scriptures and commentaries written in the second or the third century, though the codices are 4th century copies.

These were Biblical texts in Aramaic and Hebrew. As soon as they were discovered, Biblical scholars realized how dangerous they could be to the present reliability of the Bible, both from the point of view of the Jews and the Christians. By 1948, they had all been purchased by the Cario Coptic Museum. There was, initially, an attempt by French Catholic scholars to establish a monopoly over the material. As a result, work on them was delayed until 1966. The scrolls were then turned over to an international team of scholars for translation and publication. The head of the team of scholars was James M. Robinson of California. He and his team moved with swiftly and within three years a number of draft transcriptions and translations were being made available to scholars. By 1973 the entire Nag Hammadi Library was in draft English translation and being circulated freely among interested scholars. In 1977, the complete body of Nag Hammadi codices was published, in facsimile - a total of 46 books plus some unidentified fragments was brought out in popular edition.

The Gospel of Thomas was discovered in these scrolls. It was written closer to Jesus' so-called crucifixion than the Gospel of Mark, which is officially considered as the earliest. After this discovery it was found that 82% of the parables, aphorisms, etc. put into Jesus' mouth by the New Testament scribes were never uttered by him.

Moreover, according to this fresh evidence the divinity of Jesus was now being challenged. The idea that Jesus was just a man poses various doctrinal problems for the Christians as they view the central figure of Christianity as divine. The Jesus of Islam as depicted in the Qur'an was just a man and a messenger of Allah.

The Qumran Scrolls

Two years later, in 1947, Bedouin shepherds found a vast library of over 800 texts. The texts were in the shape of scrolls of leather wrapped in linen and hidden in earthen jars in a series of caves in Qumran. Qumran is a village at the northwestern end of the Dead Sea, 16 Kilometers east of Jerusalem.

The scrolls had been written in Aramaic and Hebrew between 250 BC and 100 AD by members of a hitherto little known Jewish brotherhood, the Essenes. The Dead Sea scrolls can be divided into two distinct groups: Biblical and non-Biblical texts. Between 20 and 25 percent of the documents are classified as Biblical. The Biblical texts can be regarded as the oldest known copies of the Old Testament, as well as long lost originals of several books of the Apocrypha. These texts are 1000 years older than the oldest known traditional Hebrew text of Taurat, which is the basis of the English translation of the Old Testament. Everybody of the Hebrew Bible is represented except the Book of Esther. Two of the oldest known copies of the Book of Isaiah are also found. The most interesting point is that in respect to some of the Books of the Bible, the original Aramaic or the Hebrew texts were not available. As such these books were translated from the available Greek translations. Now that the Aramaic and the Hebrew texts are available, the present text of the Bible needs correction. This is a disturbing factor for both the Jews and the Christians who again have differences among themselves.

It is a Christian belief to take everything in the present Bible literally and to consider it as most authentic. It is regarded as one of the fundamentals of faith. After the discovery of the earliest, and therefore more reliable, text the very reliability of the present Bible is questioned.

The Qumran brotherhood, i.e. the Essenes, lived at the same time and in the same region as John the Baptist, who was himself a harbinger of subsequent Christian ideas. The scrolls provide a background to the missions of John the Baptist and Jesus. There are also secular documents, including military dispatches and legal writs in several languages including Arabic.

Arabic writings can be of special importance for Qur'anic studies. Pre-Islamic Arabic poetry provided a mine of information on diction and our commentators have taken advantage of it, to elucidate the meanings of the Qur'anic words. The scrolls provide specimen of the earliest Arabic and therefore can be very valuable. The scrolls offer no parallels to the Christian doctrines of Trinity, incarnations, i.e. God existing in human form in the person of Jesus, atonement (expiation of sin through the suffering and death of Jesus Christ on behalf of the sinners) and redemption through the cross. It is obvious that these doctrines are later fabrications introduced by Paul.

The Muslims accept Taurat, Injil and all the earlier Books as divine revelations, a part of their "iman" (belief). The Qur'an has clearly declared that it is not the first revelations: "Nothing is said to you which has not been said to other messengers before you." (41:43) The Qur'an also claims that its verses are similar to verses of the earlier scriptures. "He has sent down to you the Book containing the truth and fulfilling that which precedes, it, and He has sent down the Taurat and the Injil before this, as a guidance to the people and He has now sent down the Furqan." (3:3-4)

When these ayat were revealed the question arose among the Muslims in general, and the converts from Judaism and Christianity, with leanings towards the scriptures of their earlier religions in particular, that if the Taurat, Zubur and the Injil were all accepted by the Qur'an as divine scriptures, why not continue to follow them?

The Qur'an has exposed the corruptions made deliberately in the earlier scriptures.  This explains the interesting position of the Muslims with regard to all earlier scriptures. Although they accept the divine origin of the earlier scriptures, they maintain that all the earlier scriptures as they exist today are not to be followed.

The scrolls confront us with a challenge. We Muslims regard the Jews and the Christians as the people of the Book and we have profound respect and regard  for their Books and their Prophets whom we regard as our own Prophets. But unfortunately -  unfortunately both for them and for us the Jews and the Christians we  incimical towards Islam and the Muslims. In the name of scholarship and critical studies the oriental scholars try to prove  that the Qur'an has borrowed "themes" and "diction" from the Bible. If we are alert to the situation now (that the authenticity of the present Bible itself is being questioned) we can disprove their motivated contentions.

What we require today is a team of young scholars of the Aramaic and Hebrew languages to study the scrolls. On the one hand we can show how and where the tahrif (alteration) has occurred in the text of the Bible.  On the other hand we can defend ourselves: although the Qur'an has used words from Aramaic and Hebrew it has maintained its own terminology, which is far superior to the concepts found in the Aramaic or Hebrew texts of the present Bible or the texts now discovered.


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