Magazine article Artforum International

Master Narrative: Michael Penn on the Dead Sea Scrolls

Magazine article Artforum International

Master Narrative: Michael Penn on the Dead Sea Scrolls

Article excerpt

IN 1947, BEDOUIN discovered the first of eleven caves near the Dead Sea's western shore that contained Jewish documents written between the second century BCE and the first century CE. In total, some thirty thousand fragments from some nine hundred different scrolls were recovered. In the sixty-one years since, the Dead Sea Scrolls have revolutionized our knowledge of ancient Judaism and enriched our understanding of the diverse cultural context out of which both rabbinic Judaism and early Christianity emerged. The scrolls preserve many writings with which we were already familiar, but often in forms that vary significantly from their previously known versions. Particularly important in this regard are the more than two hundred scrolls containing sections of the Tanakh (known to Christians as the Old Testament). These biblical scrolls predate most other copies of the Tanakh by more than a thousand years, and comparisons between them and medieval versions of the Bible help scholars to better understand in what ways and how often scribes changed the books they were copying. Because the scrolls often preserve the biblical text in a form closer to its original writing, they have directly affected the content of most contemporary Bible translations.

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To commemorate the sixtieth anniversary of the state of Israel, the Israel Museum in Jerusalem presents "Swords into Plowshares: The Isaiah Scroll and Its Message of Peace" (May 18-August 15), an exhibition centered around the Great Isaiah Scroll, the largest of the Dead Sea biblical manuscripts. …

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