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.

  • er, wasn't most/all of the new testament written in greek? en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Testament
    – zipquincy
    Commented Sep 20, 2011 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
    Commented Sep 20, 2011 at 13:39
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    OK, I'll be more specific.
    – Peter Turner
    Commented Sep 20, 2011 at 15:48
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    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
    Commented Sep 20, 2011 at 21:43
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    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?) Commented Sep 22, 2011 at 12:36

6 Answers 6


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.

  • The main Protestant argument stems from Jerome's argument in the late fourth century about Veritas Hebraica. This argument was proven wrong with the discovery of the existence of the Pre-Septuagint Hebrew from the Dead Sea Scrolls, which showed the Septuagint with its Deuterocanon was a good translation of a different ancient Hebrew text tradition.
    – emeth
    Commented Jun 15, 2018 at 0:20
  • @emeth Didn't Jerome translate from an Aramaic Judith, Aramaic Tobit, a Hebrew Sirach and maybe even a Hebrew 1 Maccabees? Commented Jun 15, 2018 at 14:19

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.

  • 1
    The moral of the story is "Don't believe everything you read on wikipedia"
    – gmoothart
    Commented Sep 20, 2011 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
    Commented Sep 20, 2011 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
    Commented Sep 11, 2012 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. Commented May 1, 2015 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 - www.ecmarsh.com/lxx/I%20Maccabees/index.htm)

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 - www.ecmarsh.com/lxx/I%20Maccabees/index.htm)

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 - www.ecmarsh.com/lxx/I%20Maccabees/index.htm)

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 - http://en.metapedia.org/wiki/Old_Testament.

  • Judaism in the first century was not a monolith. Commented May 1, 2015 at 19:54
  • How do you account for Josephus saying in Antiquities of the Jews 20:11:2 that all that he wrote in Antiquities was "according to what is written in our sacred books" - but then he quotes from 1 Mac 1:1-9 in Antiquities 11.8.7, from 1 Mac 1:10-64 in Antiquities 12.5.1-3, and from additions to Esther in Antiquities 11.6.6? As noted in this wiki.
    – emeth
    Commented Jun 14, 2018 at 23:52

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."

  • Great answer. The last sentence is particularly important - for any appeals by Christians to the authority of the Jews in the first few centuries after Christ has the difficulty of acknowledging that those Jews denied Christ, and denied the inspiration of the New Testament. It's also noteworthy that there was belief in the early church that the Jews after the time of Christ had removed scriptures, as noted here - further casting doubt on their authority.
    – emeth
    Commented Jun 14, 2018 at 23:59

No, the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls hasn't had an effect on the Protestant view of the Old Testament canon yet - but it should!

Even though the Dead Sea Scrolls were found several decades ago, some of the most impactful scholarship resulting from their discovery was only posted in the early 2000s and hasn't really made its way around yet.

The argument for the Protestant canon is based primarily on Jerome's Helmeted Preface:

Jerome, in his Prologue to the Books of the Kings

This preface to the Scriptures may serve as a helmeted [i.e. defensive] introduction to all the books which we turn from Hebrew into Latin, so that we may be assured that what is outside of them must be placed aside among the Apocryphal writings. Wisdom, therefore, which generally bears the name of Solomon, and the book of Jesus the Son of Sirach, and Judith, and Tobias, and the Shepherd [of Hermes?] are not in the canon. The first book of Maccabees is found in Hebrew, but the second is Greek, as can be proved from the very style.

How did Jerome arrive at this conclusion?

First, he obtained the Hebrew scriptures from the Jews of his day (late fourth century) at great cost.

Jerome, in his Apology Against Rufinus, Book II, Section 35

...my own familiar friend should frankly accept from a Christian and a friend what he has taken great pains to obtain from the Jews and has written down for him at great cost.

He compared these Hebrew scriptures he obtained (an ancestor of the Masoretic text) to the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament) which was used throughout the Christian Churches.

In this comparison, Jerome found numerous differences. He reasoned that the Jewish copy must be the more accurate of the two, as the Jewish copy was written in Hebrew just like the original Old Testament, while the Septuagint was a translation - and in translating, errors can crop up.

Jerome, in his Preface to Pentateuch

Hear, therefore, O rival; listen, O detractor! I do not condemn, I do not censure the Seventy, but I confidently prefer the Apostles to all of them. Christ speaks to me through their mouth, who I read were placed before the prophets among the Spiritual gifts, among which interpreters hold almost the last place.

This belief that the Septuagint was a poor translation of the Jewish scripture led him to believe that the Septuagint could also have been mistaken in its collection of scriptures - causing Jerome to prefer the shortened Jewish canon over the expanded Septuagint canon.

The Protestant fathers of the reformation followed Jerome's teaching on this matter.

Calvin, in his Acts of the Council of Trent with the Antidote, ON THE FOURTH SESSION

Of their admitting all the Books promiscuously into the Canon, I say nothing more than it is done against the consent of the primitive Church. It is well known what Jerome states as the common opinion of earlier times. And Ruffinus, speaking of the matter as not at all controverted, declares with Jerome that Ecclesiasticus, the Wisdom of Solomon, Tobit, Judith, and the history of the Maccabees, were called by the Fathers not canonical but ecclesiastical books, which might indeed be read to the people, but were not entitled to establish doctrine.

How do the Dead Sea Scrolls come into this?

We discovered that instead of the Greek Septuagint being a bad translation of the Hebrew Proto-Masoretic text, it was a good translation of the Hebrew Pre-Septuagint text. It was discovered that there were multiple Hebrew text traditions at the time of the Dead Sea Scrolls!

From Wikipedia

The Biblical manuscripts found in Qumran, commonly known as the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS), have prompted comparisons of the various texts associated with the Hebrew Bible, including the Septuagint. Peter Flint cites Emanuel Tov, the chief editor of the scrolls, who identifies five broad variation categories of DSS texts:

1) Proto-Masoretic: This consists of a stable text and numerous and distinctive agreements with the Masoretic text. About 60% of the Biblical scrolls fall into this category (e.g. 1QIsa-b)

2) Pre-Septuagint: These are the manuscripts which have distinctive affinities with the Greek Bible. These number only about 5% of the Biblical scrolls, for example, 4QDeut-q, 4QSam-a, and 4QJer-b, 4QJer-d. In addition to these manuscripts, several others share distinctive individual readings with the Septuagint, although they do not fall in this category.

3) The Qumran "Living Bible": These are the manuscripts which, according to Tov, were copied in accordance with the "Qumran practice" (i.e. with distinctive long orthography and morphology, frequent errors and corrections, and a free approach to the text. Such scrolls comprise about 20% of the Biblical corpus, including the Great Isaiah Scroll (1QIsa-a)

4) Pre-Samaritan: These are DSS manuscripts which reflect the textual form found in the Samaritan Pentateuch, although the Samaritan Bible itself is later and contains information not found in these earlier scrolls, (e.g. God's holy mountain at Shechem rather than Jerusalem). The Qumran witnesses—which are characterized by orthographic corrections and harmonizations with parallel texts elsewhere in the Pentateuch—comprise about 5% of the Biblical scrolls. (e.g. 4QpaleoExod-m)

5) Non-Aligned: This is a category which shows no consistent alignment with any of the other four text-types. These number approximately 10% of the Biblical scrolls, and include 4QDeut-b, 4QDeut-c, 4QDeut-h, 4QIsa-c, and 4QDan-a.

The same information, along with more thoughts on the Pre-Septuagint, can be found in Emanuel Tov's "Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible" (Third Edition, page 107).

This makes us need to re-examine history! Catholicism largely followed the canon of the Septuagint, while Protestantism has largely followed the canon of the Masoretic text. Jerome's argument for the superiority of the Hebrew Scriptures (and thus the Masoretic text) was the main Protestant defense of using its canon.

With that argument nullified (due to the Septuagint being a good translation of a different ancient Hebrew text), Protestants should reconsider their rejection of the Septuagint's canon. Indeed, it may be time to review the statements made by Justin Martyr (~160 AD), Origen (~240 AD), Augustine (~400 AD), and Isidore (~600 AD) that the Jews after the time of Jesus, who denied that Jesus was the Christ, had removed books from scripture. After all, do these Jews after the time of Christ, who rejected both Jesus as Christ and the New Testament as inspired, have the authority to declare the Old Testament canon for Christians? References available here.

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    Well this is a good answer to the underlying question, but I was asking if any actual Protestant groups have changed their thinking because of the Dead Sea Scrolls, not if it is the right thing to do.
    – Peter Turner
    Commented Jun 15, 2018 at 13:28
  • @PeterTurner Fair point. Many of the answers on this question follow the format "No, and here's why not." I have edited my answer to follow that accepted format, so my answer now reads as "No, not yet - but here's why it should." Hope that helps!
    – emeth
    Commented Jun 15, 2018 at 15:56
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    @PeterTurner I can't vote to delete this answer because in fact, your very first question in the body of the question is, "Has the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls had any effect on which Old Testament books should be considered canonical by Protestants?" (emphasis mine). I.e., the question itself invites opinion on this subject. That also makes the question itself problematic for this site. Commented Jun 15, 2018 at 16:51

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