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The Mystery and Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls
ISBN 0679780890 / 9780679780892 / 0-679-78089-0
Publisher Random House Inc
List price $14.00
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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 [via]