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The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English: Complete Edition (Penguin Classics)
~Geza Vermes
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Product Information

Media: Paperback
ISBN/ASIN : 0140449523
Manufacturer : Penguin Books Ltd
Release data : 24 June, 2004

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    1 star1 star1 star1 star1 star    For the first time in 2000 years...

    Geza Vermes' book, The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English, is a worthy capstone to a long and distinguished scroll career. Vermes entire career, from his student days to this present work, has been concentrated largely on the Dead Sea Scrolls and related topics. His doctorate in 1953 was completed with a dissertation on the historical framework of the Dead Sea Scrolls. It is difficult to find any scholar with as complete a knowledge of the scrolls as has Vermes; it is impossible to find one who knows them better.

    This book was released in 1997, 50 years from the time the first Arab shepherd climbed into a cave in search of a wandering animal and instead fell upon the first of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Following the 'revolution' of 1991 (to use Vermes words), everyone interested could have unfettered access to the Scrolls, and yet, as inaccessible as they had been previously due to physical restriction, they remained just as inaccessible due to the problem of language and translation.

    'In addition to the English rendering of the Hebrew and Aramaic texts found in the eleven Qumran caves, two inscribed potsherds (ostraca) retrieved from the Qumran site and two Qumran-type documents discovered in the fortress of Masada, and brief introductory notes to each text, this volume also provides an up-to-date general introduction, outlining the history of fifty years of Scroll research and sketching the organisation, history and religious message of the Qumran Community.'

    This is the latest volume of a series: when Vermes first published an edition in 1962 (then 15 years after the discovery of the first scrolls), the book had 262 pages; the current edition has 648. The introduction deals with a brief sketch of the history of research (including a bit on the controversies, such as not allowing Jewish scholars to work on these Jewish texts, the close-guarding and restrictive access of the scrolls by the scholars); further issues in the introduction address current research, including questions of dating, provenance, and perhaps, most importantly, the meaning and significance of the Qumran texts.

    Vermes puts together a three-part essay on his view (as well as a little on alternative views) of who was the community at Qumran, the history of that community, and the religious ideas of the community.

    This is where we get into the text of the Scrolls in earnest. Vermes begins with The Community Rule a large document that listed the requirements and a penal code. This is best known as the Manual of Discipline. Composition may have begun about 100 BCE, and several fragmentary remains exist of copies of the manual.

    'There are, to my knowledge, no writings in ancient Jewish sources parallel to the Community Rule, but a similar type of literature flourished amogn Christians between the second and fourth centuries, the so-called 'Church Orders' represented by works such as the Didache, the Didascalia, the Apostolic Constitution.'

    From the Rules and variants, including the now-infamous MMT text, which provoked international lawsuits for violating the 'copyright' exerted by one Scroll scholar on its contents, Vermes proceeds to examine Hymns and Poems; Calendars, Liturgies and Prayers; Apocalyptic Works (which have the greatest appeal to many imminent eschatologically-inclined sects today); Wisdom Literature; Bible translations, commentaries, and apocryphal works; and Miscellanea, including objects such as the Copper Scroll (a rare form, not on parchment, which reads like an accountant's register of treasure), and lists, including the List of False Prophets.

    For anyone interested in the Dead Sea Scrolls in any serious way, this is an essential book. With various 'complete' scroll editions and collections being released, this edition, produced by one who has devoted his life to scroll studies, remains one of the best, most complete and clearly translated.

    The one drawback, which will only affect those whose interest extends to the study of Roman-period Hebrew and Aramaic, is that there is no photographic imagery or recreation in Hebrew/Aramaic script to show the actual scroll text so that one might make a personal study of the accuracy of the translation. Thus, this text works best for that purpose in conjunction with another translation, or with the very-expensive scroll photographic plate sets now available.

    But, for most any use from general interest to scholarship, this volume will serve the reader well.

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