The Dead Sea Scrolls may well be the most important archaeological discovery of the twentieth century; it is certainly among the top discoveries in any case. It has shed important light on one of the most influential and formative documents of the world, namely the collection of writings which we have come to know as the Hebrew Bible, or the Old Testament. A thousand years older than the next-oldest copies we have of these documents, this treasure trove has delighted, tantalised, and irritated scholars, clerics, and other interested parties since their chance discover some half-century ago.
`Preserving parts of all but one biblical book, the scrolls confirm that the text of the Old Testament as it has been handed down through the ages is largely correct. Yet, they also reveal numerous important differences.
(Do you know which book is not included? For the answer, see the bottom of this article.)
This book presents material from all 220 of the biblical scrolls (there are hundreds of other scrolls that were not biblical, i.e., not copies of biblical texts). These were newly translated by Eugene Ulrich, Peter Flint, and Martin Abegg, who hold important positions in the continuing research and scholarship about the scrolls. These editors have also added commentary to help illuminate further the textual variations between the scrolls and the texts we have today.
`At the time of Jesus and rabbi Hillel--the origins of Christianity and rabbinic Judaism--there was, and there was not, a Bible. This critical period, and the nature of the Bible in that period, have been freshly illuminated by the biblical Dead Sea Scrolls. There was a Bible in the sense that there were certain sacred books widely recognised by Jews as foundational to their religion and supremely authoritative for religious practice. There was not, however, a Bible in the sense that the leaders of the general Jewish community had specifically considered, debated, and definitively decided the full range of which books were supremely and permanently authoritative and which ones--no matter how sublime, useful, or beloved--were not.
The editors first discuss what a Bible is, and what constitutes the arrangements, order, and contents -- the Jewish Tanakh and the Protestant Old Testament contain the same materials, arranged differently; the Catholic Old Testament follows the same order as the Protestant but has other books (in whole or part), which hearkens back to early biblical development and whether the scriptures follow rabbinical council decisions or the Septuagint.
The text is heavily annotated, with verse numbers, explanatory notes, gaps and fuzzy sections due to scroll problems, variant readings, and footnote annotations which include scroll identification (cave, scroll number, book, etc.) and ancient biblical texts (Masoretic text, Septuagint, and Samaritan pentateuch).
This is an incredibly useful text for those who are interested in what information the Dead Sea Scrolls have to bear on the actual text of the Bible. Here for the first time is a collection of the biblical scrolls laid out in the traditional Biblical order, which enables the average reader as well as the scholar and cleric to follow the texts with ease.
To answer the question above, the missing book among the biblical scrolls is the book of Esther. Why would Esther be missing? The editors give some possibilities:
`First, the fact that the festival of Purim was a later addition, not mentioned in the Books of Moses, might have caused the Dead Sea Scrolls community to reject the book. Second, the mere fact that the story concerns the marriage of Esther--a Jew--to a Persian king was likely repugnant to the groups conservative sensibilities. Third, the book itself makes no mention of God whatsoever. Finally, the emphasis on retaliation in the final chapters of Esther is contrary to the teachings of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
A truly fascinating and useful text.