Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Review: The Oxford Handbook of the Dead Sea Scrolls

51Q8Sqt9P%2BL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_.jpg"....To a Mormon audience (just as with a New Testament readership), these essays serve as a reminder not to pound square proto- Mormon pegs into the round holes of history. ...."



Title: The Oxford Handbook of the Dead Sea Scrolls
Editors: Timothy H. Lim & John J. Collins
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Genre: Ancient Near East Studies, Biblical Studies

Year Published: 2011
Number of pages: 768
Binding: Hardbound
ISBN-10: 0199207232
ISBN-13: 978-0199207237
Price: $150.00

Reviewed by Bryan Buchanan for the Association for Mormon Letters

Mormons have long been interested in the Dead Sea Scrolls (hereafter DSS).  Hugh Nibley was likely the first writer to discuss the subject from a uniquely Mormon perspective.  As years passed, many Mormons (due in part to misinformed authors) began to envision a community of proto†Mormons at Qumran.  Though LDS writers have since developed more responsible perspectives [1] showing that such conclusions were unwarranted, interest among Mormons remains high.  A recent comment by Elder Dallin Oaks in a conference address contains one element of this interestÂafter discussing the Book of Mormon prophecy that other scriptural writings would come forth in the last days, he stated that Âthe finding of the Dead Sea Scrolls shows one way this can occur. [2] Only in very recent memory has the wealth of secular research on the scrolls begun to slowly filter into Mormon writing, an unfortunate characteristic of virtually every topic within biblical studies.  The newly published *Oxford Handbook of The Dead Sea Scrolls* (edited by Timothy H.  Lim and John J.  Collins) is an excellent example of the type of scholarship that Mormon commentators on scroll research should be consulting.

One of the first books I read as an undergraduate was Norman GolbÂs influential (albeit controversial) *Who Wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls*††in summarizing GolbÂs conclusions to my classmates, even my respected archaeology professor was intrigued.  Since that time, I have maintained interest in the ongoing discussion of just what are the scrolls and who were responsible for them.  From the title of this work, I assumed this would be a detailed overview of all things DSS.  Not so.  I soon learned that this compilation focused on areas of disagreement and unresolved issues rather than serving as an introduction to the field.  As such, the essays (to varying degrees) presuppose a fairly substantial background in the basic issues of the DSS.  Contributors include well†known names such as Michael Wise and James VanderKam as well as up†and†coming scholars.  These thirty essays (split up into seven sections) provide, in the words of the editors, Âpromising directions for future research.Â

Given that detailed comment on each essay would be far too lengthy for such a review, I will select several essays that would be of particular interest to a Mormon readership.  First is John J.  Collins analysis of ÂSectarian Communities in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Collins reviews the contents of the two fundamental sectarian texts found in the DSS: the Damascus Document and the Serekh (often referred to as the Community Rule).  He flatly states that, despite assumptions made by many that they are seamless companions, the two documents Âdo not, however, reflect the life of a single community. Furthermore, he demonstrates that the *yahad* (=community, congregation) described therein Âcannot be identified simply with one settlement in the wilderness, a blow to the traditional understanding of a virtually monolithic Essene community at Qumran.

Next is Ronald HendelÂs essay ÂAssessing the Text†Critical Theories of the Hebrew Bible. Far more technical and of a more limited scope than Collins contribution, Hendel assesses the value of the Qumran corpus to the understanding of the makeup of the Hebrew Bible.  Among other matters, Hendel notes that the biblical texts (the majority of the DSS) represent a Âkaleidoscope of different textual traditions.  Though he does not explore the question of deliberate textual corruption, a Mormon reader would see from his discussion of the variants in Exodus passages that the wholesale sabotage of biblical texts by unscrupulous scribes envisioned by Mormons is definitely *not* authenticated by textual evidence.

Finally, I look at ÂCritical Issues in the Investigation of the Scrolls and the New Testament, written by Jorg Frey.  Frey begins by noting that, much like Mormon observations, early scroll scholarship was Âdominated by New Testament specialists eager (and, in many cases, overzealous) to find connections in the DSS.  After discussing purported links between the DSS and John the Baptist as well as John the evangelist and suggestions that fragments of Mark and 1 Timothy were among those in Cave 7, Frey concludes (in similar language to that of Dana Pike, cited above) that Âsmoking gun correlations are simply not there.  The value of the DSS, then, is that Âit would be impossible to get an adequate view of the literature and thought of ancient Palestinian Judaism without the information provided by the scrolls.Â

As I stated above, *The Oxford Handbook of the Dead Sea Scrolls* should not be approached as an introductory text.  Having said that, given an adequate foundation in DSS issues, this compilation would prove very valuable to any interested reader.  To a Mormon audience (just as with a New Testament readership), these essays serve as a reminder not to pound square proto†Mormon pegs into the round holes of history.  In addition, as Frey points out, the DSS are a wealth of information on one strain of Judaism during the foundational years of the New Testament era.  These scholarly essays are a helpful historiographical signpost, indicating where understanding has been and where it is headed.


[1]  See, for example, Dana M. Pike, "The Dead Sea Scrolls and Latter-day Saints: Where Do We Go from Here?", *Studies in the Bible and Antiquity*, Volume 2 (2010), 29-48 (available at

[2]  Dallin H. Oaks, Â"All Men Everywhere," General Conference April 2006 (available at,5232,49-1-602-25,00.html)

No comments: