A Good Book

This week I was interested to note among the new books D.L. Washburn, A Catalog of Biblical Passages in the Dead Sea Scrolls (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2002). It is a good book, but probably not one that you will read all the way through.

Most people have heard of the Dead Sea Scrolls, discovered at Qumran, near the Dead Sea, in 1947. Not all are aware, however, that many of the scrolls and scroll fragments from Qumran contain biblical (OT) texts. The earliest complete Hebrew manuscript of the OT, the St. Petersburg Codex, dates from as late as 992 AD. As the Dead Sea Scrolls can be dated to the 1st century BC, the biblical texts from Qumran are potentially of great significance for the history of the OT text: here is evidence which takes us back over 1000 years earlier than we were able to go previously. This is true in spite of the fact that most of the Qumran biblical texts are fragmentary. (Isaiah is the only biblical book represented by a complete text.)

It has, however, been disputed what the Qumran evidence tells us about the history of the OT text: some have argued that it confirms the reliability of the traditional text, as found in the St. Petersburg Codex; others have highlighted the differences between the Qumran material and the traditional text. Washburn's aim is not to decide between these two opposed claims, but to place within his readers' grasp the means making this decision for themselves.

The book is a listing of all the biblical passages in the Dead Sea Scrolls that have been published so far. Going through all the biblical books represented in the Qumran material (that is, every book except Esther), he gives: (1) biblical reference; (2) the scroll or scroll fragment in which this passage is found; (3) details of where this scroll/scroll fragment has been published; (4) an evaluation of this text. This evaluation describes the state of the text (whether it is fragmentary or not, or indeed, if it can be accurately identified) and assesses its text-critical significance (the extent to which it agrees with the traditional Hebrew text, or other witnesses to the OT text, for example, the Septuagint, ancient Greek translation of the OT). For anyone who wants quickly to survey the Qumran evidence for any part of the OT, it is an extremely handy guide, showing at a glance those passages which the reader ought to look at in more detail, and those which he can more or less ignore for text-critical purses. The book is not yet complete, for some of the Qumran texts containing passages from the Bible have not yet been published (many relating to the books of Samuel, for example). The author, indeed, promises that this book will be issued in revised (and where necessary corrected) editions in the future. But even as it stands it is a useful tool.

Most of you, however, will never use it! This is a detailed, technical work for those engaged in the textual criticism of the OT, a discipline which requires a knowledge of (at the very least) Biblical Hebrew. Why, then, am I telling you about this book? Simply to give you a sense of the kind of painstaking work that is involved in establishing the original text of the Bible. One of the greatest NT textual critics, the 18th-century German scholar J. A. Bengel, once wrote that in the task of recovering the text of the NT in a form as close to the original as possible no labour should be spared. The same applies to the OT. Not many of the passages surveyed in Washburn's book are textually significant: the majority of them agree with the traditional Hebrew text. Even in a translation like the NRSV, which regularly cites the Qumran evidence, less than 5% of the material listed in this book is important enough to be referred to in the footnotes (let alone translated as part of the main text)! But when it comes to establishing the text of God's word, no pains should be spared. No evidence which might throw light on the text should be ignored. And we should all be grateful to those whose work, in one way or another, makes it possible for us to read translations which, as nearly as is humanly possible, accurately represent to us the meaning of God's word as originally given. Glance at this book, look at your modern English or Chinese translation - and be thankful that others have laboured so hard on your behalf!
(Reviewed by Dr Philip Satterthwaite)

Dr. John Lim spoke on the topic of Spiritual Longevity. Life is short and time moves on. Whatever stage we may think we have reached in the Christian life, it is important that we do not rest on our laurels. We should aim to finish well: this is as important, or more important, than starting well (Acts 20:24). There is no time to slow down.

Caleb was a person who knew about finishing well (Joshua 14:6-15): at the age of 85 he asked Joshua for permission to take possession of the hill country around Hebron, the territory promised him by God. And he duly conquered this territory, in spite of the fact that it was occupied by the fearsome Anakites.

How did he do this?

  1. Firstly, he had the right priorities. He followed God wholeheartedly, and saw it as his main duty to obey God. (Many people, by contrast, expect God to help and provide for them, but give little thought to God and his word.) In Numbers 13-14 he insisted, contrary to the majority report of the other spies, that the Israelites could conquer Canaan, even though this message made him unpopular. He had faith in God and refused to 'cave in' even when faced by opposition.

  2. He took God at his word: he didn't join the Israelites in complaining against God. He trusted God even when those around him had largely ceased to do so.

  3. He longed for fellowship with God. Hebron, the city he captured, was a place with historical associations going back to Abraham: at that place Abraham received a reaffirmation of the promise that he would become the father of a mighty nation (Gen. 15; cf. 13:18; Sarah and Abraham were buried there (Gen. 23:19-20; 25:9-10). The name itself can be linked to Hebrew words denoting friendship and fellowship. The linking of Caleb with Hebron suggests his eagerness to see God's promises fulfilled and his desire to enjoy fellowship with God in the land God had promised to Abraham's descendants.

Caleb, then, stands before us as one who always wanted to move forward, and never looked back. He is an example to us: 'Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God' (Heb. 12:2)

Faculty Appointments
  1. Dr Philip Satterthwaite. At 10.00 a.m. on April 7th Dr. Satterthwaite will be giving a paper entitled 'True and False Prophecy during the Divided Monarchy (with especial reference to 1 Kings 22)' at the Ichthus Research Seminar. The paper aims to examine texts relating to the period of the Divided Monarchy to see what they have to say about the discernment of true and false prophecy. This seminar, which has met regularly for the past 18 months, is held at Singapore Bible College, 9-15 Adam Road, Singapore 289886. All are welcome to attend. The fee is $10, or $5 for members of the seminar and students. For further details, please contact Singapore Bible College (Tel. 64664677) or Dr. Satterthwaite (Tel. 63538071).

  2. Dr Quek Swee Hwa. Recently Dr Quek completed two talks on "Christian Spirituality" at the Mt Carmel B-P Church. He has also given three talks on "A Tale of Two Cities - Jerusalem and Babylon" at the Bethesda Bukit Arang Adult Bible Class. He has prepared a paper of "War and Peace" with reference to the world situation today and this may be requested via email from BGST. In his recent mission travels he has delivered guest lectures on Biblical Archaeology at the Phnom Penh Bible School, as well as three public lectures on "Listening to the Holy Spirit - Lessons from the Seven Churches in Asia." This weekend he will preach a Gospel message at the Rompin Christian Church, Pahang, and dedicate a new orang asli church building at Kampung Tanah Abang, located inside the Endau-Rompin National Park. Thank God for the ministry of our faculty outside BGST.

A Blessed Birthday to ...

Mr Tan Chek Wu 17/3
Mrs Joyce Tang-Wong 17/3
Ms Lim Siew Choo 18/3
Rev David Wong 18/3
Ms Lena Leong 19/3
Mr Ong Chai Lin 19/3
Dr Ong Eng Keow 19/3

Ms Chio Yee Ming 20/3
Mr Edmund Koh 20/3
Mdm Lim Sock Kiang 20/3
Mr Patrick Chan 21/3
Dr Lee Soo Ann 21/3
Mr Freddie Ong 22/3
Mr Daniel Wen 23/3

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This page is updated on 20 Mar 2003 by Leong Kok Weng
    Mar 2003