The Dead Sea Scrolls have revealed to us that there were different manuscripts of Holy Scripture, including, of course, the Ten Commandments, in circulation during the last centuries BCE and first century CE; that is, in the time of Jesus. We learn that these manuscripts, while generally agreeing with each other in composition and content, were not identical. There were some differences in wording between them. In fact, there was no official, canonical text at all until well after the Great Revolt of the Jews against the Romans of 66-70 CE.
It is widely believed that a conference of the Jewish leaders who had survived the Revolt met in conference in the southern coastal town of Yavne sometime in the 70′s, CE, and decided on the final text. The matter is not clear, however, and the actual date of the canonization of Hebrew scriptures is still unknown.
One version of each book of what became the Hebrew Bible was chosen to be the official, closed, final canonical version – the revealed Word of God – on which both the Jewish and Christian world based all subsequent legal and theological decisions. Those books we know about which were excluded from the canon now comprise the Apocrypha and the Pseudepigrapha.
The matter of different versions of the text is of interest to readers of the New Testament because there are many places where the writers of the Gospel quoted incorrectly from the Hebrew Bible. The quote is either not to be found in the Hebrew Bible at all (as in Matthew 2:23 “what the prophets spoke.” ), or is quoted incorrectly. Such is the case of the Rich Man who came to Jesus (Mark 10. 17-19) and asked what he needed to do. Jesus answered by quoting (most of) the Ten Commandments.
The problem is that one such commandment, “you shall not defraud” (Mark 10:19), is not in fact one of the Ten Commandments as we know them. We have learned from the Dead Sea Scrolls that there was more than one version of the Ten Commandments in circulation when Jesus knew them. So it seems that he was quoting from a text that was, in the end, excluded from the official canon. And thus we have solved the problem of the “incorrect” quotation of Scripture.
The photographic reproduction of the scroll offered by Biblical Reproductions is a historical piece of the canonical Hebrew Bible. This Ten Commandments exquisitely produced presentation can be obtained at www.biblicalreproductions.com, licensed by the Israel Antiquities Authority.
Author: Walter Zanger