The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Bible

By Finley, Thomas J. | Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, March 2013 | Go to article overview

The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Bible


Finley, Thomas J., Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society


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The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Bible. By James C. VanderKam. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012, xiv + 188 pp., $25.00 paper.

James VanderKam has written numerous works on the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) and related literature. Many readers may be familiar with his excellent The Dead Sea Scrolls Today (2d ed.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010). Being an expert on Second Temple Jewish literature, VanderKam treats works such as Enoch and Jubilees as well as some apocryphal books. Such writings fit within his desire to show that certain works that did not make it into the Hebrew Bible were nonetheless considered authoritative in earlier times. Moreover, they also included interpretations of biblical books. The Book of Giants, for example, was considered authoritative by the Manicheans and also "belongs in a tradition that attempted to justify God's seemingly extreme act of sending the flood and did so" with reference to Gen 6:1-4 (p. 83).

After a general overview of the biblical scrolls and their value for the textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible, VanderKam explicates various ways in which other scrolls interpret biblical texts, including the pesharim (commentaries) and other types of interpretation. The book devotes a chapter to how the interpreters from Qumran viewed the authority of various works, whether those were or were not included in the Hebrew Bible. In his discussion about the DSS and the canon of the OT he finds more variety of viewpoints among the DSS and roughly contemporary sources than the uniformity emphasized by R. Beckwith (The Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985]). A separate chapter is devoted to selected books known prior to the discovery of the DSS that did not make it into the Hebrew Bible but may have been considered authoritative by the Qumran community. Two notable examples are Jubilees and The Wisdom of Jesus Ben Sira (Ecclesiasticus).

A chapter on the Essenes, the Sadducees, and the Pharisees considers these groups in relation to the NT and to early Judaism. In his final two chapters VanderKam discusses the NT and the DSS. There he treats first the Gospels and then Acts and Paul. As his opening move he disavows the thought that any of the DSS are Christian texts, thus rejecting the views of B. Thiering (The Gospels and Qumran [Sydney: Theological Explorations, 1981]) and R. Eisenman (James the Brother of Jesus [New York: Viking, 1997]). The headings in the chapter on the Gospels include "Messiahs" (esp. a priestly Messiah and a Davidic Messiah), "The Works of the Messiah" (esp. the issue of the Messiah raising the dead), "Scriptural Interpretation" (esp. Isa 40:1), "Legal Matters" (esp. healing or rescuing on the Sabbath), and "Rebuking" (esp. church practices compared with Qumran practices). For Acts 2-4 he shows how both the early Christian community and the Qumran community held goods in common, and he notes interesting connections between Pentecost and Sinai. He points out that the DSS help us to understand how Paul interpreted Scripture and what he meant by "the works of the Law." The textually questioned passage of 2 Cor 6:14-7:1 comes under scrutiny because of parallels in language with wording from some DSS. VanderKam concludes about it that "ideas and terms now best known from the scrolls and related literature were more widely available for use in the first century C.E. than in Essene communities alone" (p. 163).

VanderKam is careful to let the reader know through a footnote where to find arguments for the views that he disputes. He is also meticulous in his choice of language, sometimes almost unnecessarily so. Is it really helpful to enclose the word biblical within quote marks every time it refers to a Qumran manuscript? That reflects his view that the term applies to a later perspective than the period of the DSS. It could make sense, though, to define a scroll as biblical in the sense that it contains the text of what is now in the Bible. …

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