The "Great Isaiah Scroll" found among the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Image Soure: Wikimedia Commons
Did the early church change the Old Testament in order to make it look like Jesus fulfilled messianic prophecies? Or were these prophecies (as we have them now) contained in the Old Testament before the time of Christ? In this post, I will focus on the evidence that these messianic prophecies were in existence prior to the time of Christ and were not merely the invention of the early church.
1. THE SEPTUAGINT (LXX):
It is true that we only have fragments of the Septuagint (LXX) that date before the time of Christ. There are only a handful of these manuscripts and (so far as I have been able to establish) they all contain portions of the Pentateuch (except one which has the apocryphal book known as The Letter of Jeremiah). So it is fair to say that the manuscript evidence for the LXX does not favor the use of the LXX in establishing the veracity of messianic prophecies.
*A list of LXX manuscripts can be found here.
However, I am only currently aware of one passage where the LXX is an issue and that is Isaiah 7:14. (There may be others.) In Isaiah 7:14, the LXX is explicit that this passage refers to a virgin birth. The Hebrew Masoretic Text (MT), on the other hand, is not so explicit. Nonetheless, the virgin birth can be logically argued to be implied in the MT. More pertinent to the question at hand is Justin Martyr's Dialogue with Trypho (a Jew). This dialogue is dated to c.160 A.D. At least twice Justin refers to the LXX as the opinion of the 70 elders of the Jews and there is no hint that he is having to defend the Jewish origin of the LXX--even though Justin's dialogue is quite lengthy and discusses all of Trypho's many objections at length (Coxe, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol.1: p.233, 234, 241; or you may find a document containing just the Dialogue here."
2. THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS FOUND AT QUMRAN (DSS):
While it is true that most of the manuscripts from the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) are fragmentary, there are two very important exceptions: the Great Scroll of Isaiah and the Great Psalms Scroll (Abegg, Martin G., et al, The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible, p.iv). And since Isaiah and Psalms are two of the most important sources of messianic prophecies, these are important exceptions indeed. The Great Isaiah Scroll, which is very nearly complete, dates to c. 125 B.C.
Additionally: "Around twenty additional copies of the Book of Isaiah were also found at Qumran (one more copy was discovered further south at Wadi Muraba'at), as well as six pesharim (commentaries) based on the book; Isaiah is also frequently quoted in other scrolls (a literary and religious phenomenon also present in New Testament writings)." There are also 37 manuscripts of the Psalms and 30 of Deuteronomy in the DSS collection.
Isaiah 53 is the most important of these messianic prophecies. I will attach photos of the corresponding pages from The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible. (Note that the footnotes describe variations between this manuscript, the LXX and the MT. Very helpful in answering the questions at hand.) I recommend that you obtain a copy of this book for examining any of the messianic prophecies that skeptics raise questions about. (See link below.)
3. THE MASORETIC TEXT (MT):
The Masoretic Text is the text that has been preserved by the Jews themselves. This Jewish textual tradition began c. 100 A.D., largely in response to the Christian use of the LXX. As Blaise Pascal noted in his Pensees:
To give faith to the Messiah, it was necessary there should have been precedent prophecies, and that these should be conveyed by persons above suspicion, diligent, faithful, unusually zealous, and known to all the world. To accomplish all this, God chose this carnal people, to whom He entrusted the prophecies which foretell the Messiah as a deliverer, and as a dispenser of those carnal goods which this people loved. And thus they have had an extraordinary passion for their prophets, and, in sight of the whole world, have had charge of these books which foretell their Messiah, assuring all nations that He should come, and in the way foretold in the books, which they held open to the whole world. Yet this people, deceived by the poor and ignominious advent of the Messiah, have been His most cruel enemies. So that they, the people least open to suspicion in the world of favouring us, the most strict and most zealous that can be named for their law and their prophets, have kept the books incorrupt. Hence those who have rejected and crucified Jesus Christ, who has been to them an offence, are those who have charge of the books which testify of Him, and state that He will be an offence and rejected. Therefore they have shown it was He by rejecting Him, and He has been alike proved both by the righteous Jews who received Him, and by the unrighteous who rejected Him, both facts having been foretold. *Pascal, Blaise. Pensées Public Domain Books. Kindle Edition, 2006. p. 161-162.
4. ANCIENT JEWISH LITERATURE THAT REFERS TO MESSIANIC PROPHECY:
In general, it is important to note that messianic expectations were widespread among the Jews--not just among the Christians. Josephus notes this. It is clearly seen in the DSS to be true of the community at Qumran. It is seen in the Enochian tradition. And it is clearly seen in the Rabbinic (Pharisaic) tradition. (For more detailed information, see Bird, Michael F. Are You the One Who Is To Come?)
In the appendix to his classic 2 volume work, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Alfred Edersheim, who was born an Orthodox Jew but became a Christian at the age of 20, identified over 400 passages from the Old Testament that were referred to as messianic within ancient rabbinic literature.
*You can buy The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible at Amazon.
*For a ton of resources, see "Resources for the Study of Messianic Prophecy."