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Has the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls had any effect on which Old Testament books should be considered canonical by Protestants? I didn't know this until yesterday, but the dead sea scrolls contained every book of the Bible in Hebrew, including fragments of Deuterocanonical books (except Esther, although most of that is in the Protestant Bible anyway)

I may be operating under the hazy assumption that Protestants only discount the Septuagint because it has its basis in Greek instead of having its basis in Hebrew so correct me if I'm wrong.

That Sirach was originally written in Hebrew may be of some significance for the biblical canon. The book was accepted into the canon of the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible by Catholicism and Eastern Orthdoxy but not by Judaism or Protestantism, apparently on the basis that no Hebrew original was thought to exist at the time the Jewish Canon was closed

Wikipedia - Sirach

I just wonder if this is a source of consternation for any Protestant groups or how/if they justify the texts with their own assumptions and scholarship into what the Jews themselves considered scripture at the time of Christ.

I'd hope that an answer would include a scholarly refutation of the idea that the original books (at least Sirach and Tobit), being composed in Greek, lacked canonical authority for that reason and no other reason.

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er, wasn't most/all of the new testament written in greek? – zipquincy Sep 20 '11 at 13:17
@zipquincy yep (except for Matthew, I think) and all the new testament appears in all Christian bibles. This question isn't about the new testament at all. – Peter Turner Sep 20 '11 at 13:39
OK, I'll be more specific. – Peter Turner Sep 20 '11 at 15:48
I think the edit introduced a problem in that it made one question into two. The issue of whether the DSC caused a concern for the canon is quite different than your edit asking for whether the composition language of a text has anything to do with it's being viewed as canonical. Can you consider splitting the edit into a second question? – Caleb Sep 20 '11 at 21:43
This inspired me to delve deeper into the canon decisions made both in the Reformation (Why were Deuterocanonical books rejected in the Reformation?) and by the Catholic church early on (Why doesn't the Catholic Bible include all books from Septuagint?) – dancek Sep 22 '11 at 12:36

No, the Dead Sea Scrolls have no effect on the Protestant view of Old Testament canon.

Let's take a look at what different books are included:

  • Old Testament (protocanonical) books
    • Genesis, Psalms, Isaiah etc.
  • Deuterocanonical books
    • Letter of Jeremiah, Wisdom of Sirach etc.
  • Other writings
    • Book of Noah
    • Book of Giants
    • Testament of Naphtali
    • Community Rule
    • War Scroll
    • Genesis Apocryphon
    • Cairo Geniza Testament of Levi
    • Book of Jubilees
    • Words of Moses
    • Rule of the Congregation
    • and many, many more.

Considering that the Dead Sea Scrolls include a very random selection of books, nothing about canonicity can be reliably deducted from them.

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I think the other answers so far are missing the force of the question. Obviously we wouldn't include something in the canon just because it was found in the dead sea scrolls, or because it was written in Hebrew. But finding older, Hebrew-language copies of a text (Sirach, for example) whose canonicity is already in dispute could be an argument in its favor.

For example - suppose the Dead Sea scrolls provided convincing manuscript evidence that the deuterocanonical portions of Esther and Daniel were present in the original. That would be (to me) a good reason for including those portions in the Protestant Bible.

Back to Sirach: if this statement from your article is true:

apparently on the basis that no Hebrew original was thought to exist at the time the Jewish Canon was closed

Then you are right and Protestants should accept Sirach into the canon. But I doubt that most protestants would agree. There is no reason to think that Jews of the first century (when the Jewish canon was closed) were unaware of the Hebrew version of Sirach, just because we only recently found out about it. Also, Sirach is a much later work than the accepted books of the Old Testament (assuming a traditional early date for Daniel), which makes it an outlier for other reasons than the language it was written in.


The wikipedia article cites The Sisters of Sinai as it's sources for the claim in this question:

13 See for example the account of Schechter's work in Soskice, Janet (2010) Sisters of Sinai: How Two Lady Adventurers Found the Hidden Gospels. London: Vintage, 241

However, there is no reference to Sirach on page 241, or indeed anywhere in the book. I have not read it, but judging by the reviews it is not the sort of book that would have anything authoritative to say about the formation of the protestant or Jewish canon.

edit 2

Aha! The source must be referring to page 222, which contains this paragraph:

Decisive for Schechter, however, was the fact that Ben Sira, while not included in the later canon of the Jewish Bible, was cited extensively by rabbis in the classic period of rabbinic Judaism (circa AD 200-500) and was often quoted in the Talmud and in medieval Jewish writings. The rabbis would not, Schechter was convinced, give reference to a book not initially written in Hebrew.

That was a fun bit of detective work, but it should be clear that the claim in that article is unsubstantiated.

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The moral of the story is "Don't believe everything you read on wikipedia" – gmoothart Sep 20 '11 at 18:11
good answer but I don't believe it because it's on wikipedia. I see the 'hebrew only' argument as pretty weak anyway. But the main point is, if it is what early Christians were reading and held as inspired, more or less (the intro to Sirach is not held as inspired), which is the major claim for using the Septuagint in the first place, then there's no reason to reject it 1500 years later. – Peter Turner Sep 20 '11 at 18:29

The Dead Sea Scroll find was not so much finding a copy of a book as it was finding a library. The texts found included canonical, deuterocanonical, apocraphal and other unrelated works from the time.

The find had significant implications for dating other texts and verifying the integrity of some manuscripts, but did not hold any implications for the scope of the canon.

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both dating and accuracy/reliability. great answer, Caleb. – swasheck Sep 11 '12 at 15:03
If by scope of the canon you mean "how protestants understand their own canon," then yes, but it had broad implications for how we understand notions of "canon" in the first century. – jackweinbender May 1 '15 at 19:56

Dead Sea Scrolls haven't changed the Protestant Canon. This is because Jewish Priest Josephus clearly explains about the Old Testament Canon used in first century AD.

Against Apion, Book 1, Paragraph 8.

"For we have not an innumerable multitude of books among us, disagreeing from and contradicting one another, [as the Greeks have,] but only twenty-two books, which contain the records of all the past times; which are justly believed to be divine; and of them five belong to Moses, which contain his laws and the traditions of the origin of mankind till his death. This interval of time was little short of three thousand years; but as to the time from the death of Moses till the reign of Artaxerxes king of Persia, who reigned after Xerxes, the prophets, who were after Moses, wrote down what was done in their times in thirteen books. The remaining four books contain hymns to God, and precepts for the conduct of human life. It is true, our history hath been written since Artaxerxes very particularly, but hath not been esteemed of the like authority with the former by our forefathers, because there hath not been an exact succession of prophets since that time; and how firmly we have given credit to these books of our own nation is evident by what we do; for during so many ages as have already passed, no one has been so bold as either to add any thing to them, to take any thing from them, or to make any change in them; but it is become natural to all Jews immediately, and from their very birth, to esteem these books to contain Divine doctrines, and to persist in them, and, if occasion be willingly to die for them."

The classification of Laws, Prophets, and Hymns to God in Old Testament (mentioned by Josephus) are also mentioned in Luke 24:44 -

"Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”

Jewish Priest Josephus mentions (above) why their history written since Artaxerxes are not part of Old Testament.

Josephus (Against Apion, Book 1, Paragraph 8) - "It is true, our history hath been written since Artaxerxes very particularly, but hath not been esteemed of the like authority with the former by our forefathers, because there hath not been an exact succession of prophets since that time;"

This is also agreed by 1 Maccabees. For Example, 1 Maccabees 4:46, 1 Maccabees 9:27, and 1 Maccabees 14:41 point out the lack of prophets during the Maccabean period.

1 Maccabees 4:46 - "And laid up the stones in the mountain of the temple in a convenient place, until there should come a prophet to shew what should be done with them." (Source -

1 Maccabees 9:27 - "So was there a great affliction in Israel, the like whereof was not since the time that a prophet was not seen among them." (Source -

1 Maccabees 14:41 - "Also that the Jews and priests were well pleased that Simon should be their governor and high priest for ever, until there should arise a faithful prophet;" (Source -

Although Josephus mentions 1 Maccabees, still it comes from later period which is after the time period of Alexander the Great (Source - Antiquities of Jews XI, Chapter 8, Antiquities of Jews Book XII and Book XIII).

It must be noted that all of the minor prophets are listed as one book called "Twelve Prophets" by Melito in his canon (mentioned in Ecclesiastical History 4.26.13–14).

All of the minor prophets are listed as "Twelve Prophets" in Sirach 49:10 and also in Dead Sea Scrolls. "Book of Prophets" are also mentioned in Acts 7.

Josephus mentions Ezra (Esdras in Melito's canon) and Nehemiah in Antiquities of Jews Book XI, Chapter 5 and Esther (during the rule of Artaxerxes) in Antiquities of Jews Book XI, Chapter 6. The canon of Old Testament is till the reign of Artaxerxes as mentioned by Josephus above in Against Apion Book 1, Paragraph 8.

When Josephus says 22 books, he is referring to 22 books in this order.

Law of Moses

Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy = 5 books


Joshua, Judges, Ruth, Kings (1 Samuel - 2 Kings), Chronicles (Both books), Ezra-Nehemiah, Esther, Job, Isaiah, Jeremiah (includes Lamentations), Ezekiel, Daniel, Twelve Prophets = 13 books.


Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs = 4 books

For further details, you can check here -

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Judaism in the first century was not a monolith. – jackweinbender May 1 '15 at 19:54

The major problem with this question is the fact that the idea of "canon" is anachronistic to the first century. Even within the Christian tradition the "final" form of the canon didn't exist until the 4th century (see Athanasius' Festal Letter). Within Judaism, it was commonly held that the "canonization" of the Hebrew Bible took place at Jamnia (Javneh) in the late 2nd century CE (see Council of Jamnia), yet, even this long-held theory has now long been disproven (see Jack Lewis' Article and this more recent one by David Aune).

However, the discovery of the so-called Dead Sea Scrolls was an integral part of shaping how we think of "canon" in the first century. Prior to the discovery, our earliest Hebrew texts of the Hebrew Bible came from the tenth century CE. Our earliest witnesses were, oddly enough, came from Septuagint manuscripts (of course, in Greek). The large chronological and linguistic gap aside, one other very significant difference between these witnesses came in the form of the collection. On the one hand the Greek texts were collected into a single Codex (a book, basically; pl. Codices) , while the Hebrew scrolls we mixed together—one book per scroll, typically. Thus, the medium itself says something about how (probably) the practitioners thought about their texts. On the one hand the (probably Essene) group associated with the Dead Sea Scrolls likely didn't think of their texts as composing a standard set of "authoritative" religious texts. Sure, some texts were clearly more "authoritative" than others (see Fitzmeyer's article, among others, on this), but they didn't seem to think of "the Bible" in the same way that most Christians do now. On the other hand, a codex is a "closed" grouping of texts. There is a front and back cover. In some sense, it turns a "collection" of texts into "a text." See Hurtado's monograph for more on this.

Another issue in play here is the relative stability of textual traditions extant at Qumran. Yes, most all of the biblical material is attested, but, significantly, in many cases these texts are preserved in several editions—some differing widely in structure and content (someone will surely hasten to add that 'nothing of theological substance is different'; I don't care one way or another)—often reflecting the textual traditions that have been presumed to have been the Vorlage of the Septuagint (most notably Jeremiah). Eugene Ulrich has recently written about his theory of "Multiple Originals," over and against the theories of Tov, Cross, and Talmon (the latter two can be found in this volume)

All this to say, the process by which texts were "canonized" was a complex one that merits caution and nuance. The protestant canon is a part of a living tradition—one that eschews the so-called deutero-canon. I dont' see why it should care at all what Jews in the 1st century believed to be "scripture."

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