Although the Isaiah scroll [Editor’s comment: The questioner is referring to the Dead Sea Scrolls] is similar in structure to today’s book of Isaiah, it contains alternative spellings, scribal errors, corrections, and other variant readings. Strictly speaking, the number of textual variants is well over 2600, ranging from a single letter, sometimes one or more words, to complete variant verse or verses. Further, Isaiah’s scroll is a copy only of Isaiah, not the entire OT. Thus, it does not prove that the entire OT has been copied carefully. What’s the Christian response?


It is not a secret that the manuscript copying process is not perfect.  Over several hundred years from the time of the Dead Sea Scrolls (about 200 BC to 50 AD) until the oldest available Hebrew manuscripts of the Masoretic type (about 900 AD), Old Testament books such as Isaiah were copied many times.  The Jews burned worn-out scrolls.  Surely scrolls did not last more than 50 years, so we can imagine the number or times the Isaiah scroll was copied.
You mention 2600 textual variants.  This is true, but the number creates a biased view of the data.  There are actually three Isaiah scrolls found in the caves near Qumran, and you are quoting the number of variants in the Isaiah scroll number 1.  There are far fewer variants between the Masoretic and the other two Isaiah scrolls.  Besides, we have three different DSS (Dead Sea Scrolls) Isaiah scrolls, which allows us to compare texts in order to produce a much more reliable text. Adding to the three DSS Isaiah scrolls, plus the Masoretic text, we also have the Greek Septuagint translation, which was made around 200 BC.  Sometimes the DSS manuscripts are closer to the Septuagint, and sometimes they is closer to the Masoretic Text.  We are blessed to have a great deal of evidence supporting the Hebrew text of Isaiah.  Only a very small portion of the book of Isaiah is in doubt when one considers all the evidence—only around 1% of the text.  If we look at the actual texts and the kinds of minor changes, we can realize that the differences are truly insignificant to the overall message of the prophet Isaiah.  The texts were copied VERY carefully, given the number of times it was copied, and the evidence from the three types of manuscripts supports this claim.
If you look deeply into the question, you will find that there are only a very few significant variations in the Isaiah text. The footnotes in your Bible will probably mention them.  If you look at these few examples of significant textual variants, you will see that the overall meaning of Isaiah is not significantly affected at all.
John Oakes

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