Ink & Blood – The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Great Isaiah Scroll by BYU prof., Donald W. Parry


Last Wednesday night (February 21), for the second session of the special distinguished speaker series connected to the Ink & Blood exhibit in Idaho Falls, I sat inside the auditorium of Trinity United Methodist Church by the Museum of Idaho.  The church building was packed.

Nick, the museum program director, introduced our speaker for the night.  He mentioned Don serving as a member of the Dead Sea Scrolls international team for 13 years and having edited or authored over two dozen books.  He declared Don to be a highly qualified speaker on the topic.  Now as I blog Don’s lecture, please realize that I am fallible.  Please clarify anything where I have been unintentionally inaccurate. I take full responsibility for any error in this venue of communication. 

With self-defacing humor, Don warmed up his audience.  Briefly he shared how his wife, Camille, wanted to be in Idaho Falls; but alas, she is a mother of six, two still living at home.  In the past, she had told him he was a “model husband.”  But because Don is a man who continually deals with words and translates words, he told us all that in curiosity he looked up the definition of “model.”  Lo and behold, the definition declared him to be “cheap, an imitation of the real thing” (consequently, laughter from the audience).  Don grew up near Nampa, Idaho; his wife came from Nevada.  On the first request for a date with his wife, she responded, “I guess” (more laughter).  But since marriage, they make it a habit of dating each other once a week.


Concerning the Ink & Blood exhibit, Don expressed with enthusiasm, “This exhibit—it is amazing.  First rate.”  You can see for yourself the KJV “Wicked Bible” where the “not” is left out, leaving for the reader “Thou shalt commit adultery”.  This error made this Bible worth more than others today.  Of course, the printer back then was fined 300 British pounds.


Getting down to business, Don mentioned his primary work on the Great Isaiah Scroll.  “It is very important, valued at more than 50 million dollars, and one of the greatest treasures for the country of Israel.”

Don questioned, “How significant are the Dead Sea scrolls?”  Well, “they were discovered in the Holy Land; they are written in Hebrew; they are the world’s oldest Old Testament writings, by more than 1,000 years; and they include scores of previously unknown religious texts, such as theTempleScroll.”

The Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered by two Bedouin shepherds in 1947.  Eventually in all, there were eleven important caves that became sources for the ancient fragments.  Cave 11 contained the 28 foot long,Temple Scroll. 

I was amazed when Don shared how the early findings from the Qumran caves were taken to an antiquity dealer.  And scandalously, the dealer offered the equivalent of $20 for the rare catch!  “Did they get a good deal?  I don’t think so.  I tell people I would have paid at least double the amount.”


Emmanuel Tov became the key man for granting Don official permission to work on the scrolls.  Don explained that when he first drove up to the museum housing the Isaiah scroll, he presented his papers.  The security handed them back and wouldn’t let him in.  So Don tried to communicate in modern Hebrew.  It didn’t work.  Finally, as inward frustration mounted, he mentioned the curator’s name.  Joe (I think.).  Bingo!  The gate went up.  Don laughed, “I would just use the name for clearance.  If you want to work on the scrolls, just mention the name.”


Don recounted to us his respect for Emmanuel Tov, whose first name means “God is with us.”  This is the Messianic prophecy in Isaiah 6.  God with us.  And Emmanuel’s last name means good.  He told us of his relationship with Emmanuel in co-authoring and co-editing scholarly material. 


This brings a story to mind.  One day, Don shared a meal with Emmanuel Tov and Frank Cross, Jr. in a café somewhere on the East coast.  It went something like this.  “Frank and I are both Christians.  Yet because of my faith, I don’t drink coffee.  And Emmanuel doesn’t eat shrimp.”  Unfortunately during a bathroom break, somehow both coffee and shrimp got ordered.  I think it was Frank who said, “I am sorry. I have offended both of you, coffee and shrimp.”  Yet Don expressed with a smile, “We are all of different faiths, but we love one another.”



A Brief Introduction to the Dead Sea Scrolls Bible


Don showed the statistics for the number of biblical manuscripts among the Dead Sea Scrolls corresponding to each Old Testament book.  For example, the Pentateuch fanned out as such, fifteen for Genesis, seventeen for Exodus, thirteen for Leviticus, eight for Numbers, and twenty-nine for Deuteronomy.  Isaiah carried twenty-one.  Pretty cool, huh.  The only Old Testament book not found in the Qumran caves is Esther.  Don thinks the reason is not because of the lack of God’s name in the book or that it is named after a woman, but that fragments from Esther just didn’t survive.


Don also remarked, “Scribes were professionals.”  They inscribed with a pen.  They cut the lines; and they would hang the letters from the lines.  Of the 900 plus scrolls, 12% were on papyrus, 1% on copper, and the rest on leather.  For language usage, 90% were in Hebrew, 9% Arabic, and 1% Greek.

The Great Isaiah Scroll

The Great Isaiah Scroll, all 66 chapters, is 23 feet, six inches long, by 10 to 10.5 inches wide.  Don excitingly exclaimed, “I am going again in July to study the scroll.  It is like Christmas.  It is a good feeling, working on a Bible so old.”


He described the Israeli precautions.  “You go through security codes.  The door behind you locks.  You wait two minutes before you go to the next door, punch a code and wait before it opens.  The main room is temperature and humidity controlled.”  (Wow, I wish I could just silently slip in there with Don this summer.  It would be Christmas for me to see the real Hebraic Messianic prophecies of Christ’s birth.  I have only seen the copies in the Shrine of the Book in Jerusalem.)


Don said how all the DDS fragments are marvelous displays of pieces to a jigsaw puzzle.  They put the fragments on the computer and let it do searches.  It used to be where scholars put the pieces together upside down and held them together with scotch tape.  The scholars did this!  Crazy.  Where there is no vision, the scrolls perish!  But now the Israeli caretakers put acid free tissue on the fragments.  They have carefully taken the threads apart.  Un-joining parts of a scroll help preserve it.


Regarding the Isaiah Scroll, Don narrated, “They left me in a room with one third of the scroll – eight feet long.  They locked the door.  Using a magnifying glass, I looked very carefully at words.”


Don showed us many pictures on a high screen.  One picture showed him scrutinizing the first section of the Isaiah scroll.  He pointed to a brown spot on the lower edge of the scroll.  “See that?  The first few columns became very worn.  They put it upside down and glued some new leather to it.  So why didn’t they do it with the whole thing?  It is because the Jews didn’t read through the whole scroll.”  His hypothesis is that they would start, give up because it was difficult reading, and turn to Samuel or Genesis.  “That is what we think.”


Saying this, it led Don to tell a joke.  “Two Christian missionaries were walking one day.  One had a Bible in his pocket.  They were doing the Lord’s work.  Unfortunately, a gang member shot one of them.  The bullet went clear through the front of the Bible, but stopped in Isaiah” (people chuckling).  Don remarked, “Because Isaiah is hard to read, most people stop there.  But I teach it in Hebrew and also in the KJV.  It is Hebrew poetry.  Once you know that fact, it really opens up.”


Don then gave us a lesson in Hebrew using Power point slides:

Quick Lesson in Hebrew

1.  “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” (Gen. 1:1)

2.  Inthebeginning God created theheaven andtheearth. (Hebrew words are joined)

3.  Nthbgnnng Gd crtd thhvn ndthrth. (no vowels)

4.  nthbgnnng gd crtd thhvn ndthrth (no punctualization or capitalization)

5.  Htrhtdn nvhht dtrc dg gnnngbhtn (you read Hebrew, backwards, from right to left)

6.  “And finally, Hebrew does not use the same script.  Ancient paleo-Hebrew is not in modern Hebrew script.  So you can see the challenge.  And there are scribal marks on the great Isaiah Scroll.  Some of them are mysteries.”

What about variant readings in the Dead Sea Scrolls Bible? 

Earlier on, the speaker talked about the missing verse in I Samuel 11, revealing the king, whose name took on the personality of King snake and who put out the right eye of his enemies.  And he also made us aware of the six additional psalms in the Psalms Scroll.

So now, he gave some interesting examples of variants gathered from the Dead Sea Scrolls:


1.  Missing Verse from Psalm 145. 

It is an acrostic Psalm.  There are 22 characters in the Hebrew alphabet, but only 21 verses are in this Psalm.  Scholars agree that the Isaiah scroll contains an extra verse that belongs there.  They were hymns.  Beautiful.  Faithful is God in his words and pious in all his deeds. . . .

2.  Keeping commandments by loving or fearing God?

“And you shall keep the commandments of the LORD your God, by walking in his ways and by fearing him.”  Yet the DSS 4QDeuta reads “loving” instead of “fearing”.

3.  How tall was Goliath?

His [Goliath’s] height was “four cubits and a span” (DSS 4QSama) compared to “six cubits and a span” (I Samuel 17:4, KJV).  Don stated, “The average height of a man was 5ft 6 inches during Jesus’ day.  David had red hair, beautiful eyes, and was very handsome.  He was probably a five-foot, six-inch tall fellow fighting a seven and a half foot Goliath (the height of one of those NBA players).

4.  Isaiah 21:8

Rather than “And he cried, A lion,” (KJV), it should be “And the seer cried,” (1QIsaa)

Don teaches, “The word is very similar.  The Isaiah scroll gives us the correct reading.”

5.  Isaiah 60:19

The KJV reads, “neither for brightness shall the moon give light unto thee.”  Again, Don explained that the Isaiah scroll communicates, “‘Give light to you by night’ in comparison to give light to you.   Notice the Isaiah scroll giving the parallelism.”

6.  Isaiah 38:21-22 – it is in the wrong place

Don suggested, “In the scroll, you will find where writings go left and than down the margin.  The scribe put it in the wrong place.  It belongs after Isaiah 38:6.”

1)      Look at the reading of 2 Kings 20:6-9, a text that parallels.

2)      Study the context in Isaiah 38.


Don mentioned Harold Scanlin, the translation advisor for the UBS, who observes that every major modern-day Bible translation has claimed to take into account the text from the Dead Sea Scrolls.  But Don was quick to point out this fact:  the Isaiah Scroll does have some errors in it compared to the Masoretic Text.


Jesus cites Isaiah


On this particular topic, Don began, “Not all of you are of a Christian faith.  I am a Christian and look at Isaiah from a Christian lens.  Jesus went up to the synagogue.  Someone handed him an Isaiah scroll.  He unrolls the scroll about 20 feet.  He would not have had a verse or chapter system.  The One who rebuilt the Scriptures, comes to Isaiah 61:1-2 and quotes a verse and a half.  All eyes were upon him.  He sat down and was quiet.  Then he says, ‘This day is this fulfilled in your ears.’  It is just amazing.”

Why Isaiah?

“I care about Isaiah because of what it says about the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Isaiah 40:11 – “Isn’t that a beautiful passage?”

Isaiah 26:19 – “This is the Lord speaking, Jehovah, about resurrection.”

Isaiah 53:5 – “He was crushed for our sins.  It is limitless, magnificent atonement.”

Isaiah 53:5

Upon the sharing of this last verse, Dr. Don Parry closed his lecture and sat down.


Little snapshots of the Q & A time that followed.

1.  How did the scrolls get there?

“We theorize that the Essenes deposited these scrolls when the Romans were overtaking the
Holy Land in 67 A.D.”

2.  How many scholars are involved?

“Think of the 1st images by John Trevor.  God was involved.  Many sets of miracles.  Trevor happened to have the right camera and equipment.”


“Today, there are many pictures.  Transcriptions.  I have written 12 pages on one word in I Samuel 2.  Many of my books are on Isaiah because of the Messianic prophecies on the first and second coming.”


“You touch the scrolls with white gloves.”

3.  How old are the scrolls?

250 to 67 A.D.

Latest biblical texts are 30 B.C.

4.  What is the Copper scroll?

“It details 64 deposits of treasure that belonged to the Jewish temple.  It is a treasure map.”


“Bendel Jones (spelling?), a scholar from Texas, has been looking for the treasures but hasn’t found them.”


5.  Have all the scrolls been translated?


“Yes.  Emmanuel Tov and I have published 6 volumes, 2000 pages each.  It is very expensive.  I wouldn’t recommend it.  It is mainly for scholars.”  There are good resources for laymen.

6.  What is theTemple Scroll?

“It describes the eschatological temple to be built in the last days, the ideal temple.”

7.  Who were the Essenes?

“The Essenes were like monks but not Christians.  But one scroll talks about the ritual of marriage.  My take is that they were married.”  Don referred us to the book, The Dead Sea Scrolls:  What Have We Learned? (Louisville:  Westminster John Knox Press, 2006) by Eileen M. Schuller. 


In conclusion, Don Parry has provoked my thinking.  Tell me what you think


  1. I asked Don before his lecture if he was going to speak on the differences between the Isaiah A scroll and the Isaiah B scroll obtained from the first Qumran cave. He said he didn’t have time in this general introduction to the Dead Sea Scolls. Yet it is my understanding that the Isaiah B scroll is in line with the Masoretic Text. Wouldn’t this be significant in discussing Isaiah variants?

    Secondly, in his book, Harmonizing Isaiah (FARMS, 2001), he writes in the intro under the topic, “As Far As It Is Translated Correctly”:

    He gives four reasons why “translators may mistranslate ancient biblical texts”.

    1. “First, ancient texts, such as the book of Isaiah, contain very rare words whose meanings are difficult to comprehend.” I would agree.

    2. “Second, several Hebrew terms cannot be translated precisely into another language.” I would agree. Don footnotes the discussion by Frank Cross on Yahweh.

    3. “Third, all translators (other than prophets acting under the power of the Holy Ghost) are subject to the limitations of human judgment and thus are prone to make errors.” Again, I would agree.

    4. But this last reason is the big kicker in my gut. “Fourth, translators who lived before the restoration of the gospel believed doctrines and teachings that biased their their translations. Likewise, translators since that time tend to be biased in similar ways. Like their earlier counterparts, they may embrace teachings that are not compatible with the doctrines of the gospel as revealed through Joseph Smith and other prophets of the latter days. Such false teachings include predestination, creation ex nihilo (creation out of nothing), the Trinity as three in one, an immaterial God who cannot be seen by humans on earth, and a denial of living prophets of God, modern temple worship, the gifts of the Spirit, angels, and so on” (12-13).

    So isn’t Don communicating loud and clear that my Christian gospel is “not compatible” with his Christian gospel?

    In reference to Don and me, yes, there does seem to be a huge elephant in the room between our two faiths, though we both claim to be Christians.

  2. Difference in doctrines is not about who is Christian and who isn’t though. It is simply different understandings of the Ne’ivim and Ket’uvim, is it not?

    And yes we know there are differences in our understandings, but it’s not because one of us is Christian and the other is not. At least so far as I understand it.

    Good to see you briefly the other day!


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