An article at Cell.com was entitled, “Illuminating Genetic Mysteries of the Dead Sea Scrolls” It was blogged about by RJS at Jesus Creed and at her blog, “Musings on Science and Theology”.
The article noted: “that ancient DNA extraction from Dead Sea Scroll fragments made of animal skin is used to determine fragment origin and show unification of scrolls from distinct geological locations, highlighting the potential for genetics to illuminate the history of archaeological objects.” Because most of the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) were written on sheepskin, the DNA of the sheep that was used could be used to match scroll fragments. The DNA sequencing would indicate which scroll fragments came from the same animal and by inference, therefore, the same scroll.
RJS notes that an accompanying press release may be more readable: “Dead Sea Scrolls “Puzzle” Pieced Together with DNA Extracted from Animal Skins on Which Scrolls Were Written.” RJS quotes from the press release:
“Almost all the scrolls we sampled were found to be made of sheepskin, … says Prof. Rechavi. “However, two samples were discovered to be made of cowhide, and these happen to belong to two different fragments taken from the Book of Jeremiah. In the past, one of the cow skin-made fragments was thought to belong to the same scroll as another fragment that we found to be made of sheepskin. The mismatch now officially disproves this theory.
“What’s more, cow husbandry requires grass and water, so it is very likely that cowhide was not processed in the desert but was brought to the Qumran caves from another place. This finding bears crucial significance, because the cowhide fragments came from two different copies of the Book of Jeremiah, reflecting different versions of the book, which stray from the biblical text as we know it today.”
Prof. Mizrahi further explains, “… The ancient DNA proves that two copies of Jeremiah, textually different from each other, were brought from outside the Judean Desert. This fact suggests that the concept of scriptural authority — emanating from the perception of biblical texts as a record of the Divine Word — was different in this period from that which dominated after the destruction of the Second Temple. In the formative age of classical Judaism and nascent Christianity, the polemic between Jewish sects and movements was focused on the ‘correct’ interpretation of the text, not its wording or exact linguistic form.”
RJS goes on to state:
Note that Prof. Mizrahi is not arguing for or against the inspiration of the text as the Divine Word, or against its authority. He is suggesting that the data undermines both Christian and Jewish arguments for one single “correct” version of the text. Put differently, although Scripture was valued as the Divine Word, the concept of verbal plenary inspiration was foreign to the time and culture. Texts of Scripture were not preserved and studied with this in mind. Of course, I believe we see evidence for this approach in the New Testament itself, in the ways in which the Old Testament is quoted and used. It doesn’t take fragments of Jeremiah to make the point, although studies like these new DNA studies can help us piece together the past and the texts.
In other words, although Scripture was and is valued as God’s Word to both Christians and Jews, the idea that there is one correct version of the text, miraculously preserved down through history, is further revealed to be a complete fiction. The Jews argued both about interpretation of the sacred writings as well as what constituted those writings. The same was true for the early Christians as they wrestled with what writings should make up the New Testament canon. The actual history of the compilation of what we now call “The Bible” should make us appreciate the deeply human component to its nature as well as its divine province. To me, the Scriptures are truly living and active.