Where Is the Aramaic Bible at Qumran? Scripture Use in the Land of Israel

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The documents at Qumran allow us to reconstruct Scripture access in the Province of Judea in the first century. From the evidence, we must assume that the Qumran community and the other Jewish communities in the land had direct access to the Hebrew Bible, generally understood it, and were interested in teaching that related directly to the Hebrew text.

Qumran has many Aramaic documents but shows a provocative lack of targum (Aramaic translations of Scripture). With nearly all the Qumran material published, we still have only two copies of an Aramaic Job and a piece of Leviticus 16 in Aramaic to represent the Aramaic Bible at Qumran. If we included the Apocrypha, we could add the four copies of Aramaic Tobit.

The indications of foreign origins of Aramaic Job[1] and the post-Second Temple origins of the general targums[2] need to be integrated into our understanding of targumic origins. Current paradigms concerning popular Aramaic Scripture use in the synagogue[3] and Aramaic Scripture use for gospel background[4] need reformulation.

We will find that first-century Scripture use was anchored directly in the Hebrew Bible in the land of Israel. This is certain at Qumran, very probable for the synagogue, for Pharisaic literature and the Gospels. Extensive, direct Hebrew Scripture use needs to be our working paradigm for the first century. This paradigm can help gospel studies and synagogue studies regain a proper focus.

Scriptural texts found among the Dead Sea Scrolls have produced surprises. Interest has been generated by para-biblical texts like the Temple Scroll and the many fragments now referred to as “reworked” Bible. Questions of canon have been reopened as we try to understand how these texts fit into the general landscape of Scripture during the Second Temple period.[5]

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  • [1] Takamitsu Muraoka, “The Aramaic of the Old Targum of Job from Qumran Cave XI,” Journal of Jewish Studies 25 (1974): 425-443; LXX Job 42:17; see also Ed Cook, “Qumran Aramaic and Aramaic Dialectology,” in Studies in Qumran Aramaic (ed. T. Muraoka [Supplement 3]; Louvain: Peeters, 1992), 1-21; and idem, “A New Perspective on the Language of Onkelos and Jonathan,” in The Aramaic Bible: Targums in their Historical Context (JSOTSup 166; eds. D. R. G. Beattie and M. J. McNamara; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1994), 142-156.
  • [2] Ze’ev Safrai, “The Origins of Reading the Aramaic Targum in Synagogue,” Immanuel 24/25: The New Testament and Christian-Jewish Dialogue: Studies in Honor of David Flusser (1990): 187-193.
  • [3] See note 7 below.
  • [4] See note 6 below.
  • [5] See Lee Martin McDonald and James A. Sanders, eds., The Canon Debate (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2002).
  • Randall Buth

    Randall Buth

    Randall Buth is director of the Biblical Language Center and a lecturer at the Rothberg International School of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and the Home for Bible Translators. He is a member of the Jerusalem School of Synoptic Research. Buth received his doctorate in…
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