Isaiah Scroll and the Masoretic Text
By Jeff A. Benner

The Great Isaiah scroll was found in the Dead Sea Caves in 1947 and is known as the Great Isaiah Scroll. It is dated at about 100 BCE and is the oldest copy of Isaiah known to exist. Previously, the Codex Leningrad, dated at 1000 AD, was the oldest known copy of the Hebrew Bible (including the book of Isaiah) in existence. The Great Isaiah scroll is 1100 years older than the Codex Leningrad and provides us with the opportunity to compare the Biblical text over the centries.

The Masoretic text was compiled by the Masorites around 700 AD. This was an attempt at standardizing the text and pronunciation by comparing all of the then known copies of the Hebrew Bible to form one complete text that represented the original writings. The vowel pointings were also added to the text to standardize the pronunciation of the words. The Codex Leningrad is one of the surviving Masoretic texts.

The following is a quote from "A General Introduction to the Bible" concerning this Isaiah Scroll.

"Of the 166 words in Isaiah 53, there are only 17 letters in question. Ten of these letters are simply a matter of spelling, which does not affect the sense. Four more letters are minor stylistic changes, such as conjunctions. The three remaining letters comprise the word LIGHT, which is added in verse 11 and which does not affect the meaning greatly. Furthermore, this word is supported by the Septuagint (LXX). Thus, in one chapter of 166 words, there is only one word (three letters) in question after a thousand years of transmission - and this word does not significantly change the meaning of the passage." (Norman Geisler & William Nix, "A General Introduction to the Bible", Moody Press, Page 263).

I have read the above quote recently and have also heard very similar statements in chat rooms, forums, bulletin boards, web sites and other publications in the past. While I have reviewed several passages of the book of Isaiah to compare the text of the Great Isaiah scroll found in the Dead Sea Caves with the Masoretic text, I decided to put the above quotation to the test. I began with verse 1 of chapter 53 and found that it did not take long to find 17 letters that varied from the Isaiah scroll and the Masoretic text. In just the first 3 verses of chapter 53, a total of 23 words in the Masoretic text and 24 words in the Great Isaiah scroll, I found 19 letters that were different between the two texts. Below is a picture of verses 1 through 3 in the Great Isaiah scroll. Each red dot above a letter represents an additional letter or changed letter in the Isaiah scroll that is not present or is different in the Masoretic text. The number next to each dot represent a corresponding number below the image describing the differences.





  1. The letter vav in Isaiah scroll not in the Masoretic text. Grammatical difference only.
  2. The letter vav in Isaiah scroll not in the Masoretic text. Grammatical difference only.
  3. The letter aleph in Isaiah scroll not in the Masoretic text. Grammatical difference only.
  4. The letter vav in Isaiah scroll not in the Masoretic text. Grammatical difference only.
  5. The letter vav in Isaiah scroll not in the Masoretic text. This word would be pronounced as to’ar in the masoretic text, but in the Isaiah scroll it is ta’or.
  6. The letter vav in Isaiah scroll not in the Masoretic text. Grammatical difference only.
  7. The letter lamed in Isaiah scroll not in the Masoretic text. A prefix meaning “to”.
  8. The letter vav in Isaiah scroll not in the Masoretic text. A suffix meaning “him”.
  9. The letter vav in Isaiah scroll not in the Masoretic text. Grammatical difference only.
  10. The letter nun in Isaiah scroll but the letter hey in the Masoretic text. The word venech’medehu in the Masoretic text means “will delight in him” but the word venech’med’nu in the Isaiah scroll means “will delight us”.
  11. The letter vav in Isaiah scroll not in the Masoretic text. This letter is prefixed to mean “and”.
  12. The letter vav in Isaiah scroll not in the Masoretic text. Grammatical difference only.
  13. The Masoretic text has viydua meaning “and he knew” while the Isaiah scroll has viode meaning “he knows”. The two letters have swapped places.
  14. The letter vav in Isaiah scroll not in the Masoretic text. Grammatical difference only.
  15. The letter yud in Isaiah scroll not in the Masoretic text. Possibly an unknown word related to the same word found in the Masoretic text.
  16. The letter vav in Isaiah scroll not in the Masoretic text. A prefix meaning “and”.
  17. The letter vav in Isaiah scroll not in the Masoretic text. A suffix meaning “him”. The reading of the Isaiah scroll is venivzehu (and despised him) while the Masoretic text is nivzeh (he was despised).
  18. The letter vav in Isaiah scroll not in the Masoretic text. Grammatical difference only.
  19. The letter vav in Isaiah scroll not in the Masoretic text. Grammatical difference only.


Below is the King James Version of Isaiah 53:1-3.

[1] Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the LORD revealed?
[2] For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.
[3] He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Below is the same passage from the Great Isaiah Scroll. Differences between the King James Version and the Great Isaiah Scroll are underlined. While these differences are not severe, at least in these few passages, it clearly demonstrates that more than 17 differences exist in Isaiah 53 between the Dead Sea Scrolls and the King James Version.

[1] Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the LORD revealed?
[2] For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor he hath comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire ourselves.
[3] He is despised and rejected of men and man of sorrows, and he knows grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; and despised him, and we esteemed him not.