The New Testament Fragments of the Dead Sea Caves
July 12, 2023
David Cloud, Way of Life Literature, P.O. Box 610368, Port Huron, MI 48061
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The following report is summarized from Bill Cooper’s The Authenticity of the New Testament Fragments of Qumran (2016). Cooper gives more information about these amazing fragments in The Authenticity of the New Testament: The Gospels, Appendix 3, “More on the Fragments from Qumran Cave 7.”

Bill Cooper (1947-2021) was a prolific writer and speaker, with a gift of cutting through the fog of higher and textual criticism to defend the infallible, plenary, verbal inspiration of Scripture, the six-day creation, and the Masoretic Hebrew and Received Greek texts. He was a council member of the Creation Science Movement and the Tyndale Society and an adjunct professor for the Institute for Creation Research’s Master Faculty. His most popular book is
After the Flood which gives evidence for the historicity of Genesis 10 based on ancient, little known British and European genealogies. He published a series of books titled “The Authenticity,” which included The Authenticity of the Book of Genesis, Joshua, Judges, Esther, Daniel, Jonah, the Gospels, Acts, The Epistles, and Revelation. In The Forging of Codex Sinaiticus, Cooper provided extensive evidence to support his thesis that Sinaiticus is a forgery.

Cooper was a careful researcher, an independent thinker, and a brave defender of God’s eternal truth. He accomplished this in spite of suffering serious illnesses, including leukemia, the last two decades of his life. We can’t agree with all of his conclusions, but everything we have read from his pen is well worth considering.

Not all of his books are currently available in print, but all of them are available in Kindle format from Amazon.

In 1955, 19 fragments of ancient scrolls were found in Cave 7 of the Dead Sea Caves at Qumran. Unlike most of the Dead Sea scrolls, the ones in Cave 7 were written in Greek. Together they were assigned the label 7Q (Cave 7 Qumran). Two of the fragments were identified as belonging to the book of Exodus and one to the Letter of Jeremiah, an apocryphal book. It was assumed the rest would pertain to the Old Testament, but they remained unidentified until 1972. They are preserved under glass in the Rockefeller Museum in Jerusalem.

The fragments were older than AD 68, because the cave was sealed at that time when the Qumran Jews fled the area to avoid the Roman legions. This was the first Roman-Jewish war. Two years later the Romans destroyed the Jewish temple and the war ended soon thereafter.

What is the significance of the New Testament fragments of Qumran?

“They stand as immensely trustworthy witnesses to the one single fact that is hated today amongst the critics and unbelievers--that the New Testament was written out, copied and disseminated over parts of the Roman Empire during the forty-year Eyewitness Period (AD 30-70) by people who would have seen and heard our Lord speak, perform miracles, give His Life on the cross, and then rise from the dead. They bear glorious testimony to the fact that the Gospels did not begin as orally transmitted tales that were eventually written down years after the Eyewitness Period was closed. They are contemporary records written down by people who saw and heard the things that they wrote about, and not idle tales half recalled by old men as they entertaining their grandchildren. That is the value of the Qumran Cave 7 fragments. That at least remains, and remains for all time to bear witness to the antiquity and authenticity of the New Testament, and to the truth of the Word of God” (Bill Cooper,
The Authenticity of the New Testament Fragments of Qumran).

O’Callaghan Identifies the Fragments as New Testament Scripture

In April 1972, Dr. Jose O’Callaghan spent two weeks examining the fragments. He was an internationally famous papyrologist, one of the very highest experts in the field. He was the founder of the Seminario de Papirologia and the journal
Studia Papirologica. To his own amazement, he identified nine fragments with certainty as belonging to six New Testament books.

To identify and date fragments, papyrologists use an array of tools: style of the calligraphy, microscopic infrared analysis, stereo-microscopy, stichometry, massive computer databases, etc. The vast majority of the Dead Sea scrolls are mere fragments like those in Cave 7. The Old Testament fragments date to 100 and more years before Christ and have been identified using the same methods that Dr. O’Callaghan used.

O’Callaghan identified the following fragments with certainty -

7Q4.1 and 7Q4.2 - 1 Timothy 3:16 - 4:3
7Q5 - Mark 6:52-53
7Q6.1 - Mark 4:28
7Q62 - Acts 27:38
7Q7 - Mark 12:17
7Q8 - James 1:23-24
7Q9 - Romans 5:11-12
7Q10 - 2 Peter 1:15
7Q15 - Mark 6:48
7Q19 - Probably a commentary on Romans

O’Callaghan found evidence that Cave 7 held a New Testament library. “But the fact that there are four fragments of Mark--7Q5; 7Q6.1; 7Q7; & 7Q15--which are written in four different hands but on the same papyrus batch, suggests not only that serious efforts were being made to copy and distribute books of the New Testament--particularly the Gospel of Mark--very early on, but that the papyri of Cave 7 represent a collection of New Testament documents, some of which were multiple copies of the same books--a veritable bookstore certainly, but also probably a Christian reference or lending library” (Cooper).

To his credit, O’Callaghan published his findings though he knew that he would be savaged by the skeptics of academia who would defend their liberal theories to the death. Some of the popular theories are these: (1) The Gospels were based on oral testimonies that were not written down until after the lifetime of the apostles. (2) The Gospels are a mixture of truth and fable. (3) Most of the New Testament was not written by the traditional authors; for example, Acts was not written by Luke, James was not written by James, and 2 Peter was not written by Peter.

“[O’Callaghan] knew that all he stood to gain from publishing his findings at the Rockefeller Museum would be ridicule from just about every branch of academe there is. That is a forbidding prospect for any man to face, and yet he was too honest to deny what he had discovered. His integrity would not allow that. So he took the bit between his teeth and did publish what he found, and went on to defend what he found for many years to come against all kinds of assaults and challengers. But not once did he give in to them. ... O’Callaghan ploughed on, regardless of the critics, patiently publishing numerous rebuttals to their objections; all of which helped immensely, for it gave O’Callaghan (as well as ourselves) the opportunity to fine-tune the arguments.
And it is worth noting that all this fine-tuning led to not one of his identifications being changed. They were certainly challenged (though not all), but none were ever changed. They were only strengthened by the process. The papyrus evidence from Cave 7 is that good” (Cooper, The Authenticity of the New Testament Fragments of Qumran).

Thiede’s Authentication

In the 1990s, Dr. Carsten Peter Thiede (1952-2004), another expert in the field of papyrology, defended O’Callaghan’s work. He published numerous articles on this plus book
Rekindling the Word: In Search of Gospel Truth (1996). Thiede also dated the Magdalen GR17 papyrus fragment of the Gospel of Matthew to about AD 66. He defended this in the book The Jesus Papyrus. He was director of the Institute for Basic Epistemological Research in Paderborn, Germany, and spent the last years of his life with the Israel Antiquities Authority repairing Dead Sea Scrolls and excavating the possible location of Emmaus.

In a 1997 interview Thiede said, “The Gospels are accounts that go back to the time of the eyewitnesses. I don’t think there can be any historical doubt about this, irrespective of papyri. There are numerous reasons--historical, textual, critical, literary, historical reasons--for a dating of the Gospels to the period of the eyewitnesses. ... You could go on through the Gospels without any papyrus; you would find argument after argument, pointer after pointer--archaeological, historical, literary, cultural, linguistic--for a date of all the Gospels and Acts before AD 70 and indeed much earlier. ... I would like to say that, in order to understand the historical background of the gospel, one doesn't have to be a papyrologist, one doesn’t even have to be a historian. All it takes is to read the text very carefully. Look at what the Christians in Berea did in Acts 17. They searched the Scriptures day by day to find out if what Paul and Silas were saying was true. ... That’s what we should do” (“Peter Thiede When Was the New Testament Written?”
Beyond Today, Dec. 1, 1997).

Like O’Callaghan, Thiede was severely criticized by academia for his claim that the Gospels were written by eyewitnesses, but he stood his ground.

Proof by Computer Database

7Q5 was tested by the computer database
Thesaurus Linguae Graecae which contains every extant Greek text from the time of Homer to the fall of Constantinople in 1453, a total of 64 million words. The search engine Ibycus was used for the project. “The only match was Mark 6:52-53” (Cooper, citing Peter Thiede, “Greek Qumran Fragment 7Q5: Possibilities and Impossibilities,” Biblica, Vol. 75, No. 3, 1994).

Examination by the Israel National Police Forensic Laboratory

On April 12, 1992, fragment 7Q5 was analyzed by the Israel National Police Forensic Laboratory in Jerusalem. The examination was overseen by Brigadier General Dr. Joseph Almog, Director of the Division of Identification and Forensic Science. They proved that the fragment was not a forgery and identified one of the Hebrew letters with certainty. Cooper observes, “Now it cannot be imagined that the Israeli Police Force have any historical interest at all in vindicating the New Testament. Yet their investigation only confirmed the identification, and in fact increased its certainty, for it prevented a possible misreading of at least one of the partial letters [the Nu in line 2]” (Cooper, citing Thiede’s German report on the forensic examination of fragment 7Q5). An English translation of the report can be found in Appendix One of
The Authenticity of the New Testament Fragments of Qumran.

Mathematical Certainty

O’Callaghan cited the work of mathematician Albert Dou, who calculated that the chances of fragment 7Q5 not being that of Mark 6:52-53 is less than 1 in 900,000,000,000. ... “Under the terms and parameters of Probability Theory that makes it a certainty, and it is possible only for the singular fact that no other text exists which 7Q5 could belong to” (Cooper, citing O’Callaghan,
Los Primeros Testimonios del Nuevo Testamento, Madrid, 1995).

Kurt Aland’s Hysterics

Kurt Aland (1915-1994), one of the foremost textual scholars of the 20th century, went into near hysterics in his attempt to discredit the New Testament fragments of Qumran. Aland was an editor of the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament and the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament. He founded the Institute for New Testament Textual Research (Institut für neutestamentliche Textforschung or the INTF). Yet he was a fierce enemy of the Bible he handled all his life. He blatantly denied the divine inspiration of Scripture. Among other things, he claimed that the Gospel of John, the Pastoral Epistles, Hebrews, James, 1 and 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, Jude, and Revelation were issued as forgeries under assumed names. Of the four copies of Mark’s Gospel in Qumran Cave 7, Aland said (translated from German), “This exceeds all possible bounds of fantasy.” The fantasy was actually Aland’s own textual theories.

Aland claimed that O’Callaghan worked only from photographs even though Aland
knew that O’Callaghan had spent two weeks examining the actual fragments. “Aland knew perfectly well that O’Callaghan had examined the papyri at firsthand, because he cities O’Callaghan’s paper in which that examination is described in full. It is worth noting here, though, that in fact it was Aland himself who had never set eyes on the 7Q fragments. Between himself and O’Callaghan, he was the only one to have worked only from photographs. Whether the crass hypocrisy of his position ever dawned on him we shall never know, but if he was happy to lie about and defame O’Callaghan, then it probably wouldn’t have bothered him. ... One thing is made very clear ... and that is the fact that in spite of their claim to be impartial and honest enquirers, our Bible critics are nothing of the kind. Aland’s reaction was pure and very hostile emotion, and it is an all too common reaction amongst his colleagues when confronted with evidence of this kind” (Cooper, The Authenticity of the New Testament Fragments of Qumran).

The Significance of the 2 Peter Fragment, 7Q10

“But why is it so exciting to find 2 Peter preserved in Cave 7? For this one glorious reason: 2 Peter is the one Book of the New Testament that critics really do insist is of late composition, written so far beyond the close of the Eyewitness Period, that to even connect it to Peter is ridiculous. It is pseudonymous, nothing more than a pious forgery written years--perhaps a hundred years or more!--after Peter was dead. With delicious irony, 2 Peter says more in condemnation about false teachers than any other Book of the New Testament, so the critics’ insistence on its worthlessness begins to border on the comical. But the added irony is surely the discovery of a fragment of 2 Peter in a cave which was sealed up within the Eyewitness Period of AD 30-70; a fragment, moreover, that belonged not to Peter’s original Second Letter, but to a copy of it doubtless made from even earlier exemplars, though by how many removes we cannot know. It upends everything that the critics have always taught on the matter. Conservative scholars and Bible apologists have laboured against the critics on this for centuries, but to no avail. Yet the job is done to perfection by a tiny fragment of papyrus which was Providentially preserved in Cave 7. God never--ever!--leaves Himself without a witness. Critics take note” (Cooper,
The Authenticity of the New Testament Fragments of Qumran).

Demolition of Cave 7

In 1991, members of a symposium at the Catholic University of Eichstatt in Germany, wrote to the Director of the Department of Antiquities at Jerusalem to ask that Cave 7 be re-excavated. They stated that the cave “has since collapsed into the Wadi Qumran.”

It turns out that sometime between 1972 and 1991, Cave 7 was destroyed. It did not merely collapse. It was destroyed. If it had collapsed, most of the material would still be on the cave’s floor and entrance, but nothing remains.

Bill Cooper was convinced that it was an intentional act of sabotage, and there seems to be no other explanation.

“Had the cave simply collapsed under its own weight, or by some other natural means, then where are the many tons of debris that should now be lying on the shelf that was once the cave’s floor? ... Where are they? The shelf is empty. The shelf is swept clean.

“I firmly believe that we are looking here not at the hand of nature, but at the hand of man for the cave’s destruction. ... Someone has cleared the site and swept it clean of demolition rubble, seeking to obliterate all traces of the cave and prevent any further discoveries there. ...

“But whoever it was, and whenever they did the deed, they wasted their time. The New Testament fragments from Qumran were identified and published by O’Callaghan in 1972; were again publicised and most ably defended by Thiede in the 1990s; and are here being published once again for all the world to see. They are safely housed and preserved in the Rockefeller Museum at Jerusalem, and they are not going to go away. ...

“The cave may have gone, but the fragments remain. They stand as immensely trustworthy witnesses to the one single fact that is hated today amongst the critics and unbelievers--that the New Testament was written out, copied and disseminated over parts of the Roman Empire during the forty-year Eyewitness Period (AD 30-70) by people who would have seen and heard out Lord speak, perform miracles, give His life on the cross, and then rise from the dead” (Bill Cooper,
The Authenticity of the New Testament Fragments of Qumran).

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