Book Reviews

Rediscovering the Dead Sea Scrolls

An Assessment of Old and New Approaches and Methods

Maxine L. Grossman Grand Rapids 2010-06-28

Occasionally a movement, an ideology, or a discovery must be reconsidered in light of the passing of time or newer reflections on it that might necessitate rethinking and reevaluation. This is precisely the driving force behind this important collection of essays on the Dead Sea Scrolls. The editor comments that “the real focus of this volume is on the overlap and intersection of interests that reflect the current state of scholarship in the field, as well as its potential for future development” (p. 2). This objective has been successfully accomplished.

Sixteen scholars, representing numerous avenues of approach to the Scrolls, have collaborated to explore these avenues according to their own special experiences and expertise. The result is a handbook that must from now on be consulted by anyone seeking to do serious work in this area. Because of the wealth of data only a few of the essays can be given close scrutiny here, though three or four others deserve to be at least listed. The first, by Sarianna Metso, is titled “When the Evidence Does Not Fit: Method, Theory, and the Dead Sea Scrolls.” Next is Bruce Zuckerman, “The Dynamics of Change in the Computer Imaging of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Other Ancient Inscriptions.” More philosophically historiographical is James R. Davila, “Counterfactual History and the Dead Sea Scrolls.”  Not to be overlooked is Carol A. Newsome, “Rhetorical Criticism and the Dead Sea Scrolls.” Fourth and in line with current critical methods is Jutta Jokiranta, “Social-Scientific Approaches to the Dead Sea Scrolls.”

Of more relevance to biblical and theological scholarship is the fine piece by Martin G. Abegg Jr., “The Linguistic Analysis of the Dead Sea Scrolls: More than (Initially) Meets the Eye.” Here he lists the essential steps or areas of interest to be followed in properly evaluating the contents and message of the texts: paleography, orthography, phonology, morphology, and syntax. By application he draws attention to such disputed matters as the mater waw, which he suggests offers evidence of a Second Temple scribal style (p. 68). He observes also that all twenty-five of the largest biblical manuscripts exhibit this phenomenon.

“Dead Sea Scrolls and the Historiography of Ancient Judaism,” by Hayim Lapin, attempts to link the archaeological data from Qumran to the literary features and historical/religious data of the Scrolls themselves. He concludes, “If [they] are connected, their closely overlapping chronologies suggest that we think seriously about the first century B. C. E. as a crucial period for both.” He elaborates on this point throughout the piece.

Jonathan Klawans contributes an essay titled “The Dead Sea Scrolls, the Essenes, and the Study of Religious Belief: Determinism and the Freedom of Choice.” As to the Essenes, he leaves undecided whether the Essenes were the same as the Community of Qumran because, he argues, Essenic beliefs were not as unique to them as previous scholarship has sometimes asserted. His discussion of predeterminism, election, and the like is most enlightening in the comparisons he makes between mainstream Judaism and Christian (especially Calvinistic) theology.

Some of the discussion in this volume is dense, especially for readers unfamiliar with Dead Sea Scrolls scholarship. However, the effort is worthwhile for those who want to be informed about the present state of Scrolls study and its various ramifications.

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Eugene H. Merrill
Eugene H. Merrill is a former faculty member of DTS. Dr. Merrill has been heavily involved in international Christian ministry in Europe, Asia, and the Near East. As a scholar Dr. Merrill regularly contributes to leading journals, periodicals, dictionaries, encyclopedias, and commentaries. Academia runs in his family as his wife, Janet, holds a doctorate in counselor education from Columbia University and his daughter, Sonya, earned a Ph.D. in medical ethics from the University of London and an M.D. from Harvard University.
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