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The Mystery and Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls Paperback – October 26, 1999


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (October 26, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679780890
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679780892
  • Product Dimensions: 7.7 x 5.4 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #429,355 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Since 1947, scholars from all over the world have hotly debated the meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The 200 biblical manuscripts found hidden in the caves of Qumran contain esoteric biblical commentaries, calendrical texts, and apocalyptic manuscripts similar to what can be found in the last pages of the bible. Translation of the scrolls was not an easy task. Much of the language was in ancient Hebrew or Aramaic, written by a sect of Judaism that had broken off from the Hellenistic ways of the Pharisees and Sadducees. The remarkable findings reveal a community of Jews who rejected the archaic teachings of the Temple, set up their own calendar, pondered the meaning of time, and wrote down their views of life after death.

Author Hershel Shanks reviews a great number of translations and histories of the period, ranging from ancient historians such as Josephus to contemporary scholars such as Emanuel Tov. He does this to get a better feel for the period of Judaism from the rulership of Herod the Great to the destruction of the First Temple by the Roman Empire, and in order to understand the philosophy that influenced the movement of the Essenes--who are generally recognized as the authors of the scrolls from Qumran. Shanks argues that the key to understanding the scrolls lies within the pages of the period of Judaism that was "remarkably variegated," because it will explain the cultural fragmentation that led to the evolution of thought that manifested itself into the scrolls. This accessible account is highly readable and a great introduction to an area of study that is contentious to this day. Even Shanks recognizes his limitations by humbly concluding, "Gradually, step by step there will be enough for a more convincing synthesis than can be presented today. In the meantime, much work remains to be done." --Jeremy Storey --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

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.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By G. LeFever on August 6, 2001
Format: Paperback
Here is an excellent overview of the history and mystery surrounding the scrolls. In a methodic and easy-to-comprehend manner, Hershel Shanks describes the evolution of scholarly conjecture on several of the individual scrolls and the Qumran community itself. I found the book absolutely tantalizing because of the many key questions about the scrolls that remain unanswered. The author also provided what I consider to be an incisive overview of the impact several of the scrolls have had on Judaism and Christianity during the last four decades. I highly recommend "The Mystery & Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls" to those seeking a broad, layman's understanding of this incredible archeological find, the peculiar trail of the scrolls since their discovery, and the often contradictory religious conclusions the scrolls have provoked.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 21, 1999
Format: Hardcover
This book is one stop shopping for an overview of the content within the scrolls as well as the politics and egos involved in getting the complete translations released with commentary. While it doesn't contain the greatest amount of direct translation, what book could? Thousands of scroll fragments sort of get in the way. This book is a GREAT place to start. The author presents an unbiased view that isn't slanted to Anti-Zionist, Anti-Christian, or even Anti-Liberal viewpoints. I enjoyed it very, very much. Hats off!
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By FrKurt Messick HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on May 23, 2003
Format: Paperback
Herschel Shanks and his publications, primarily Biblical Archaeology Review, are deserving of great credit in the effort to break the small, scholarly monopoly on access to the Dead Sea Scrolls. To this end, Shanks has collected in a few volumes key articles and essays on the Scrolls from leading interpreters (including occasionally one or more of the original enclave of scholars who fought so hard to maintain strict control on access to the majority of the scrolls).
Shanks was one of the first to dare to break the stranglehold by publishing previously unpublished scroll fragments; by pulling his finger out of the dike, others also began to publish and reconstruct texts, so that eventually there was no point to maintaining a rigid control on access, both for research and for publication.
This story is one of great interest of itself, and shortly I shall be reviewing books which talk in greater detail of the intrigue behind the Scrolls. The current volume under review, however, takes us in a different direction.
This volume, `The Mystery and Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls', concentrates primarily on context (both religious and historical), meaning and implications of the Scrolls.
Among the Scrolls were biblical texts (some of which differ slightly, others radically from the biblical texts which have come down to us today), accounting scrolls, commentaries, calendars, and, perhaps the most mysterious and 'juicy', apocalyptic texts, with characters flamboyant even by current celebrity standards, the Teacher of Righteousness and the Wicked Priest.
The first few chapters do talk about the Scroll history, including some of the intrigues.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By doc peterson VINE VOICE on April 12, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In _The Mystery and Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls_ biblical historian Hershel Shanks lifts the veil over the Dead Sea Scrolls. Discovered over 50 years ago, the Scrolls have been clouded by academic competition and political intrigue. What these Scrolls say, and more importantly what they mean to early Christianity, Rabbinic Judiaism and the history of the Near East has been hotly debated. Shanks provides historical context to the Scrolls themselves as well as needed background surrounding the academic dissonance of their significance.

Part of the controversey surrounding the Scrolls is the time period they were written: early in the first century CE, contemporaneously with the historical Jesus. As Shanks writes, "For those who want to understand the history of Christianity, the scrolls are exciting and enriching. For those who see Christianity and Christian doctrine as something entirely new and unrelated to its Jewish milieu, the scrolls are threatening." This is exacerbated by the fact that many of those who did the earliest work on the Scrolls (and the archaeological site at Qumran) were priests by avocation.

In fact, much of the initial scholarship around the Scrolls was downright shady - parts of the Scrolls became the exclusive academic domain of a single scholar who held access to it and lay claim to first publication rights. These "rights" were in turn bequeathed to students upon their retirement or death. Such behaviour is contrary to the spirit of scholarship not to mention ethically questionable. Fortunately the monopoly on the Scrolls was broken in the late 1970's and early 1980's with the publication of photographs of the Scrolls from when they were first discovered.
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