The Dead Sea Scrolls after Fifty Years: A Comprehensive Assessment

By S, David | Shofar, Summer 2002 | Go to article overview

The Dead Sea Scrolls after Fifty Years: A Comprehensive Assessment


S, David, Shofar


edited by Peter W. Flint and James C. Vanderkam. Leiden, Boston, Köln: Brill, 1998-99. 2 vols. 1360 pp. + plates. $196.00

The first of the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered near the ruins of Qumran in 1947. (For a brief overview of the Scrolls, see my "Teaching the Dead Sea Scrolls," Shofar 14 [1996]: 76-95].) The fifty-year mark since the initial discoveries of the Scrolls is indeed an appropriate time for an assessment of where things stand. Photographs of all the texts are now available; important tools have appeared (such as the Encyclopedia of the Dead Sea Scrolls, edited by L. Schiffman and J. Vanderkam); and many early controversies have died down, leaving more freely drawn debates about the impact of the Scrolls. These two large volumes, which feature close to fifty scholars, are therefore a welcome addition to works on the Scrolls. In sweeping fashion, the volumes present critical surveys of scholarship that provide not only summarizing statements of where things stand but also directions for future study. While the volumes touch on standard and expected topics such as the impact of the Scrolls on biblical studies, there are also a number of entries on topics that are rarely mentioned in books on the Scrolls, including photographic and direct digital acquisition, imaging radar, and preservation techniques. Obviously, a brief review cannot begin to do justice to so much scholarly discussion. I will simply highlight two of the articles with special interest to those involved in Jewish Studies, before providing a complete listing of the entries in the two volumes.

One noteworthy aspect of these volumes is the number of female scholars involved. (By way of contrast, a recent review of the Encyclopedia of the Dead Sea Scrolls notes that only one female scholar is named as having been involved in that project as an editor or adviser. See Biblical Archaeology Review 27/1 [2001]: 62.) It is also pleasing to find an entire entry, by Eileen Schuller, on "Women in the Dead Sea Scrolls" (2.117-144), a subject that is often ignored. (In her first sentence, Schuller writes: "That the two components `Women' and `Dead Sea Scrolls' can be discussed together in any meaningful or productive way has not always been as obvious as the title of this essay might suggest.") Schuller discusses methodological issues relating to the topic of women; various passages in the Scrolls that specifically mention women; archaeological evidence relating to women, especially the cemeteries around Qumran; and prospects for future study. In regard to the latter issue, Schuller notes that the study of women in the Scrolls lags behind the "burgeoning and increasingly methodologically sophisticated feminist scholarship on women in classical antiquity, the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, Second Temple Judaism and the Mishnah" (2.142). She suggests that since editions of the Scrolls are, or will soon be, available to the non-specialist, an opportunity exists to bring a feminist-critical methodology to the reading of the Scrolls, correcting the notion that androcentric texts and historical reality are necessarily mirror-images.

An entire section of the second volume is dedicated to the Scrolls and Judaism. Jewish Studies scholars will find Stephen Goranson's essay in the section, entitled "Others and Intra-Jewish Polemic as Reflected in Qumran Texts" (2:534-551) to be of particular interest. Goranson notes that all scholars agree the Scrolls reflect some disagreements between and among ancient Jewish groups. He focuses on the terminology used in the Scrolls for Jewish "others," and discusses the polemic concerns in the Scrolls. As Goranson notes, this discussion has possible implications for discerning echoes of intra-Jewish polemic from the Second Temple period in later periods.

Volume One has four parts. The essays "survey the current situation in Scrolls studies in a number of broader areas" (2. …

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