"Illuminating . . . absolutely fascinating." —The New York Times
"First-rate. . . . An important addition to the Dead Sea Scrolls literature. . . . Shanks' compelling narrative of their discovery and contents . . . truly does justice to the material." —Archaeology
Over sixty years ago, in a cave near Qumran on the Dead Sea, a Bedouin shepherd made a remarkable discovery—a cache of scrolls, in Hebrew and Aramaic, dating roughly from the time of Jesus. Here, in hundreds of literary fragments, was a window into an unknown world—the world where Christianity and modern Judaism were born.
Everyone has heard about the scrolls, but what, exactly, are their contents? Who wrote them? What do they reveal? Do they undermine the authority of the Hebrew Bible? Do they shed new light on Jesus, his sayings and his sacraments? Until recently, only a handful of experts could answer these questions, for only they had access to the scrolls. Now, thanks to the liberating efforts of scholars such as Hershel Shanks, the scrolls are the property of us all, their mystery at long last yielding to meaning. Here, in arresting detail, is the most complete assessment of the scrolls to date. It is a history of their discovery and dissemination, a summary of their scholarly interpretation, and a thoughtful meditation on their ultimate significance. Above all, it is an act of generosity—a great scholar's gift to the common understanding of the most important ancient texts found in modern times.
Fifty years ago, a shepherd rummaging through caves surrounding the Dead Sea discovered a number of scrolls and scroll fragments that provided a glimpse into Judaism in the years between the takeover of Jerusalem by Pompeii in 64 B.C. and the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple by Rome in A.D. 70. In his engaging new book, Shanks, founder and editor of Biblical Archaeology Review, examines the history and significance of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Part detective story and part historical narrative, his book reveals the behind-the-scenes race to discover more scrolls that preoccupied both biblical archeologists and Bedouin, as well as the political intrigues between Israeli and American scholars that kept the scrolls from being translated and available to a larger public for more than 40 years. Most important, however, is Shanks's overview of the question of the authorship of the scrolls. The popular scholarly view on this topic is that the Essenes, a Jewish ascetic community, wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls. Using archeological evidence as well as literary and historical criticism, Shanks conducts a survey of the major opinions on the matter to conclude that "if it weren't for the proximity of the scrolls to Qumran we would never think of Qumran as the site of an isolated religious community." Finally, Shanks contends that the scrolls are far less important for our understanding of Christianity and than for the glimpse they offer into Judaism between 250 B.C. and A.D. 70. Lively prose and lucid critical insights into one of the most fascinating chapters of modern history make Shanks's book a must read for armchair biblical historians and archeologists.