Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Book: Understanding the Dead Sea Scrolls, by Hershel Shanks

Shanks, Hershel, ed. 1993. Understanding the Dead Sea Scrolls: A Reader from the Biblical Archaeology Review. New York: Random House / Vintage.

I bought Understanding the Dead Sea Scrolls at the bookshop at Masada in Israel when I was there for a conference in April. It was one of a handful of serious books in the midst of mountains of cookbooks and other tourist fare.  As the name suggests, it is a collection of articles from a journal called the Biblical Archaeology Review on topics related to the dead sea scrolls.

The essays range widely. It turns out that the scrolls have an interesting recent history, including all kinds of religious and scholarly politics. As one example, apparently the tradition in archaeology is to assign written artifacts to particular scholars to take a first pass at; in the case of the scrolls, some ended up unpublished for decades as a result. This eventually occasioned protests and change. And then there was the member of the inner cabal of scholars controlling the scrolls who turned out to be a rather nasty sort of anti-semite.

The earlier history is, of course, interesting too, as a number of the pieces try to sort out the relationship between the settlement at Qumran (also worth a visit), near the caves where the scrolls were found, the scrolls themselves, and developments in both Jewish and Christian history.

Highly recommended if you are into this sort of thing.

1 comment:

Dan said...

The only textbook I kept from college was Shanks's "Ancient Israel." It's a collection that basically goes through the Bible start to finish and tells you how much is true or possibly true based on the archaeological evidence.