The Mystery and Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls

Shanks, Hershel

Published by Random House, 1998
ISBN 10: 0679457577 / ISBN 13: 9780679457572
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Synopsis: 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 understanding.

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

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Title: The Mystery and Meaning of the Dead Sea ...
Publisher: Random House
Publication Date: 1998
Binding: Hardcover
Book Condition: Used: Good

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