The Mystery and Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls

The Mystery and Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls

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Fifty years have passed since the world-shaking discovery of the first Dead Sea Scrolls in a desert cave by bedouin shepherds. Now, after decades of controversy surrounding their dissemination and interpretation, here is the fullest possible account of what they reveal--how they challenge our understanding of the origins of Christianity, shake the authority of the Hebrew Bible, and provide a new perspective on Judaism at the time of Jesus. Although almost everyone has heard of the Dead Sea Scrolls, few people can explain what they say or why they are significant. In The Mystery and Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Hershel Shanks, the distinguished editor of Biblical Archaeology Review, gives a vivid account of their religious and historical context and their dissemination, meaning, and implications. Of the eight hundred manuscripts that were eventually found, fewer than a dozen were more or less intact. The rest were mere fragments, many no bigger than a fingernail. The scrolls contain a vast array of bewildering new material: unknown psalms, biblical commentaries, calendrical texts, and apocalyptic manuscripts, many of which seem to foreshadow Christian doctrine. Over two hundred biblical manuscripts were hidden in the Qumran caves, some dramatically different from accounts in the Bible. The Dead Sea Scrolls provide unique insight into the turbulent religious world at the time of Jesus, when Jewish society was richly varied and hotly contentious--so much so that some scholars now refer to Judaisms, rather than to a single Judaism. This is a clear, definitive account, from beginning to end, for the layperson as well as the scholar, of the mystery and meaning of the scrolls--a model of insight and more

Product details

  • Hardback | 384 pages
  • 136 x 214 x 24mm | 339.99g
  • Random House USA Inc
  • Random House Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • 80 b&w photographs
  • 0679457577
  • 9780679457572

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)show more

About Hershel Shanks

Hershel Shanks is founder and editor of Biblical Archaeology Review and Bible Review and editor of Understanding the Dead Sea Scrolls, a collection of essays on the controversy surrounding the interpretation and dissemination of the scrolls. He is the author of Judaism in Stone: The Archaeology of Ancient Synagogues and Jerusalem: An Archaeological Biography. In 1991 he was the first to publish excerpts of the Dead Sea Scroll fragments, which had been secreted by a small coterie of scholars who then controlled more