Mystery and Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls
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Mystery and Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls

By (author) Hershel Shanks

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"Illuminating . . . absolutely fascinating." --"The New York Times" "First-rate. . . . An important addition to the Dead Sea Scrolls literature. . . . Shanks' compelling narrative of their discovery and contents . . . truly does justice to the material." --"Archaeology" Fifty years ago, in a cave near Qumran on the Dead Sea, a Bedouin shepherd made a remarkable discovery--a cache of scrolls, in Hebrew and Aramaic, dating roughly from the time of Jesus. Here, in hundreds of literary fragments, was a window into an unknown world--the world where Christianity and modern Judaism were born. Everyone has heard about the scrolls, but what, exactly, are their contents? Who wrote them? What do they reveal? Do they undermine the authority of the Hebrew Bible? Do they shed new light on Jesus, his sayings and his sacraments? Until recently, only a handful of experts could answer these questions, for only they had access to the scrolls. Now, thanks to the liberating efforts of scholars such as Hershel Shanks, the scrolls are the property of us all, their mystery at long last yielding to meaning. Here, in arresting detail, is the most complete assessment of the scrolls to date. It is a history of their discovery and dissemination, a summary of their scholarly interpretation, and a thoughtful meditation on their ultimate significance. Above all, it is an act of generosity--a great scholar's gift to the common understanding of the most important ancient texts found in modern times.

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  • Paperback | 246 pages
  • 132.1 x 202.7 x 15.7mm | 182.15g
  • 30 Jan 2000
  • Random House USA Inc
  • Random House Inc
  • New York
  • English
  • Vintage Books ed
  • 5 MAPS/CHARTS AND 53 ILLUSTRAT
  • 0679780890
  • 9780679780892
  • 1,385,143

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Author Information

Hershel Shanks is founder and editor of Biblical Archeaology Review. He lives in Washington, D.C.

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Review quote

"First-rate. ... An important addition to the Dead Sea Scrolls literature. ... Shanks' compelling narrative of their discovery and contents ... truly justice to the material".-- ARCHAEOLOGY

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Review text

A first-rate distillation of many scholars' work over the past five decades on the century's most important, and in many ways most controversial, archaeological find. Shanks, editor of the Biblical Archaeology Review, as well as of the collection Understanding the Dead Sea Scrolls (1992), has played a key role in making public many of the 800 scroll fragments, written between 250 B.C. and 68 A.D., found in Qumran, in Israel's Judean desert. He illustrates how important the scrolls are in understanding Judaism in the late Second Temple period, the era when Jesus and Christianity emerged. He also describes how the scrolls have been used to clarify textual confusions in other ancient editions of the Hebrew Bible (they include one complete book, Isaiah, and excerpts from every other except Esther). Concerning the community that actually lived in Qumran, Shanks carefully marshalls the evidence both for and against the hypothesis that they were Essenes, a close-knit, communitarian, ascetic, and fatalistic Jewish sect that kept a separate calendar from their brethren elsewhere, before making clear his own belief that Qumran was likely an Essene community. He deftly sifts through the evidence, and clearly describes many areas of continuing controversy in the study of the scrolls. Admirably, when there is insufficient evidence to settle a point, or conflicting evidence, he says so. On the question of whether or not the scrolls belonged to the Qumran community or originated in the Temple in Jerusalem, he notes that, ultimately, "we are left with mere speculation. Anyone can play the game. The uncertainties will remain - until, perhaps, new evidence surfaces." Such scholarly judiciousness, combined with a succinct, accessible style, typifies Shanks's thoughtful, balanced, yet at times also colorfully anecdotal approach. When dealing with these difficult texts (which are, as Shanks notes, "fragmentary, elliptical, and written in arcane, symbolic, and metaphorical language") one could hardly ask for a better guide. (Kirkus Reviews)

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Back cover copy

Fifty years ago, in a cave near Qumran on the Dead Sea, a bedouin shepherd made a remarkable discovery -- a cache of scrolls, in Hebrew and Aramaic, dating roughly from the time of Jesus. Here, in hundreds of literary fragments, was a window into an unknown world -- the world where Christianity and modern Judaism were born.Everyone has heard about the scrolls, but what, exactly, are their contents? Who wrote them? What do they reveal? Do they undermine the authority of the Hebrew Bible? Do they shed new light on Jesus, his sayings and his sacraments? Until recently, only a handful of experts could answer these questions, for only they had access to the scrolls. Now, thanks to the liberating efforts of scholars such as Hershel Shanks, the scrolls are the property of us all, their mystery at long last yielding to meaning. Here, in arresting detail, is the most complete assessment of the scrolls to date. It is a history of their discovery and dissemination, a summary of their scholarly interpretation, and a thoughtful mediation on their ultimate significance. Above all, it is an act of generosity -- a great scholar's gift to the common understanding of the most important ancient texts found in modern times.

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Flap copy

"Illuminating . . . absolutely fascinating." --"The New York Times "First-rate. . . . An important addition to the Dead Sea Scrolls literature. . . . Shanks' compelling narrative of their discovery and contents . . . truly does justice to the material." --"Archaeology Fifty years ago, in a cave near Qumran on the Dead Sea, a Bedouin shepherd made a remarkable discovery--a cache of scrolls, in Hebrew and Aramaic, dating roughly from the time of Jesus. Here, in hundreds of literary fragments, was a window into an unknown world--the world where Christianity and modern Judaism were born. Everyone has heard about the scrolls, but what, exactly, are their contents? Who wrote them? What do they reveal? Do they undermine the authority of the Hebrew Bible? Do they shed new light on Jesus, his sayings and his sacraments? Until recently, only a handful of experts could answer these questions, for only they had access to the scrolls. Now, thanks to the liberating efforts of scholars such as Hershel Shanks, the scrolls are the property of us all, their mystery at long last yielding to meaning. Here, in arresting detail, is the most complete assessment of the scrolls to date. It is a history of their discovery and dissemination, a summary of their scholarly interpretation, and a thoughtful meditation on their ultimate significance. Above all, it is an act of generosity--a great scholar's gift to the common understanding of the most important ancient texts found in modern times.

show more