Another fast read ...
Ah, back in the day ... an odd factoid occurred to me when reading this book ... I must have been some sort of nerd
back in high school and into college, as I actually subscribed
to Biblical Archaeology Review (the publishers of this volume), and not only did I have a subscription
, but I had bought all the back issues, so I had a complete set! You see, my dislike
of Christianity is not
ill-informed, but the product of looking closely at something (like the making of sausages and laws) that is better served by being unobserved.
This book, The Dead Sea Scrolls: After Forty Years
is a record of a symposium held at the Smithsonian back in 1990 by Hershel Shanks (of B.A.R.) along with a number of the Dead Sea Scrolls researchers. This has, of course, "aged" on my shelf (it would be "After Fifty Five Years" at this point!), but, unlike some of the "cutting edge science" stuff, I don't think this has gotten any staler by the delay in reading it. The book is pretty brief (under 100 pages) and straight forward, having five sections, one by each of the seminar presenters, plus a final "panel discussion".
Being the "anti-Christian" kind of guy I am, I really appreciate anything that makes the Biblical Literalists look like idiots, and this sort of scholarly
study of the Bible and its origins is a breath of fresh air. One of the researchers even addresses the "lay folk (who) still want to think of the Bible as somehow inerrant
" as being particularly ignorant of the "fluidity" of both the canon and the contents thereof over the early centuries of the Christian Era, and earlier. One of the things I found fascinating
in this was the rather late period when the Jewish
scriptures became "set", and even then having content differences depending on region.
There are all sorts of interesting tidbits in this, like how we know nothing
of the actual sectarian beliefs of the Pharisees and Sadducees, despite how prominently the names
of these groups feature in the New Testament, yet for a group that has nearly no
Biblical role, the Essenes, there is this whole library of texts! Gotta love those little ironies.
I must say, having read this has set me to thinking about checking out some other books ... I'd been familiar with John Allegro's "post-scroll" work (classics like The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross
, which I'd tried to get the rights to for an Eschaton re-print), and there were a couple of "knocks" against him in here which made me want to go looking for his "unauthorized release" of the fabled Copper Scroll.
Anyway ... needless to say, a book of lectures on 2,000-year-old text fragments is not everybody's cup of tea, but it's been one of my long-time "areas of interest", so I found this quite the interesting read. As one might expect, this doesn't have a ton of folks lining up to buy it, so if it sounds like something you'd want to pick up, you're in luck as Amazon has "like new" copies of The Dead Sea Scrolls: After Forty Years
in their "Used and New" listings for as little as 1¢!