27 February 2011

the story of the scrolls by geza vermes

i've always been interested in the dead sea scrolls, as an archaeologist and a christian. although people would talk about the scrolls in very general terms, i never heard any specifics mentioned about their contents, or any books discussing them. almost 2 months ago chuck and i signed up for a new testament class (which we have since dropped - the teacher was the type who assigns reading and then repeats the reading without adding any depth or perspective). the class did remind me of my interest in the scrolls, which was good timing as it turns out. besides books with translations of the scrolls, the library had a book released last spring, the story of the scrolls, that gives an overview of the discovery of the scrolls, their context and contents, plus the scholarly work done up to the present.

vermes' review of the translation work and publication makes it clear why i've never heard specifics: very little was published until the late 90s. archaeological work was done at qumran where the majority of the scrolls were found, and that's even more embarrassing as nothing has been published in the 20 years since the work ended. artifacts have even gone missing. not very professional, as a major part of archaeology is preserving what we find and publishing the information for the public. it's a shame that sharing such an exciting find has taken over 50 years. but it does mean that there are books for me to read, now that i've come back around to the topic.

despite the academic presentation and dense language, i found the story of the scrolls an interesting read. i'm glad i read it before taking on any translations of the scrolls - now i have more context to understand them. some of the scrolls are copies of biblical texts but many deal with community rules and non-biblical topics. the scrolls fall in the time period between the old and new testaments, and vermes explains the historical background and religious groups present for that time period. he seems to present theories objectively, pointing out pros and cons of each. the book was very thorough and a great introduction to the dead sea scrolls as it not only introduces the scrolls themselves put places them, and the people who kept them, in the historic and cultural landscape. i'd definitely recommend it if you're interested in the dead sea scrolls.

next up in my serious reading queue is the complete dead sea scrolls in english by the same author, to be followed by josephus' history of the same time period. that ought to take the rest of the year. good thing i can read more than one book at a time......

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