Official Blog of the Bishop of Durham

The New Deuteronomy Dead Sea scroll fragment

Posted by NT Wrong on July 21, 2008

James H. Charlesworth recently provisionally published Dead Sea scroll fragments from Deuteronomy and Nehemiah, understood originally to have come from Cave 4 at Qumran. The Deuteronomy fragment contains the remains of only three verses (Deut 27.4-6). Yet if genuine, it provides a textual witness that supports the Samaritan Pentateuch reading of Deut 27.4.

The Masoretic text reads as follows:

“And when you cross over the Jordan, you shall set up these stones, about which I am commanding you today, on Mount Ebal, and you shall plaster them with plaster.”
– Deut 27.4 (MT)

The Deuteronomy fragment reads as follows:

“[And when you have cross]ed the Jo[r]dan, you shall set u[p these stones, about which I charge you] today, on Mount Gerizim , and plaster [them with plaster.]”
Deut 27.4 (Cave 4 fragment)

The fact that the reading is consistent with the Samaritan Pentateuch doesn’t mean that it comes from such a family of texts. It may be that the reading is the original reading, and the later Masoretic Text changed the mountain from “Gerizim” to “Ebal” as an anti-Samaritan polemic. The fragment is too short to decide between the alternatives, and there are remains of ancient cultic sites on both mountains. But, as Paolo Sacchi recognised years ago, there are good textual grounds for viewing the MT tradition as a deliberate corruption of the original reading “Gerizim”.

“It is practically certain that the Samaritan version is the original one, because in Deut 11.29 and 27.12 Mt Ebal, which, I repeat, is in front of Mt Gerizim, is referred to as a place of curse. It is not likely that the first altar in the promised land was to be raised in such a place. Furthermore, it is obvious that the Samaritans’ choice of a site for founding their temple was to fall on any place near Shechem that enjoyed the blessing of some traditionally respected person. On the contrary, for Jerusalem this place, once it had become the site of a rival temple, could only become a site of execration. It would seem therefore that in all probability Deut 27.4 should read “Gerizim” and not “Ebal”.”
The History of the Second Temple Period, 2005: 156.

Charlesworth believes that the fragment is genuine, but does not reveal his reasons for so believing. An unknown number of scroll fragments did end up in the hands of private collectors, however – and this may indeed be one of them.

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