"The Biblical Texts Found in Qumran" in Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible by Emanuel Tov
The cool background to the Qumran story: The thousands of fragments found near Hirbet-Qumran, some 15km south of Jericho near the Dead Sea, were deposited there, as it seems by the group of people who dwelled there. Even though this assumption appears to be the most plausible of various options, it remains problematic (see p. 102). Any explanation of the Qumran finds will have to account for two types of data: the enormous quantity of texts found at the spot (fragments of approximately 900 biblical and nonbiblical scrolls once complete) and the wide textual variety reflected in the biblical texts (see pp. 112-117). Supposedly the original scrolls comprised a collection of texts, possibly a library, deposited by the Qumranites, but we possess no information regarding the role of these texts, or their use, if at all, in the daily life of the community over a period of more than two hundred years. The term library is applicable to the collection, mainly in regard to the texts found in cave 4, only if defined in the limited sense of a collection of books maintained by a certain community and if it is not assumed that all the books contained in this library received the same amount of credence, authority, and use. In this connnection it is relevant to note that the individual caves contain different collections of texts, but these collections cannot be characterized in any special way.
About 900 texts were found in Qumran, of which many are copies of the same composition. It seems that some of these texts were written in Qumran while others were brought there from outside. There's criteria suggested by Tov regarding how to tell which one is which based on orthography, morphology and scribal practice. "All the special writings of the Qumran covenanters were probably written according to the same system of orthography, morphology and scribal practice which is named here the Qumran practice or Qumran scribal school."
This is important because the texts found in Qumran thus reflect the textual situation of the Bible not only in Qumran, but also elsewhere in ancient Israel.
What constitutes the Qumran practice?
-ORTHOGRAPHY: Distinctive, having no equal among the known documents from other places (108) which is characterized by the addition of many matres lectionis whose purpose is to facilitate the reading.
-MORPHOLOGY: lengthened independent pronouns, lengthened pronominal suffixes, words which serve in the Masoretic texts as pausal forms which occur in these texts as free forms, lengthened future forms, verbal forms with pronominal suffixes, etc
-CONTEXTUAL ADAPTATIONS which reflect a "free approach to the biblical text"
-SCRIBAL PRACTICES such as the occurrence of scribal marks in large frequency, especially cancellation dots, the use of initial-medial letters in final position and the writing of the divine names of God sometimes in conjunction with another divine appelation and together with their prefixes in paleo-Hebrew characters in texts written in Assyrian script
There are five different groupings to Qumran texts.
1. Texts Written in the Qumran Practice (20% of Qumran biblical texts)
2. Proto-Masoretic or Proto-Rabbinic Texts (35% of Qumran biblical texts)
3. Pre-Samaritan or Harmonizing Texts (no more than 5% of Qumran biblical texts of the Torah)
4. Texts Close to the Presumed Hebrew Source of Septuagint (5% of Qumran biblical texts)
5. Non-Aligned Texts - ones that agree sometimes with Masoretic text, sometimes with Septuagint and/or disagree with other texts to same extent so don't really lean in one direction exclusively(35% of Qumran biblical texts)
The Contribution of the Qumran Texts to Biblical Research (117)
The Qumran texts contribute much to our knowledge of the biblical text at the time of the Second Temple- a period for which there was hardly any Hebrew evidence before 1947. Until that year, scholars based their analyses mainly on manuscripts from the Middle Ages. The Qumran evidence enriches our knowledge in the following areas.
(1) Readings not known previously help us to better understand many details in the biblical text, sometimes pertaining to matters of substance (for example, see chapters 4, 6, 7). The Qumran texts, though early, are still removed much from the original texts as defined in 3B.
(2) The textual variety reflected in the five groups of texts described above provides a good overview of the condition of the biblical text in the Second Temple period (see the discussion in chapter 3c).
(3) The scrolls provide much background information on the technical aspects of the copying of biblical texts and their transmission in the Second Temple period (see chapter 4).
(4) The reliability of the ancient translations, especially Septuagint, is strengthened by the Qumran texts. Septuagint is one of the important texts for biblical research (below pp 141-142) but since it is written in Greek, its Hebrew source has to be reconstructed from that language. The reconstruction of many details is now supported by the discovery of identical Hebrew readings in Qumran scrolls. See, for example, the reconstruction of Septuagint in Deut 31:1, 1 Sam 1:23, 1 Sam 1:24, 2 Sam 8:7 and also the examples on pp 113-114. This evidence provides support for the procedure of reconstructing the Hebrew parent text of the translations. (117)