Dead Sea Scrolls

Saturday morning I was sitting in the family room watching TV, and my wife popped her head in and asked me whether I had heard about the newly discovered Dead Sea Scrolls. (She got some kind of an alert on her phone.) I had not. After a quick google search, I had the skinny: about 80 fragments from a book of the 12 minor prophets in Greek had been discovered in a cave about 25 miles south of Jerusalem, the first new DSS manuscript material discovered in about 60 years. This is believed to be related to similar material discovered in Cave 8, commonly referred to as the “Cave of Horror,” so named for the 40 skeletons found on the site.

This news brought to mind, of all things, my mission (Colorado, 77-79). Pretty much everyone in my mission collected cassette tapes. As we left the old Salt Lake Mission Home to depart for our fields of service, we were each handed a tape of Hugh Brown’s famous “Profile of a Prophet” address. When I got to the field, I soon learned pretty much everyone had an extensive tape collection. Most collected GA talks. (A few collected contraband music.) But a significant minority collected tapes about the Dead Sea Scrolls and Nag Hammadi Codices. My instructor was in this latter camp, so I listened to a lot of these tapes and even bought some of my own. The lecturer was a guy named Einar Erickson, and the tapes were produced by the Simi Valley Stake Seventies project.

The upshot of these tapes was that this ancient material basically proved that the Church was true. And you know, I found that a comforting security blanket, at least at first. Here I was trying to convince skeptical investigators of the truthfulness of the Church. And while growing up I had a reputation among my peers of being pretty knowledgeable about the Church, I soon learned that fielding softball Seminary questions and talking to real live skeptical investigators were two different things entirely. And I felt deeply my own ignorance. So having a magic pill like the DSS was really appealing to me at the time.

But, unlike pretty much anyone else in the mission, I took a fateful step. My father was a professor of Education, and my house growing up was filled with books. And so I kind of had a natural bias that if you really want to learn about something, you should read about it in actual books. So I took a step few others did: I actually started buying and reading books on these subjects (including translations) by non-LDS scholars. I’m sure you’ve already guessed that that was a very different experience from just listening to rah rah DSS/Church is True tapes. But if anything, I actually became more interested in the subject. I even began to teach myself ancient languages with such limited resources as I had at my disposal (Strong’s, a JW NT interlinear and a Berlitz reader in Hebrew, which was actually Modern Hebrew, but I didn’t appreciate the differences between Ancient and Modern at the time). (This is how I came to realize that Erickson couldn’t actually read Hebrew. The word for “spirit” is ruach (the last consonant is a guttural, an h sound pronounced in the back of the throat). Erickson pronounced it “ruash,” which was a dead giveaway.)

After the mish I would end up actually studying ancient languages at BYU. So, even though I no longer buy the argumentation, I still kind of have a soft spot in my heart for those old DSS tapes, as they ended up leading me to bigger and better things.

As long as I’m posting, I recently completed my NT JST commentary series here on the blog, publishing mini-commentaries on the JST of all the books from 2 Corinthians through Revelation (after having published a formal commentary on 1 Corinthians in the Summer 2020 issue of Dialogue). Out of sheer curiosity I wanted to do at least one verse from the OT. At random I picked the first JST revision in Ezekiel, which is 14:9: 

And if the prophet be deceived when he hath spoken a thing, I the Lord have not deceived that prophet, and therefore I will stretch out my hand upon him, and will destroy him from the midst of my people Israel.

One may pretty quickly see the problem in this verse that the JST is trying to address. It seems to say if a prophet is deceived in something he has spoken, the Lord is the one who deceived him, and yet the Lord will punish and destroy him–for something the Lord actually did. Ask your ten-year old whether that sounds fair. As written, the Lord seems to be saying he is the one who caused the prophet to be deceived, and yet he is going to destroy the prophet for having been deceived. The text can indeed be read that way.

The key to this is the verb “deceived” that appears twice in the verse, first as a passive (“if the prophet be deceived” and second as an active “the Lord have deceived that prophet,” In the Qal (simple active) stem the basic meaning of the verbal root פָּתַה (patah) is “to be gullible, foolish.” Here the first occurrence is in the Pual verb stem (intensive passive) and the second is in the Piel (intensive active). These intensive verb forms typically give such stative verbs a factitive sense, “make into a fool” (i.e., “to show to be a fool”). So “if the prophet be deceived when he hath spoken a thing, I the Lord will show him to be a fool.” As the NET Bible annotation observes: “In this view, if a prophet speaks when not prompted by God, he will be shown to be a fool, but this does not reflect negatively on the Lord because it is God who shows him to be a fool.”

But the situation may not be quite that simple. As the NET annotation explains: “But if understood as “to make gullible,” more factors come into play. As the Hebrew verbal form is a perfect, it is often translated as present perfect: “I have enticed.” In this case the Lord states that he himself enticed the prophet to cooperate with the idolaters. Such enticement to sin would seem to be a violation of God’s moral character, but sometimes he does use such deception and enticement to sin as a form of punishment against those who have blatantly violated his moral will (see, e.g., 2 Sam 24). If one follows this line of interpretation in Ezek 14:9, one would have to assume that the prophet had already turned from God in his heart. However, the context gives no indication of this. Therefore, it is better to take the perfect as indicating certitude and to translate it with the future tense: “I will entice.” In this case the Lord announces that he will judge the prophet appropriately. If a prophet allows himself to be influenced by idolaters, then the Lord will use deception as a form of punishment against that deceived prophet. A comparison with the preceding oracles also favors this view. In 14:4 the perfect of certitude is used for emphasis (see “I will answer”), though in v. 7 a participle is employed. For a fuller discussion of this text, see R. B. Chisholm, Jr., “Does God Deceive?” BSac 155 (1998): 23-25.”


  1. Growing up I always expected to see one day an news headline that would go along the lines of an archeological find of manuscripts which would align with the quoted Book or Mormon verses, or JST modifications. As an adult and doing more studying I’ve had to come to grips with how and why that isn’t going to happen. It hasn’t shaken my testimony in anyway, but I do wish that the church would create some curriculum around that to prevent others from coming to the same self imposed expectations.

  2. I blanch at the thought of some of the filmstrip presentations we made.

  3. David Day says:

    I really enjoyed hearing this story.

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