Customer Reviews: The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English
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on February 27, 2000
Geza Vermes provides a concise introduction to the topic of the Dead Sea Scrolls and provides English translations of many of the scrolls and fragments found in the 11 caves of Qumran. This book was originally published in 1965 and was last updated in 1997. Much has happened in those 32 years and this book contains updates on the key items.
In the first 96 pages of the book, Vermes provides an insight into what the Scrolls are, who the authors were, a history of the community that wrote the scrolls, and the religious ideas of the community. 500 pages of translations and brief discussions of each scroll and fragment follow. The discussions are particularly helpful as introductions to the themes and background related to each scroll. About 40 pages at the end of the book present a catalogue of the scrolls, an index of the texts, and a bibliography. The indexes in the book provide references by topic and by the classification number of the text or fragment (e.g. 4Q525 is text number 525 from Qumran Cave 4).
Among the many key manuscripts translated in this book are the Community Rule, the Damascus Document, the Messianic Rule, the War Scroll, the Thanksgiving Hymns, the Apocryphal Psalms, the calendrical documents, the Blessings and Benedictions, the Peshers (commentaries) on numerous books of the Old Testament, Biblical Apocryphal Works, and the Copper Scroll (the Copper Scroll is a description of the locations of hidden treasures).
The book is quite complete, but new discoveries and revisions to existing hypotheses will always make future revisions a necessity. I have used this book to teach a 4-week mini-course on the Dead Sea Scrolls at my Church with much success. I highly recommend this book. The topic is fascinating and this book is a must for anyone serious about learning what is in the Dead Sea Scrolls and what life was like from 150 B.C to 70 A.D.
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Geza Vermes' book, The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English, is a worthy capstone to a long and distinguished scroll career. Vermes entire career, from his student days to this present work, has been concentrated largely on the Dead Sea Scrolls and related topics. His doctorate in 1953 was completed with a dissertation on the historical framework of the Dead Sea Scrolls. It is difficult to find any scholar with as complete a knowledge of the scrolls as has Vermes; it is impossible to find one who knows them better.
This book was released in 1997, 50 years from the time the first Arab shepherd climbed into a cave in search of a wandering animal and instead fell upon the first of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Following the 'revolution' of 1991 (to use Vermes words), everyone interested could have unfettered access to the Scrolls, and yet, as inaccessible as they had been previously due to physical restriction, they remained just as inaccessible due to the problem of language and translation.
'In addition to the English rendering of the Hebrew and Aramaic texts found in the eleven Qumran caves, two inscribed potsherds (ostraca) retrieved from the Qumran site and two Qumran-type documents discovered in the fortress of Masada, and brief introductory notes to each text, this volume also provides an up-to-date general introduction, outlining the history of fifty years of Scroll research and sketching the organisation, history and religious message of the Qumran Community.'
This is the latest volume of a series: when Vermes first published an edition in 1962 (then 15 years after the discovery of the first scrolls), the book had 262 pages; the current edition has 648. The introduction deals with a brief sketch of the history of research (including a bit on the controversies, such as not allowing Jewish scholars to work on these Jewish texts, the close-guarding and restrictive access of the scrolls by the scholars); further issues in the introduction address current research, including questions of dating, provenance, and perhaps, most importantly, the meaning and significance of the Qumran texts.
Vermes puts together a three-part essay on his view (as well as a little on alternative views) of who was the community at Qumran, the history of that community, and the religious ideas of the community.
This is where we get into the text of the Scrolls in earnest. Vermes begins with The Community Rule a large document that listed the requirements and a penal code. This is best known as the Manual of Discipline. Composition may have begun about 100 BCE, and several fragmentary remains exist of copies of the manual.
'There are, to my knowledge, no writings in ancient Jewish sources parallel to the Community Rule, but a similar type of literature flourished amogn Christians between the second and fourth centuries, the so-called 'Church Orders' represented by works such as the Didache, the Didascalia, the Apostolic Constitution.'
From the Rules and variants, including the now-infamous MMT text, which provoked international lawsuits for violating the 'copyright' exerted by one Scroll scholar on its contents, Vermes proceeds to examine Hymns and Poems; Calendars, Liturgies and Prayers; Apocalyptic Works (which have the greatest appeal to many imminent eschatologically-inclined sects today); Wisdom Literature; Bible translations, commentaries, and apocryphal works; and Miscellanea, including objects such as the Copper Scroll (a rare form, not on parchment, which reads like an accountant's register of treasure), and lists, including the List of False Prophets.
For anyone interested in the Dead Sea Scrolls in any serious way, this is an essential book. With various 'complete' scroll editions and collections being released, this edition, produced by one who has devoted his life to scroll studies, remains one of the best, most complete and clearly translated.
The one drawback, which will only affect those whose interest extends to the study of Roman-period Hebrew and Aramaic, is that there is no photographic imagery or recreation in Hebrew/Aramaic script to show the actual scroll text so that one might make a personal study of the accuracy of the translation. Thus, this text works best for that purpose in conjunction with another translation, or with the very-expensive scroll photographic plate sets now available.
But, for most any use from general interest to scholarship, this volume will serve the reader well.
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on July 19, 2002
Vermes has again, in this updated version of the DSS in English, held fast to the clear-eyed scholarship that has been the hallmark of his work. Of course, the individual reader must ultimately decide for himself how objective Vermes is in his presentation. For example, I view with skepticism Vermes's assertion that the original language of 1 Enoch is, without doubt, Aramaic. Frankly, there is compelling evidence that the original story or stories that became Enoch were originally written in Ethiopic, or were tales that traveled from East to West via the Phoenicians. Other plausible theories abound.
Nonetheless, there are many gems here, and, in my opinion, this book contains one the most honest and pure translations of 1 Enoch (along with the fragments from the Book of Giants), complementing the tremendous service done to Enoch by James Charlesworth in "The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: Apocalyptic Literature and Testaments (Old Testament Pseudepigraphia, Vol 1)."
When I was doing postgraduate work in theology and biblical history, I always wished for a book like this (i.e., Vermes' DSS as updated in 1997). This work is, in my opinion, ideal for those who wish to study alone, and even for use in organized church study groups. There's plenty of "light" here, and Vermes indicates and suggests where the reader might look without insisting.
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on December 9, 2000
There is no better translation available to English language readers than this volume by Vermes. The objections registered by some ill-informed conspiracy-theorists concerning Vermes are themselves based on no real evidence. Vermes has an opinion, a very well-informed scholarly opinion, formed from years of study--honest study. He is not a flaming seeker of fortune and fame as are many people who try to make much more out of what is in the DSS than anyone can possible know. As one trained as a scholar in this area of study, I offer two observations: First, my own word of caution: Beware of DSS conspiracy theories and wild claims made from esoteric so-called readings of the texts. Second, my advice: Read the Scrolls in this fine translation for yourself and ask whether Vermes's ideas are reasonable or whether the wild allegorical re-readings offered by certain flamboyant interpreters have any real merit.
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on March 3, 2010
I just bought this edition Feb 2010.

As useful as the book might yet be, Vermes and his reviewers seem to have inadvertently omitted:
4Q387a Pseudo-Moses^b,
4Q388a Pseudo-Moses^c,
4Q389 Pseudo-Moses^d

They are listed in the scroll catalogue but do not appear where the table of contents reports Second Ezekiel (4Q385-91) p. 571, nor are they adjacent to Pseudo Moses (4Q390) p. 543 nor anywhere else, nor listed in the index.

The Apocryphon of Jacob (4QAJa ar) or Visions of Jacob (4Q537) has two fragments, but the first fragment is missing, only the second fragment is published (p. 526) without any indication the first was omitted or that two fragments exist.

4QPesher on the Apocalypse of Weeks (4Q247) is published in this edition (which seems missing from Martinez' edition, BTW)

4Q323MishmarotB (aka olimMishmarotCb; aka 4QCalendricalDocCb) is also missing from both Verme's and Martinez' editions.

4QMessianic Apocalypse (4Q521) has only fragment 2 col II, and is missing frag 2 col III, frag 5 col II, and frag 8.

4QRule of the Community^f-j (4Q260-264 [4QS^f-j]), missing but published in Martinez' edition.

4QPseudo-Daniel^c (4Q245 [4QpsDan^c ar]), missing but published in Martinez' edition.

I would further note that Vermes indeed provides valuable commentary on the DSS manuscripts whereas Martinez provides none (although Martinez provides the detail on all the fragments as well as seems the more complete edition of the DSS texts themselves).

Both Vermes and Martinez editions ought to be in the library of the serious researcher.

I will amend this review if/when I encounter further omissions/additions.
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on September 4, 2002
The case for reading the Dead Sea Scrolls is not as compelling as the case for reading the Bible. Assuming their truth value is identical (i.e., both contain or do not contain the word of God), the Bible has the added attraction of being a fundamental text of Western culture. The day may come when popular literature, song and film are sprinkled with allusions to the Community Rule, but we're not there yet.
But you ought to read the Dead Sea Scrolls anyway. You ought to read them because they shed light on an important point -- the "Intertestamental Period" -- where the Bible is dark. You ought to read them because they fill in some of the vacuum from which Christianity appears to spring. You ought to read them because they're interesting. You ought to read them for their moral content and because, just maybe, these books belong alongside the books of the Bible as inspired prophetic literature.
Vermes's translation is fluid and readable and this book contains all the significant Scrolls texts which are not either simply fragments or biblical texts. A useful added bonus is a series of essays by Vermes about the history, practices and theology of the Dead Sea Scrolls community.
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on February 26, 2006
Dissertations that devote themselves almost wholly and completely to discussing the Nag Hammadi and Gnostic Gospels, or the New Testament should probably be dismissed out of hand, as they are only marginally related to the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Dead Sea Scrolls have nothing in common with any Gospels or New Testament works, except that the DSS are antecedent to them. The Gospels were to the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Bible what New Age is to Quantum Physics. The Dead Sea Scrolls ended very close in time to when the first Gospels or New Testament works began to appear. Perhaps Jesus knew or visited the Essenes; perhaps He was a card carrying member. He certainly was a contemporary to Qumran's final few decades, minus about 30 years. But, the Essenes were not Christians.There are a good many DSS fragments that are antagonistic to men who proclaimed themselves to be the Sons of God, as it was conservative Jewish thinking then, and remains so today. Also, Vermes does not make any connection whatsoever between the Teacher of Righteousness, a completely different personality who lived somewhere earlier than about 130 B.C.E., to Jesus. Reviews that go on at length about that so-called connection are an indication that the reviewer has not read "The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls In English".

As I read more cross sections of the popular works, I come to appreciate the differences in interpretations between scholars. I see there is serious distance between the interpretations of Geza Vermes and Robert Eisenman. The interpretation of 4Q448 is a major source of contention between the two scholars.

In another book, "The Dead Sea Scrolls Uncovered", Robert Eisenman and Michael Wise use their interpretation of 4Q448 as evidence, even proof, that the origins of the Qumran community were not Essene. Eisenman labels 4Q448 "Paean For King Jonathan (Alexander Jannaeus - 4Q448)" Eisenman says, "This clearly disproves the Essene theory of Qumran origins at least as classically conceived." The reason given is that the so-called "King Jonathan" was the very same "Wicked Priest" refered to in the pre-Christian era scrolls. This belief is mirrored in yet another popular book, "The Dead Sea Scrolls", which is again co-edited by Michael Wise (Wise, Abegg, Cook), and calls the piece "In Praise of King Jonathan". So you see, a single DSS fragment has already been interpreted slightly differently in three different popular publications. I'm sure the Florentino Garcia-Martinez book may fall into either of these camps, I shall have to look for it. I enjoy all of these lay publications, and find that sampling from all of them enriches my cumulative understanding of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Incidentally, the Eisenman/Wise and Wise/Abegg/Cook books tend to expostulate connections or continuity with the New Testament, but those connections are tenuous, and as Vermes points out in this book, controverted by the greater body of evidence that the Essenes eschewed any man who claimed to be the Son of God. There is, by the way, a DSS fragment called by Wise/Abegg/Cook "A Vision of the Son of God" (4Q246).

By sharp contrast to the Eisenman/Wise publications, Vermes thinks that the King Jonathan to whom this very brief and singular fragment refers is Jonathan Maccabeus, and other interpretors are only incorrectly assuming it is a reference to Alexander Jannaeus. Vermes labels the fragment "Poetic Fragments on Jerusalem and 'King Jonathan'". Vermes identifies the poem with Jonathan Maccabeus "at the start of his political-military career, when he was celebrated as the liberator of the Jews and of Jerusalem, and link this text to the statement of the Habakkuk Commentary in viii, 8-9, concerning the good behavior, 'when he first arose' of the ruler who was to become the Wicked Priest."

Both of my own references here are taken from the 2004 editions of each of these books, "The Dead Sea Scrolls Uncovered" (Eisenman/Wise), and "The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls In English" (Vermes), respectively. I am not knowledgeable enough on the subject to say who is right. I prefer the Essene theory, based on Occam's Razor. It is simple, well fortified with obvious and abounding supportive provenance, and the converse theory (Qumran was other than Essene) is a bit stretched and fringe, even 'New Age', it seems to me. It is interesting that in the Eisenman/Wise book, there is no bibliographic or index reference to the Vermes' book. It's as if Eisenman/Wise are totally ignoring Vermes's work on the subject. How catty! How petty! They completely ignore the work of a major scholar, with a great many publications on Dead Sea Scrolls interpretations? Ah, well...On the other hand, Vermes makes "generous" direct references to the Eisenman/Wise book, as well as directly controverting the Eisenman reference square-on as insubstantial. It's as if Vermes is saying, "I'll show you! I'll take the high road, and I will mention your book, no matter how wrong you guys may be, in my own book." A couple of months ago, I would not have known the difference between the two editors' points of view. If you keep pecking away at the subject, you're bound to improve your quality of understanding. I'm glad I am at a point where I can start to recognize differences between the different scholars, all based on my own independant studies.
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on February 10, 2007
I do not usually write reviews, but going through this book answered a lot of questions for me and I thought it might be helpful for other strictly lay people like me to know how much I have liked reading through different sections of it.

Though I had a complete, rather progressive, Jewish education as a child, what is in the Dead Sea Scrolls was not really covered. As it is fragments of different scrolls, I do not know if it can be called a history - but it is historical - and I enjoyed reading about the civilization and their rules/practices of living - both religious and secular.

Especially with many of the religious discussions heard these days of the Messiah -- the Messianic statements - i.e. The Messianic Rule, The War Scroll, The War Scroll from Cave 4, The Book of War, A Messianic Apocalypse -- are very useful in bringing into focus a real Jewish perspective of that time of what was expected for the coming of the Messiah and the Kingdom of God -- and the Covenant with God.

I really enjoyed the introductions and explanations by Geza Vermes.
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on July 6, 2012
I find it interesting that of the 38 reviews only 5 mentioned that this book covers only the non-biblical scrolls. The title "The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English" is therefore misleading if not fraudulent. We have here a renowned scholar who is involved in translating, and he uses a word in his title that does not mean what it appears to mean. Is this the irony of ironies? Granted, Vermes does say in his preface, Pg. xiii, "While this translation of the non-biblical Scrolls does not claim to cover every fragment retrieved from the caves, it is complete in one sense: it offers in a readable form all the texts sufficiently well preserved to be understandable in English." What about 1QIsa and 11QPs (both with a superscript "a" at the end)? Those are biblical but not fragments.
I don't mean to be nit-picking. However, it strikes me as strange that such a word-meister as Vermes indeed is should be so careless with his title.
It is not necessary for me to review the book, since that has been done by others, some quite well, some, well, not so good. Vermes is an excellent scholar and presents a thorough review of the non-biblical Dead Sea Scrolls.
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on April 9, 2012
This, I imagine, would be an excellent refferrence or research point. That said, it is a horrible idea to make this purchase for the sole purpose of reading the Dead Sea Scrolls all the ways through. This book is a direct translation, therefor it contains missing segments and is almost unbareable to try and make any sense of.
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