Reclaiming the Dead Sea Scrolls: The History of Judaism, the Background of Christianity, the Lost Library of Qumran
This in-depth examination of the Dead Sea Scrolls reveals their true heart: a missing link between ancient and modern Judaism. Because the Dead Sea Scrolls include the earliest known manuscripts of the Bible as well as Jewish documents composed just after the Hebrew biblical period, they contain a gold mine of information about the history of Judaism and the early roots and background of Christianity. Schiffman refocuses the controversy from who controls access to the Scrolls today to what the Scrolls tell us about the past. He challenges the prevailing notion of earlier Scrolls scholars that the Dead Sea Scrolls were proto-Christian, demonstrating instead their thorough-going Jewish character and their importance for understanding the history of Judaism.
Schiffman shows us that the Scrolls library in the Dead Sea caves was gathered by a breakaway priestly sect that left Jerusalem in the aftermath of the Maccabean revolt. They were angry that their fellow Sadducees in the Temple were content to accommodate themselves to the victorious Hasmonaean rulers who had embraced the views of the Pharisees - forerunners of the talmudic rabbis. This loyal opposition, a band of pious Sadducee priests, retreated to the desert, taking up residence at Qumran. From this group, the Dead Sea sect developed.
In addition to its own writings, the sect gathered the texts of related groups, placing them in its library along with numerous biblical and apocryphal texts. Those other works, some previously known, others unknown, were preserved here in the original Hebrew or Aramaic. Numerous prayer texts, either from the Dead Sea sect or other Jewish groups, were also preserved.
Reclaiming the Dead Sea Scrolls puts into perspective the triumph of rabbinic Judaism after the Jewish military defeat by Rome. Readers will appreciate this lost chapter of Judaism, not only for its historical insights, but also for its parallels with modern Judaism on such issues as religious pluralism, sectarianism, Jewish identity, and spiritual questing.
Finally, Schiffman maintains that a true understanding of the Scrolls can improve relations between today's Jewish and Christian communities. Across the centuries, the Scrolls speak to us about our common roots, showing precisely how Christianity emerged from currents in ancient Judaism - currents that were much more widespread in that period than we previously imagined.
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RECLAIMING THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS by Lawrence H. Schiffman While almost certainly the fault of the marketing arm of the publisher rather than of the author, it is a bit disappointing that the dust jacket promises a Forward by Chaim Potok (in brighter lettering than the author’s name) that turns out to be a mere one and a quarter pages, and merely baldly restates the thesis of the book that the Dead Sea Scrolls were not the library of a community foreshadowing Christianity, but the library of a community firmly within the Jewish tradition. To get to the substance of the book itself, there is some disappointment there, also. It appears to be a very good draft of a not-quite-edited book. There are often shifts between the documents found at Qumran (the Dead Sea Scrolls) and those found elsewhere at other times. Although the documents are named when being discussed, the general reader is often left to ponder the sources, the origins, and the relative dates of the documents. At the beginning, there are several tables that illustrate in detail points that could have been made in summary. For example, there is a table setting forth the age of various Dead Sea Scrolls as calibrated by Carbon-14 dating. The table even includes the number of samples of particular scrolls tested, although the meaning of those numbers is not apparent to a non-expert reader, and not explained by the author—yet there is an entire column of data. (p. 32). On the next page is a graphic showing that the Carbon-14 dating of the scrolls was not that far off from the dating performed by paleographic scholars or explicit dates set forth in the scroll itself. Whether the table distorts the statistics would not be apparent to any non-expert, so the point would just have been better made by authorial assertion. On the very next page is a pie chart illustrating the percentage distribution of the Dead Sea Scrolls among Biblical materials, sectarian material peculiar to the Qumran community, non-sectarian material, and unidentified material. Why the percentages are important is not disclosed. Moreover, it is not even clear whether the percentages refer to the number of separate documents or to the bulk of the documents—in other words, do the percentages refer to the number of separate works or to the number (and size) of pages? A table that would be helpful is a list of every book discussed, where it was found, the language in which it was written, and the approximate date of its composition. For example, in Chapter 19 the author discusses “The Assumption of Moses” in a single brief paragraph. This text is not mentioned anywhere else in the entire book. A non-specialist is in the dark as to what this esoteric text may be, or any other information that would shed light on its significance. Indeed, the author adds to the puzzle when he states that the text is “written in either Hebrew or Aramaic.” Can it be that the author does not know in which language it is written? Is there more than one text of it, written in different languages? We do not know. The author tells us, unhelpfully, that the text was written “most probably around the turn of the era.” (p. 321). Which era? The want of an editor’s pen is noted in unnecessary repetitions. On pages 276 the Qumran community’s limits of travel on the Sabbath are set forth: “..on the Sabbath one was permitted to walk only one thousand cubits (about 1,500 feet or 450 meters) beyond the city limits." But the second text notes an exception: in order to pasture an animal, one could go another thousand cubits…” A few pages later (pages 282-83), the same information is given: “The sect had two Sabbath limits: One permitted a person to walk only one thousand cubits beyond the city; if one were pasturing an animal, one could go an additional thousand.” Similarly, one is frustrated when the author quotes a passage that is unambiguous in its meaning, and then unnecessarily paraphrases the passage: “’He (the king) shall choose for himself from them (those he has mustered) one thousand from...
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Reclaiming the Dead Sea Scrolls (Anchor Bible Reference Library) by Lawrence H. Schiffman (1995)
Scholars Scrolls and Scandals
The Archaeology of Qumran
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