The Archaeology of Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls/The Pesharim and Qumran History: Chaos or Consensus?

By Atkinson, Kenneth | Journal of Biblical Literature, Summer 2004 | Go to article overview

The Archaeology of Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls/The Pesharim and Qumran History: Chaos or Consensus?


Atkinson, Kenneth, Journal of Biblical Literature


The Archaeology of Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls, by Jodi Magness. Studies in the Dead Sea Scrolls and Related Literature. Grand Rapids/Cambridge, UK: Eerdmans, 2002. Pp. xlvi + 238. $18.00/£12.99 (paper). ISBN 0802826873.

The Pesharim and Qumran History: Chaos or Consensus? by James H. Charlesworth. With Appendixes by Lidija Novakovic. Grand Rapids/Cambridge, UK: Eerdmans, 2002. Pp. xiv + 171. $20.00/£12.47 (paper). ISBN 0802839886.

The two books examined in this review, both written by leading authorities in Qumran studies, explore the historical background of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the archaeological site of Khirbet Qumran. Informed by a judicious use of textual evidence from the Dead Sea Scrolls, Jodi Magness's book, The Archaeology of Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls, seeks to reconstruct the history of the Qumran settlement primarily through an analysis of its archaeological remains. James H. Charlesworth's study, The Pesharim and Qumran History, examines whether historical episodes are reflected in the pesharim and if there is currently a consensus regarding the most likely reconstruction of Qumran history in light of these documents. Archaeological analysis not only plays a central role in Charlesworth's reconstruction of Khirbet Qumran's occupational history, but to some extent provides the basis for his analysis of the pesharim and related Dead Sea Scrolls that likely reflect historical events. Because Magness and Charlesworth present new analyses or interpretations of Khirbet Qumran's occupational history that substantially impact our understanding of the Dead Sea Scrolls, this review will examine some of the most significant issues raised in these two publications and their possible implications for Qumran studies.

The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the excavation of Khirbet Qumran have greatly enriched our understanding of second Temple judaism. For several decades, scholars wishing to understand the history of these documents were denied access to the majority of the Dead Sea Scrolls, especially those from Cave 4, as well as their photographic plates. Oxford don Geza Venues, writing at the time of the thirtieth anniversary of the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, warned that the lack of publication of the Qumran texts "is likely to become the academic scandal par excellence of the twentieth century" (Geza Vermes, The Dead Sea Scrolls: Qumran in Perspective [London: Collins, 1977], 24). By the late 1980s, the continued denial of access to the complete corpus of Dead Sea Scrolls became an international cause celebre. Following a protracted media campaign, the unpublished Dead Sea Scrolls were made accessible to scholars in 1991 (for a detailed account of these events, see Neil Asher Silberman, The Hidden Scrolls: Christianity, judaism, and the War for the Dead Sea Scrolls [New York: Grosset/Putnam, 1994]). Under the able leadership of Emmanuel Tov, editor-in-chief of the Discoveries in the judaean Desert series, the number of translators was increased. Since 1992,Tov has supervised the publication of the majority of DJD volumes, twenty-nine of which were released between 1992 and 2002 as compared with eight that appeared during the first forty years of the project (for these figures, and information on the entire series, which will comprise thirty-eight volumes with a separate introductory volume with indexes, see E. Tov, "The Discoveries in the Judaean Desert Series: Histoiy and System of Presentation," in DJD 39,1-25). The delegates at the 2001 annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature celebrated the immanent completion of the DJD series, which will also include several reeditions of previous volumes. The major problem for Qumran scholars now is merely keeping abreast of the rapidly increasing number of publications, most of which are in some manner indebted to the DJD series; the list of publications is updated weekly on the Hebrew University's Orion Center for the Study of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Associated Literature Web Site (http://orion. …

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