"The Essene manuscripts, biblical and non-biblical, contribute new data to several areas of Old Testament study: the history of the Hebrew canon, the development of Hebrew (and Aramaic) dialects, scripts, orthographies, and scribal procedures, and- the fields which will be selected arbitrarily for treatment here- the historical criticism of the Old Testament, and the history of the Old Testament text." (121)
Due to finding the Dead Sea Scrolls we learn/ know/ gain information...
- We must cease to date any biblical work belonging to the Former or Latter Prophets (not to mention the Torah) later than the early second century BC
-The collection of canonical psalms was fixed by Maccabean times, bearing out the current tendency to date the latest canonical psalms in the Persian period
-Psalm studies are strongly affected by "the appearance in Essene circles of collections of hymns of Maccabean and Hasmonaean date" which include "many categories of material of which the Thanksgiving Hymns are but a single type" (122).
-Analyzing these hymns' literary types, prosody and the language/ theological motifs therein will expand knowledge of "late Old Testament psalmody" and will also illuminate "difficult problems in the study of the literary types and prosodic canons of New Testament psalms"
(So far it seems that the psalms of the Maccabean period are "much developed beyond the latest of Old Testament psalms; their language is neoclassical, not classical; sapiential forms and language have profoundly influenced hymnic style" (123). Older patterns of meter and rhyme have been largely broken down or lost.
The Essene psalms/ hymns are "patchworks of phrases from the Psalter, and notably from the Prophets; yet the mood and theological structure differ strikingly from canonical psalms" (123). Suitable parallels can be found in the Apocrypha and New Testament hymns.)
-One cool thing which sheds light on the "oral, or possibly literary sources behind the fixed edition of an Old Testament book" is the Prayer of Nabonidus. In this prayer, Nabonidus comes down with a disease because of God and is set apart from men for a seven-year-period in the Arabian oasis of Teima. A Jewish diviner (presumably Daniel, the text does not give his name) intervenes and speaks of the king's worship of 'gods of gold, bronze, iron, wood, stone, silver.' This is strongly reminiscent of the story of Nebuchadnezzar's being driven from men for seven years during which he learns that 'the Most High rules the kingdom of men' ending with the king blessing God.
There's a lot of support for believing that the real legend is that of Nabonidus and the story later got transferred to Nebuchadnezzar because that name is more familiar/ more important. Extrabiblical data suggests Nebuchadnezzar never gave up his throne for seven years whereas it's known that Nabonidus "gave over the regency of his realm to his son Belshazzar in order to spend long periods of time in Teima". Also, the legend that follows where Nebuchadnezzar is substituted for Nabonidus as father of Belshazzar is "most suggestive" (124). The prayer is not necessarily the source text for the Daniel story; rather it may derive from a more conservative line of orally transmitted material.
-Old Testament textual studies are affected. The new scrolls "give evidence of the antiquity of the type of textual tradition which has survived in the form of the traditional Hebrew Bible." They preserve "many new readings some of which are superior to received readings, some of which are inferior."
-The chief importance lies in the Dead Sea Scrolls' ability to yield data for the reconstruction of the textual history of the Old Testament (125)
- To understand this, you have to see what the state of textual studies re: the Old Testament was prior to the Qumran and Murabba'at scrolls.
Paul de Lagarde stated that all medieval Hebrew manuscripts were descended from a common ancestor, a single master scroll. He dated it no earlier than the first century of the Christian era. That, according to him, was when the rabbis had fixed an authoritative Hebrew text and this official text destroyed all variant lines of tradition in normative Judaism.
The Pentateuch of the Samaritans preserved an alternate form of the Torah. It was not helpful to reconstructing the early history of the Hebrew text because it is a relatively late branch/ Hasmonean times. It's a derivative of Paleo-Hebrew script which was revived/ resurgent in the Maccabean era.
So they studied the Septuagint instead. They thought that maybe through reconstructing the Hebrew underlying this antique version, they might be able to reconstruct the Old Testament Bible. This was hard because a) they had to establish the original form of the Old Greek translation out of a maze of manuscripts belonging to Christian recensions of the Old Greek b) contamination of the transmission of the Septuagint by later Jewish Greek texts which had been revised back into conformity with the developing Hebrew text.
The question is, even if they could know the text of the Septuagint, can that be used as as witness to the archaic Hebrew text? Sharp debate in 19th century about this.
So they started studying. One of the first books they studied was Samuel. The text of Samuel contained "in the three scrolls from Cave IV is widely at variance with that of the traditional Masoretic Bible; it follows systematically the rendering of the Septuagint of Samuel." This helps to prove that the Septuagint's "divergent text was due less to 'translation idiosyncrasies' than to the type of text which it translated" (132).
More proof of this is found in the Jeremiah Qumran scrolls. Jeremiah is 1/8 shorter in the Septuagint and also has 4 verses omitted in chapter 10 with the fifth in a shifted order. The Qumran Jeremiah is exactly the same.
The texts demonstrate that the "proto-Masoretic tradition is sometimes old, and not merely the creation of the recensional activities of the rabbis, and that the appearance of one recension at Qumran does not exclude the presence of the other" (140). What this means in laymen's terms is like so: the Masoretic text refers to the uniform text of Tanakh as we have it today. Proto-Masoretic texts are those we have found that are dated earlier than the time when the Masoretic text was set down, canonized and uniform but which bear many features in common with the Masoretic text and are therefore its predecessors/ source texts. Alternative texts that differ can be the Samaritan texts, Septuagint and etc, which sometimes point to variant Tanakh text traditions.
Also proves that the text of Shmuel is a product of revision. Compare the Septuagint and Qumran scroll at 2 Samuel 3:7 which preserve the corrupt reading Mephiboshes with the text we have where the editor excised the corruption but did not replace it with Ishboshes, as he ought to have.