The Dead Sea Scrolls are Chinese?

Here is a very interesting article from The Toronto Star entitled The Chinese connection -- New discoveries from Asia suggest the Dead Sea Scrolls may not be as old as we think:

The Dead Sea Scrolls have been guarded for 60 years like crown jewels, the possessions of a scholarly elite who were challenged only in the past decade to bring the scrolls to the public. Now, there is accumulating and compelling evidence that these supposedly ancient texts are medieval at best and have a connection with China.

That connection is raising questions about the manuscripts' true dating, origin and possible authenticity.

The scrolls were first discovered in a cave in Jordan's Qumran region near the Dead Sea in 1947. By 1956, archaeologists and Arab treasure hunters found 10 more caves at Qumran that held mostly fragments of some 800 manuscripts, commonly thought to have been written between 200 BC and AD 25.

Soon after the scrolls' discovery, a scholarly debate broke out over whether the writings were indeed pre-Christian, with many respected scholars arguing that the texts were much more recent.

Today, a growing number of scholars doubt the Dead Sea Scrolls were produced by a Jewish sect at Qumran but think they actually originated elsewhere. No one, however, has pointed to Asia, where new information has turned up, including a possibly new scroll called the Moshe Leah Scroll from China.

According to the article, in 1983 Moshe Leah, a Jew living in Taiwan, published an article in an Israeli newspaper looking for correspondents. He claims, apparently, to be a descendent of some Jewish people who had been taken into captivity at the time of Nebuchadnezzar, but who had headed east instead of back to Israel when the Israelites were permitted to return to Jerusalem and the Holy Land. He claimed that his mother had some scrolls that were destroyed, but that he had photos of the two scrolls.

Of the photos, one was apparently clear enough to be deciphered. It turned out to be a portion of the book of Isaiah in Hebrew in the Chinese calligraphic style. Apparently, those engaging in deciphering the scroll based on the photograph said that there were Aramaic words mixed into the text. And here's where it gets interesting.

But interestingly, the Qumran Isaiah Scroll has no Aramaic in those chapters, indicating that the Moshe Leah Scroll was not a copy of a Qumran scroll.

Rabbi Emanual Silver, curator of the Hebrew section of the British Library, department of Oriental Manuscripts, saw the similarities, and Gabow says Silver wrote, "Anybody slightly acquainted with the Dead Sea Scrolls will notice at a glance the overall similarity of the hand that wrote the Moshe Leah Scrolls to that of certain documents of the Dead Sea caves, and anyone a little familiar with the Dead Sea texts will be struck by the resemblances in orthography."

Gabow wrote, "For the first time the Moshe Leah 'Isaiah Scroll' is associated with Dead Sea texts" because of the similar style of writing.

Neil Altman, the author of the article, has been in correspondence with Leo Gabow, former president of the Sino-Judaic Institute in California, who was able to send him additional information about the Moshe Leah Scroll. Gabow sent to Altman copies of the photos to be examined, and these photos were apparently in the newspaper but not reproduced in the Internet edition of the story. But what I think is more important is what Gabow also sent to Altman.

Gabow also sent me texts in Hebrew from China. In one, known as the Genesis Manuscript (1489-1679) from the Kaifeng Synagogue, the mems (Hebrew "m") were also like those in the Dead Sea's Isaiah Scroll and the Moshe Leah Scroll.

More important, Gabow enclosed a copy of the Khotan text, a business letter written on paper that came from Chinese Central Asia and had been dated from the 8th century. It had numerous Hebrew letters matching those in Dead Sea texts: the unique wishbone-shape gimels, diamond-shaped kophs, S-shaped nuns, giraffe-neck lameds and mems.

If the Dead Sea Scrolls were written before Christ's time and then buried in caves until the 20th century, how could the same script show up in China in the 8th century — or even later?

Interesting question. I am not a textual scholar and have never spent much time looking at the Dead Sea Scrolls themselves (although I have read about them on several occasions). I am not certain of the legitimacy of this article, but merely bring it to everyone's attention who reads this blog because it does raise questions that are very interesting to those of us who are engaged in the debate about the truth of Christianity.

After all, is it possible that we have lost some proof of the accuracy of the Bible in the form of textual evidence of the substance of the Old Testament from the First Century B.C., but have now more evidence for the captivity of the Jews by the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar, their release from that captivity, and perhaps even what happened to some of the lost tribes of Israel? After all, consider the following from the article:

These paleographic details provide some solid evidence about the age of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Dating them not in antiquity but in the Middle Ages, at the earliest, explains the connection to medieval texts, as well as unusual things like the Chinese symbol for God in the Isaiah Scroll. University of Pennsylvania's Mair dated this character, which also appears in The Order of the Community, another Dead Sea Scroll, no earlier than AD 100 and perhaps 700 years or more later.

Donald Daniel Leslie, an Australian sinologist and leading expert in Kaifeng Jewry, agreed with Mair's dating and wrote in Points East that it's unlikely the Jews and the Chinese knew much, if anything, about each other before the time of Jesus. Leslie wrote that "there is no hint in Western sources of any knowledge of the Chinese language or writing until perhaps a thousand years later."

If there is no connection between the Jewish and the Chinese until 1000 A.D., and some of the evidence being used to refute the early dating of the Dead Sea Scrolls is from a Chinese letter with Hebrew writing from the 8th Century, then we have to ask where the knowledge of the Hebrew lettering came from. The evidence, based on the article, is that it came from the Jews who were released from Babylonian captivity.

That's intriguing.


Anonymous said…
it's not impossible that some of the jewish people migrated so far as to reach what is now china, especially its southwestern part, long before the time of Christ, or even long before this group of people acquired a clear-cut racial/cultural identity as "jew". i have some specualation over whether the Qiang ethnicity in China has some connection to the jews. Did ancient Jews have lamb as a totem? it's possible that some of the 'jews' moved to china and then got assimilated or intermarried with local, more authentic chinese.

however, concluding that the scribal mark is the chinese way of writing "God" in medieval times is to me, a native Chinese and one with some hobby in Chinese calligraphy, as highly speculative. the question as to what exactly that script may have meant in Chinese is better answered by some able Chinese scholar like the late Wang Guowei etc. I have yet to read any response from the present-day Chinese scholar on this interpretation so far.
Unknown said…
I very much agree.. the Qiang people are the tribes of Israelis.. I did a long research on this subject too.

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