Key Hebrew-text history
The Dead-Sea scrolls: These shed light on manuscript history, tracing as far back in time as the 3rd century B.C., and revealing a history of standard-text preservation mixed with an influence of meddlers. They exhibit a wide variety ranging from pronounced agreement with the current Masoretic Text, to evidence of manipulation for the private purposes of a sect residing at the Qumran Dead-Sea locale. An example of the latter occurs in the Isaiah A scroll, the first, and one of the older, found at Qumran, and in the tradition of the Masoretic Text in general. It shows signs of text manipulation & carelessness. (1,2,3) It’s informative to note that Isaiah A is part of the portion of the Qumran literature copied by the Qumran sect itself, self‑serving text manipulation being indicated in recent study showing the text was changed at Isaiah 8:11 at Qumran to justify supposed fulfillment of scripture prophecy by the Qumran sect itself. (1) Such notions preoccupied the Qumran residents, judging by their own commentaries. (4)
Despite the negative implications for text history in our fallen world, we can envision an historic fixed standard text fully preserved in the text as produced by the Masoretes in the middle ages of the church era. This history begins with faithful transmission of the Masoretic Text known throughout much of the two millennia of the Christian era, which can be viewed as a later stage of a continuing ancient tradition of veiled history. 2nd century A.D. manuscripts discovered at the Dead-Sea locale of Wadi Murabbaat are identical to today’s Masoretic Text, thus extending standard Hebrew-text tradition close to the beginning of the Christian era, and manuscripts of the 1st century A.D. found at Masada take us up to that beginning, though there are a few differences that must be accounted for. Further, certain Qumran texts dating as far back as the 3rd century B.C. (5,6) accord very well with the current Masoretic Text
Finally, there is the Samaritan Pentateuch, generally dated to the 4th-5th centuries B.C., that was the property of Samaritans distinctly separate from the Hebrews. Their text in general is close to the Pentateuch of the standard Masoretic Hebrew text, and seems to be copied from the Hebrew for the most part, significant differences being invoked by following the Septuagint in places, and by Samaritan support of their own unique tradition in some cases (5,7). Thus there is support for a standard Hebrew-text tradition extending as far back as known text history reaches.
Scholars consider diverse manuscripts at the isolated Qumran locale as representing earlier trends of all Judaism, only because there's very little older text material suited for use as a standard. Here age is not a conclusive determinant since there is danger of aberration from text history at this one small isolated locale associated with suspicious textual goals. It may well be that at the Wadi Murabbaat site, located ~11 miles south of Qumran, a fully Masoretic character of manuscripts discovered there represents continuance of an ancient standard text that we happen to view in the 2nd century A.D., later than we happen to view Qumran scrolls. These Masoretic-type manuscripts may differ from most Qumran texts because they were the property of more orthodox Jews who preserved a recognized standard. These would be Jews of the pharisaic/ rabbinic tradition who had become dominant at this time. Masada manuscripts too would be the property of more orthodox Jews of this tradition, although they were slightly variant from the Masoretic Text, including a little of the apocrypha. But this may be just a matter of variable chronology in our view of the effort by the rabbinical movement to eliminate all non‑standard texts. This movement seems to have made determined and successful efforts to stamp out unorthodox materials, likely to avoid confusion over the identity of the standard text. Scholars propose that the movement was promoting its favored type among variant evolved text types, but it may actually have been ensuring the preservation of a recognized old standard by eliminating unorthodox rivals propagated by some. This would include apocrypha that were prevalent earlier at Qumran, and became much too important to some, and potentially troublesome for maintenance of the standard. The effort wouldn't yet have developed earlier at Qumran, allowing for substantial variance and apocryphal material in an isolated fringe sect. By the time of Masada, the effort would be near to finalization, resulting in just a little evidence of retained non‑standard material. Wadi Murabaat texts that were observed a little later than Masada texts would represent full triumph of the effort. These latter texts would signify elimination of non‑standard materials, and restoration of the ancient standard text in accord with the Masoretic.
1. Van Der Kooij, A. 1990. “The Old Greek of Isaiah in Relation to the Qumran Texts of Isaiah.” LXX: Septuagint, Scrolls and Cognate Writings. ed. G.F. Brooke & B. Lindars. Atlanta. Scholars Press. p195‑209
2. Mansoor, M. 1964. The Dead Sea Scrolls. Grand Rapids. Eerdmans. p75
3. Talmon, S. Op. Cit. Qumran and the History of the Biblical Text. p 32
4. Eisenman, R.H. & Wise, M. 1992. The Dead Sea Scrolls Uncovered. Rockport, MS. Element Inc. p75‑77
5. Schiffman, L.H. 1994. Reclaiming the Dead Sea Scrolls. Phila. The Jewish Publication Society. p169-80.
6. Cross, F.M. 1975. Evolution of a Theory of Local Texts." Qumran and the History of the Biblical Text." ed. F.M. Cross and S. Talmon. Cambridge. Harvard Press. p177-95 & 306-15.
7. Asbury Bible Commentary - www.Biblegateway.com - Samaritan Pentateuch