The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Origins of the Bible

By Eugene Ulrich | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2
The Bible in the Making:
The Scriptures at Qumran

The first statement to make about the Bible at Qumran is that we should probably not think of a “Bible” in the first century B.C.E. or the first century C.E., at Qumran or elsewhere. There were collections of sacred scripture, of course, but no Bible in our developed sense of the term. Then, just as now, the precise list of books which were considered “Scripture” varied from group to group. When we say the word “Bible,” there are at least three shapes to the idea — presuming that Christians would add a number of books (the New Testament) that Jews would not, and presuming that Catholics would add a number of books (the Apocrypha or Deuterocanonicals) that Protestants would not, and Greek Orthodox would add more.

In what follows I will attempt to offer a sharper and more accurate understanding of the Scriptures at Qumran, or our Bible in the shape it had during the Qumran period, from two perspectives. The first is the external shape of the collection, or collections, of Scripture in the late Second Temple period in Judaism, at the time of the birth of Christianity. What did the collection of the unrolled books of the Scriptures look like? The second is an internal perspective: once the scrolls are unrolled and read, what do we learn from their contents? What are the results — as we can see them now — of the analysis that my colleagues and I have done on the biblical scrolls so far? I will then conclude with some reflections upon the significance of these new data for a sharper view of our Bible today.

I must preface this discussion with a few preliminary remarks. First, here I am speaking primarily as a historian. I hasten to add that I think that all

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