The Mystery and Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls

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9780679780892: The Mystery and Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls

"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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Review:

Since 1947, scholars from all over the world have hotly debated the meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The 200 biblical manuscripts found hidden in the caves of Qumran contain esoteric biblical commentaries, calendrical texts, and apocalyptic manuscripts similar to what can be found in the last pages of the bible. Translation of the scrolls was not an easy task. Much of the language was in ancient Hebrew or Aramaic, written by a sect of Judaism that had broken off from the Hellenistic ways of the Pharisees and Sadducees. The remarkable findings reveal a community of Jews who rejected the archaic teachings of the Temple, set up their own calendar, pondered the meaning of time, and wrote down their views of life after death.

Author Hershel Shanks reviews a great number of translations and histories of the period, ranging from ancient historians such as Josephus to contemporary scholars such as Emanuel Tov. He does this to get a better feel for the period of Judaism from the rulership of Herod the Great to the destruction of the First Temple by the Roman Empire, and in order to understand the philosophy that influenced the movement of the Essenes--who are generally recognized as the authors of the scrolls from Qumran. Shanks argues that the key to understanding the scrolls lies within the pages of the period of Judaism that was "remarkably variegated," because it will explain the cultural fragmentation that led to the evolution of thought that manifested itself into the scrolls. This accessible account is highly readable and a great introduction to an area of study that is contentious to this day. Even Shanks recognizes his limitations by humbly concluding, "Gradually, step by step there will be enough for a more convincing synthesis than can be presented today. In the meantime, much work remains to be done." --Jeremy Storey

From the Back Cover:

Praise for Understanding the Dead Sea Scrolls

"It is diYcult to overstate the strengths and overall usefulness of this volume. . . . Shanks has done excellent work of selecting authors and themes, balancing viewpoints and situating the book at a level that will be of value not only to the educated general reader but also to those with a good background in biblical studies."
--Menorah Review

"A superb popular introduction."
--The New Republic

"A fascinating, readable anthology of articles, heavily spiced with controversy."
--Jerusalem Post

"Riveting."
--Business Week

Praise for Jerusalem: An Archaeological Biography

"Where was the original Jerusalem? How did King David conquer it? Where was Solomon's Temple and what, if anything, remains of it today? What exactly is the Western Wall, the holiest spot in Judaism, believed by many to be the actual retaining wall of the First Temple? Where did Jesus ride his donkey when He arrived at the Holy City for the last time? The issues [Mr. Shanks] addresses will grip any mind imbued with a sense of history."
--The New York Times

"A stunning achievement!"
--Lawrence Stager, Harvard University

"Solomon's stables were built ten centuries after the great king died; Gethsemane was not a garden but a cave. [Mr. Shanks] reveals that and more as he traces the history--in carved stone, molded clay and wrought iron--of this endlessly intriguing city. A lucid text and abundant photos, archaeological plans and architectural drawings of sites cherished by three major religions make Jerusalem as accessible to the layman as it is to the scholar."
--People magazine

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