Thursday, July 8, 2010

‘Holman QuickSource Guide to the Dead Sea Scrolls’ by Craig A. Evans – Book Review

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Since I first heard of the Dead Sea Scrolls as a teenager, I have had a fascination with them. The ‘Holman QuickSource Guide to the Dead Sea Scrolls’ by Craig A. Evans is a quick reference to all things Dead Sea Scrolls.

Here is the synopsis for this amazing book:

Buried in a forgotten cave and lost for eons of time, the Dead Sea Scrolls came to worldwide attention in 1947 when several of them were uncovered by Bedouin sheep herders who were searching for treasure. Though the herders thought them worthless at first, scholars came to see them as invaluable keys to unlocking the era of Christ. Sensational media accounts claim that the scrolls undermine Christian beliefs or paint an unexpected picture of Jewish religion. Now, after more than half a century after examination by scholars from around the world, the truth about the Dead Sea Scrolls can be told. Let recognized expert Craig A. Evan guide you into a fuller understanding of the Dead Sea Scrolls and their importance.
Topics include:
·         Who wrote the Scrolls?
·         Do the Scrolls undermine the Christian Faith?
·         Did the New Testament borrow from the Scrolls?
·         The Science of Dating the Scrolls
·         Restoring and Preserving the Scrolls
·         Historical Groups and People Named in the Scrolls
·         Who were the Essenes?
·         How did the Essenes Interpret Scripture?
·         How did the Essenes Relate to Other Jews?
·         Were Jesus and John the Baptist Essenes?
·         Archaeology of Qumran and the Scrolls

Here is the biography of the author:

Craig A. Evans is a recognized expert on the Dead Sea Scrolls. He serves as Payzant Distinguished Professor of New Testament at Acadia Divinity College. He is the author of more than fifty books (including Jesus, The Final Days: What Really Happened?, Exploring the Origins of the Bible: Canon Formation in Historical, Literary, and Theological Perspective and Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospel) and hundreds of scholarly articles and book reviews. He has appeared in numerous documentaries for the History Channel and the BBC and is a regular guest on Dateline NBC. Evans earned both an M.A. and a Ph.D. in biblical studies for Claremont Graduate University.

In the Preface, Dr. Evans explains the purpose of this book:

The purpose of this book is to help you understand what the DSS [Dead Sea Scrolls] really are and how they shed light on Jesus and the Jewish people of 2,000 years ago. For example, the scrolls will help you understand better how the Jewish people yearned for the dawning of a new day, a day when God’s people would live in righteousness and justice, a day when the Messiah would reign as king and evil would be banished from earth. You will also read about the interesting events surrounding the discovery of the scrolls, the controversies surrounding the publication and implications of the scrolls, and the major scrolls scholars. (p. 19)

Dr. Evans asserts that the Dead Sea Scrolls help us better understand the Bible and the world of Jesus in a least nine ways. Here are a few:

1. The DSS are a big help in our study of ancient writing and the science of making scrolls. Before the discovery of the DSS, we had almost no written material from Israel dating to the time of Jesus. Now we have an entire library, with some of the scrolls remarkably well preserved (e.g., the great Isaiah Scroll). (p. 46)
5. The DSS assist us in our study of the various religious and nonreligious groups among the Jewish people in the times of Jesus. The NT writings tells us about the Pharisees and Sadducees, and the Jewish historian Josephus describes these and the Essenes as well, but the scrolls give us a different perspective. And if the scrolls really did belong to the Essenes, we can learn a lot about this mysterious group. (p. 47)
7. The DSS helps us understand better what was happening in the century or so before the time of Jesus and the founding of the Church. This is important information if we are to understand how Jesus’ contemporaries viewed the condition of their country and its pressing needs. (pp. 47-48)
9. The DSS provide excellent information for understanding the Jewish background of Jesus, his first followers, and many of the writings that make up the NT. (p. 48)

This extremely interesting book even discusses history between the testaments. One of the historical figures mentioned is a leader whose conquests later allowed one language – Greek – to be used throughout the region – a language greatly used in the New Testament. That figure was Alexander the Great:

Two generations later, a young Macedonia prince, tutored by the learned Aristotle, read the story of the march of the 10,000 Greek mercenaries employed by Cyrus. He was impressed by their fighting skills, their courage, and their amazing odds-defying victory at Cunaxa. The young lad, Alexander III (born in 356 BC), was son of Philip II, king of Macedonia. Alexander dreamed of doing something as valiant as the Greeks. When Philip was assassinated (336 BC), 19-year-old Alexander got his chance. He consolidated control over Macedonia and Greece to the south and then began the conquest of the Persian Empire. He defeated the Persian king Darius III in 331. Darius fled but was assassinated the following years. When Alexander found his body in a dry riverbed, he wept for the murdered monarch.
In five years time Alexander swallowed up the whole of the Persian Empire and regions beyond, earning the name Alexander the Great. Alexander was now master of Persia, the western part of India, all of Egypt, Asia Minor, Thrace, Macedonia, Greece, and, of course, the land of Israel.
In 332 BC, Alexander suddenly became ill and died. Was he poisoned? His principal generals fought for control of his vast empire. (pp. 84-85)

That is a lot of amazing detail.

Many of the important figures in scripture are mentioned in the Dead Sea Scrolls:

The Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) makes frequent mention of Israel’s great heroes. They serve as models of piety and faithfulness and are rarely criticized, even when their failings are quite serious. The heroes were often co-opted to serve as authors of additional biblical-like books, that is, the books of the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha. There was no better way to win a readership than to present your book as if someone like Moses or Enoch had endorsed or even written it. (p. 285)

King David is prominently featured in the Scrolls:

The Great Psalm Scroll of Cave 11 catalogues David’s literary and musical compositions:
Now David the son of Jesse was wise and shone like the light of the sun, a scribe and man of discernment, blameless in all his ways before God and men. The Lord gave him a brilliant and discerning spirit, so that he wrote: psalms, 3,600; songs to sing before the altar accompanying the daily perpetual burnt-offerings, all the festival days and the Day of Atonement, 30 songs. The total of all the songs that he composed was 446, not including four songs for charming the demon-possessed with music. The sum total of everything, psalms and songs, was 4,050. All these he composed through prophecy given him by the Most High (11QPsa 27:2-11). (p. 295)

The Dead Sea Scrolls help to understand the teaching of Messiah:

Some of Jesus’ most interesting and controversial teachers concerned the sensitive issue of who was first (or elect), who was not, and on what basis this distinction is made. At the center of this discussion was the Law of Moses. How should the God-ordained Law be understood and applied? Everyone agreed that the Law was good, but what did it say about divorce and taxes? And what did Jesus think of the ruling priests who interpreted and applied the Law? Once again the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) help us understand the issue more clearly. (p. 327)

The Dead Sea Scrolls also help in our understanding of my second favorite person in the Bible (Jesus being the first) – Paul the apostle:

The Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) help interpreters of Paul at many points, including understanding his stance on “works of the law” and justification by faith. Also, Paul and the DSS share ecclesiastical and theological terminology in common. This does not mean that Paul had been a member of the Essene sect or that he borrowed doctrines and themes from them, but it does show that much of his language was not distinctive to the Christian Church. The commonalities and shared language between Paul and the Essenes were the joint property of all pious Jews who took their faith and their sacred Scriptures seriously. (p. 346)

Dr. Evans concludes the book by providing a summary question/answer section. Here are some of my favorites:

          Who wrote and collected the DSS?
When the first cave was discovered in 1947-1948, scholars believed the scrolls were written and collected by Essenes. Although some scholars have since disputed this conclusion, suggesting instead that the DSS were written by Christians or various Jews in and around Jerusalem possibly as late as the Middle Ages, most today believe that the scrolls are indeed the lost library of the Jewish sect called Essenes, written 2,000 years ago. (pp. 376-377)

Do the DSS confirm the reliability of the Old Testament?
Yes. The DSS show that the standard Hebrew text (called the Masoretic Text) that underlies today’s Old Testament has in fact been well preserved. However, the scrolls also demonstrate that there were other versions, slightly different from the standard version. One of these version agree with the Greek translation of the Old Testament, which New Testament authors frequently cited. (p. 378)

How is Scripture interpreted in the DSS?  
Scripture is often interpreted in a futuristic and allegorical way. In their commentaries (called pesharim) the men of Qumran believed that the prophets spoke of their (the Essenes’) time, a time on the very brink of coming judgment. (pp. 378-379)

Was Jesus an Essene?
Very unlikely. Jesus’ remarkably open teaching and surprisingly inclusive lifestyle, especially with regard to tax collectors and people called “sinners,” were completely at variance with the teaching and sequestered lifestyle of the men of Qumran. Essenes are not mentioned in the Gospels in all probability because they had no interest in Jesus and his ministry. (p. 379)

Do the DSS shed light on the ministry and teaching of Jesus?
Indeed they do. The scrolls attest the existence of long strings of beatitudes, just as we find in Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5; Luke 6). The scrolls attest the expectation of healing, raising the dead, and proclaiming good news in the messianic age, which we see in the teaching and ministry of Jesus. The scrolls argue for the sanctity of marriage by appeal to passages from Genesis, just as Jesus argued. (p. 380)

Do the DSS shed light on the teachings of the apostle Paul?
Indeed they do. In his letters (esp. Galatians and Romans) Paul asserts that no can be righteous by works or the Law. Some critics in the past accused Paul of creating a straw man. In other words, they say that no Jews believed they could be made righteous by obeying the Law. However, scrolls from the Dead Sea have proven that some Jews did believe that certain works of the Law had to be performed in order to be declared righteous in the sight of God. (p. 380)

Not only is this a well-written book, but it’s beautiful as well; it is printed on heavy paper and has many illustrations, photos, maps and photographs of the Scrolls. I will be using this wonderful reference resource time and time again as the years go on.  

There are several other books in this series, including the ‘Holman QuickSource Guide to Christian Apologetics,’ ‘Holman QuickSource Guide to Understanding Creation,’ and ‘Holman QuickSource Guide to Understanding Jesus.’ Being that this book is so helpful and so well-done, I would encourage anyone who is interested in learning about these other subjects to purchase these very well-written and well-researched books.

You can order this book here.

This book was provided by the B & H Publishing Group for review purposes.


Linda said...

We have the Dead Sea Scrolls on display here in MN til Sept. This would be a great book to have to read up on them.

Andrea Schultz said...

Linda -
This would be a perfect book to read to learn about the Scrolls before you see them. Are you going to go?

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