Friday, July 18, 2008

Dead Sea Scrolls Content Overview

The works of the Dead Sea Scrolls are basically classified under five categories. 1) Rules, 2) poetic and liturgical texts, 3) wisdom texts, 4) Bible interpretation and 5) miscellaneous compositions. They are classified in whatever cave they were found with the designation of the cave and the letter Q. For instance, those texts found in cave 1 are designated 1Q with a corresponding title.

Today I give a brief overview of the Rules contents. This is taken from Geza Vermes, An Introduction to the Complete Dead Sea Scrolls

1. The Community Rule (1QS; 4QS255-264; 4Q502; 5Q11,13
2. Community Rule Fragments (4QS d/e)
3. The Damascus Document (also known as CD)
4. The Messianic Rule (1QSa or 1Q28a)
5. The War Scroll (1QM, 4Q491-496)
6. The Book of War (4Q285)
7. The Temple Scroll (11Q TS)
8. Communal Ceremony (4Q275)
9. Four Lots (4Q279)
10. 4QYohorot B-C (4Q276-277)
11. 4QTohorot G (4Q284a)
12. Observances of the Law (MMT 4Q394-399)
13. The Wicked and the Holy (4Q181)
14. Purity Matters (4Q274)
15. Masters Address to the Sons of Dawn (4Q298)
16. Rebukes (4Q477)
17. Remonstances (4Q471 a)

Wow, this is just what is classified as the Rules. As it becomes very apparent, there is an enormous amount of material in the DSS and to study them opens up our knowledge greatly of the ancient world.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Dead Sea Scrolls Link

In the Useful links section of the blog, I added a helpful link to the Orion Center for the Study of the Dead Sea Scrolls. It contains all kinds of information relative to Dead Sea Scrolls research and an extensive bibliography of recent publications. I hope it helps.

The Dead Sea Scrolls: A Fusion of Disciplines

When we think of the Dead Sea Scrolls (hereafter DSS), we tend to focus on the literary texts unearthed from the desert area of the Dead Sea. This is not a complete picture, however, for not only do we have literary texts but there are also forays into other disciplines. While this is probably not a definitive list, I include some of the noteworthy points of departure for study in the DSS.

First, there is the aspect of history (both modern and ancient) connected to the study. The story of the discovery of the DSS, from the Bedouin shepherds in 1947 in a cave to the subsequent discoveries in other caves, is colored by mystery and intrigue. I might be exaggerating there a bit, but the story of the first discovery to the publications of the DSS makes quite interesting historical reading. Coupled with the modern story of how they were brought to light is the vexing question of the history of the texts themselves. What was the timeframe of which these people lived, who lived in the Qumran community, what were they reacting against, why did they take such care to assimilate and keep so many writings (both biblical writings and parabiblical ones)? These and many other questions continue to draw scholars into the sometimes mysterious world of this academic study. So, historically, there are reasons to study the finds and the texts of the DSS.

Second, the matter of intertextuality and I will briefly define what I mean here with some questions. How do the DSS enlighten our knowledge of both the First and Second Testaments and what do they say about the forming Judaism of the time and the origins of early Christianity? Did the Christians know of these texts and assimilate them in some way? Did the Qumran community react against a religious system they felt no longer was tenable and thus constructed an alternative? How did formative Judaism react and respond to the charges brought by the Qumran community?

Third, the contribution of archaeology cannot be highlighted enough in reference to the DSS. Archaeological discoveries in the Dead Sea area have helped us understand the world of the first centuries of the Common Era in amazing ways. One little tidbit that continually makes me laugh was the discovery of a toilet in the Qumran community and the publications spawned from that discovery. I wonder what our toilets will say to archaeologists two thousand years from now!! Seriously, archaeology, as it finds buildings, pottery, space, cemetaries, and even toilets has opened up worlds of knowledge in first century history.

Fourth, carbon dating has contributed to the field of the DSS. How can this be - well carbon dating has been used with good results in the actual dating of the documents that were written or assimilated by the DSS community. It helps place the timeframe for the texts and even though it is not able to isolate the exact year as the findings are disputed, there have been great strides in placing the writings in the first centuries of the Common Era.

Finally, of course, are the texts themselves and this rich literary treasure will be explored more later. The texts reflect diversity of genre and show a community in the grip of keeping an identity it felt important and a religious tradition it felt was slipping away.

There are probably many other trajectories for study, but I include this that I feel are important. Feel free to add more if you would like in the comments or dispute mine, that is part of the process of discovery isn't it?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Light from the Past: The Dead Sea Scrolls

History still speaks and hopefully we listen to its voice. Those who probe ancient texts find themselves ensconced in worlds that are distant and removed from the present. Biblical scholars study ancient texts in the hopes that by doing so, light will dawn and knowledge of the past will become realized. Untold volumes have been penned by explorers of the past, seeking to uncover historical kernels and nuggets that help understand why and how people wrote and lived in the past. Really, in a way, we seek to discover how these ancient people constructed their identity, whether group or individual, and understand what they faced and how they coped with their reality. What spawned from this pressing reality became the foundation of religious movements, for example Judaism and Christianity. The writings of what are called either the Old and New Testament or the First and Second Testaments or the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Bible, indelibly make their mark on the present world. The way to understand these Scriptures comes in various forms- linguistic analysis, social scientific studies, archaeology and the like. There are numerous texts involved, as mentioned above, but also a litany of other texts including the Apocrypha and Pseupigrapha, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Targums and Rabbinic texts, the New Testament Apocrypha, the Church Fathers and many others.

I would like to spend some time investigating, rather introducing might be the better word, the world of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Sometime between the winter of 1946 and the spring of 1947, the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in caves near the Dead Sea. Harry Thomas Frank aptly notes, "The most sensational archaeological discovery of the century was made entirely by accident." What I find entertaining about the scrolls discovery (this would make a great movie by the way, a story filled with suspense and intrigue) is that they were found by three Bedouin shepherds who were watching their goats near the northwest shore of the Dead Sea. The three shepherds found some caves, but they did not enter them. One of the shepherds enjoyed finding caves and was throwing rocks into them when something shattered inside one of the caves. What they thought I am not sure, but they did not investigate the cave at the time. Two days later, though, one shepherd returned, found the cave and squeezed into it. He found ten jars, approximately two feet high, but all but two of them were empty. One of the jars had dirt in it, while the other had three scrolls wrapped in linen. The shepherd found a copy of the biblical book of Isaiah, what would be called the Manual of Discipline or Community Rule and some commentary on the biblical book of Habakkuk. Later, other scrolls were found in the cave, but that is for another time.

The history of finding the caves is fascinating and maybe I will explore it more later. I end with a snapshot of the Dead Sea Scrolls. They are classified according to the cave they were found in and a number of caves in the area yielded scrolls. For instance, those found in cave one were designated 1Q and then either a number and a name, and so on. I will detail this more to come as well. They also contain biblical texts and what are called parabiblical texts. I will give a greater overview in the future. I know that is a very small snapshot, but my space is ending. So, until next time when we dig a little deeper into the discovery found in the Dead Sea area.
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