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Liturgical Works (Eerdmans Commentaries on the Dead Sea Scrolls) Paperback – February 27, 2001
The Amazon Book Review
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
"Davila, one of the leading international experts on the Dead Sea Scrolls, translates and in part reconstructs the very fragmentary corpus of texts that specialists have decided to classify as 'liturgical'. . . The distinctive feature of the present volume is the detailed, line-by-line commentary which summarizes, supplements, and frequently corrects earlier research. Davila has set a high standard for the series of which the present book happens to be the first installment."
Religious Studies Review
"The great strength of the work is found in the commentary section, where Davila provides extensive references to biblical, Rabbinic, Christian and Hekhalot literature. It is a significant resource for scholars and students interested in understanding the Qumran liturgical texts in their historical and literary context. "
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James R. Davila is a lecturer at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. He is part of the international team responsible for assembling, translating and publishing the Dead Sea Scrolls. He has published many of the Qumran manuscripts of Genesis and Exodus, and is an expert in early Jewish studies.
This book is an interesting first-in-the-series -- one might have expected something a bit more dramatic, or something biblical, or something apocalyptic, to grab the attention of readers with the first volume. Instead, we begin the series (despite the fact that this is, sequentially, volume no. six) with prayers and worship practices -- a fitting beginning to what promises to be a great series.
The introduction provides a brief overview of the Qumran Library and the liturgical texts included in that collection. Discovered largely in the late-1940s to the 1960s (with the occasional discovery continuing to be made), the scrolls include many different kinds of writing -- biblical texts (transcribed and paraphrased), community instructions and rules, apocalyptic religious texts, psalms, hymns, and liturgical texts.
`The main criterion for inclusion [in this book] is that the text show evidence of composition for use in the ritual life of ancient Judaism, whether pertaining to the cycle of festivals and holy days, to daily prayer in various situations, to ceremonial purification, or rites of passage such as marriage.'
Certain key concepts are important in liturgical texts, and these include the ideas of cultic practice, maintenance of covenant relationship, and purity. By cultic practice, we mean any kind of worshipful rituals used in religious tradition. Covenant and purity were of considerable importance in the Torah and other early religious practices/writings, but these were brought to a heightened sense of importance by the community at Qumran.
Davila discusses the controversies surrounding the reconstruction of a sense of calendrical cycles of ancient Israel, as well as the impact of these texts and the practices that surround and incorporate them in later Jewish liturgies. Texts important for consideration here include the Mishnah, the Jerusalem Talmud, the Babylonian Talmud, Jewish liturgical poetry, and Hekhalot literature.
The Dead Sea Scroll texts covered in this book include:
- Festival Prayers
- Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice
- Times for Praising God
- Grace after Meals
- A Lamentation
- A Wedding Ceremony
- Daily Prayers
- The Words of the Luminaries
- Purification Liturgies
Each of these major headings includes specific scrolls that have been identified (whole or partial) as liturgical texts. Most come from Cave 4 (Dead Sea Scrolls are usually defined by a code that begins with a Q-number, such as 4Q502, which indicates the location of discover and order of cataloging and organisation).
Each commentary begins with a brief introduction and overview of the specific contents. The scroll for the Wedding Ceremony is a controversial scroll: like many scrolls from Cave 4 and some other caves, it is in a state of disintegration that makes reading exceedingly difficult.
`It may be a wedding, or perhaps a rite for aged married couples entering the celibate sectarian community, or even an otherwise unattested New Year celebration. All three theories have been defended, and no doubt other solutions are possible.'
The commentary talks in the case of each text the condition of the manuscript -- in the case of 4Q502, it consists of 344 papyrus fragments. Many texts are in better repair; others sadly are in much worse shape. Each commentary also talks genre -- prayer, celebration, praise, etc. Each commentary concludes with a bibliography devoted to the specific text in question (there is no overall bibliography for the book, but rather a nice collection of thoroughly-research bibliographies for each major heading). Scroll research and analysis being what it is, it seems that each scroll has had lots of publications; the Eerdmans series seems to be good at separating the wheat from the chaff in the bibliographic references.
The line-by-line commentaries sometimes turn into word-by-word commentaries, as there are so many small fragments that contain but a few letters each, and even when there are longer passages, multiple translations and meanings are possible. These sections are wonderful for their broad range to permit the reader to see the different possibilities and come up with alternative translations parallel to those recommended by scholars.
For the scholar the four indexes contain a wealth of information. Divided into four sections -- Modern Authors; Scripture References; Dead Sea Scrolls; Other Ancient Writings -- these indexes provide a very handy way of looking up particular references (and those who have followed by reviews know that one of my pet peeves is the lack of an index in a book) whether one is starting from the basis of other scroll research, other authors, biblical studies, or more general ancient writings. With over 40 pages of indexes, this book gets an A+ for indexing.