The Book of Job in the Dead Sea Scrolls
Piecing together clues to trace the steps of early preservers of the Bible
My family recently convinced me to watch the show Psych. It's a detective show about a guy who loves to figure things out, but he also loves to goof off and talk about random TV shows. They say it reminds them of me...I don't see the resemblance. Anyway, this guy is so good at making observations and piecing together clues that everyone just thinks he's psychic. The Dead Sea Scrolls require detailed observations for retracing steps, and sometimes I feel like a TV detective who just walked into a crime scene: I have to figure out how all the clues ended up the way they did.
I've been working with the Aramaic Translation of Job that was found at Qumran, affectionately called, "11Q10." The Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in caves at Qumran in 1948. Unfortunately, the scrolls sat in jars for 2,000 years, and parts of them haven't survived. Of the book of Job, we have a scroll from Cave 4 and a scroll from Cave 11. Only a little fragment remains of the scroll from Cave 4 (see below), and it doesn't overlap with 11Q10, so we can't be sure if it's the same translation. The handwriting and language is quite similar, but the layout is different. The Aramaic language in 11Q10 reflects an Eastern dialect. That means the book of Job was probably translated into Aramaic by Jewish communities in the East, and then brought to the Judaean Desert after the return from exile. It's a bit different from the Aramaic dialect in the biblical book of Daniel and from the dialect in other Aramaic scrolls in the caves.
11Q10 requires a lot of detective work! There are some missing pieces. First, it has a lot of holes and missing words that didn't survive the centuries. Second, it is an Aramaic translation of a Hebrew book. We have a Hebrew version of Job in the Bible, but is it the same one that this translator had?
I recently had some breakthroughs in a case that I've been trying to solve for several years. There were a few clues that had me stumped. In the 11Q10 Aramaic version of chapter 33, Elihu talks about a mysterious fire out of nowhere! And there are holes in the scroll, so we can't see exactly what he says about it. But I finally figured out what he's getting at by looking at the Aramaic word for "fire" across several dialects--it turns out that he's talking about a "fever." It's not a Disco Inferno, it's a Saturday Night Fever!
Elihu wants to be a special mediator for Job. He describes a man like Job: suffering from bad dreams, damaged skin and bones, on his death bed, bad fevers. But in 33:23, a mediator like Elihu shows up and reverses all this suffering. Just before the holidays, I submitted my findings for publication. I'll return to Elihu and my scroll detective work in future blog posts.
The photos in this post are taken from https://www.deadseascrolls.org.il. We owe them a huge debt of gratitude for making these scrolls available to anyone in the world who wants to read them. Without their documentation of the forensic evidence, detectives couldn't piece together clues.