The Mystery and Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls review
Everybody loves a treasure hunt, and, all by themselves, the Dead Sea Scrolls certainly qualify as "the greatest archaeological discovery of the twentieth century." Add in the fact that one of those scrolls appears to pinpoint the various locations of old-fashioned buried treasure, the silver-and-gold kind, worth up to a billion dollars, and the reader's interest is surely compounded beyond calculation.
More speculative than real at this point, the buried treasure (possibly saved from the Second Temple just before the destruction of Jerusalem) is recorded on the unique Copper actually bronze Scroll found apart from other scrolls and artifacts in 1952. Herschel Shanks saves it for the next-to-last chapter in a book that proves enthralling from the start. Founder and editor of Biblical Archaeology Review and Bible Review, and author and editor of several books on Biblical archaeology, Shanks is himself something of a player in the ongoing, 50-year modern drama of the Dead Sea Scroll discoveries, which was sometimes a bit of a mess. Here, on the fiftieth anniversary of the discovery, he provides a clear and orderly (or at least as orderly as the circumstances permit) overview of their meaning, publication, and ramifications.
Actually, the truth is not as clear as one would have hoped by now about either the recent or the ancient past of the scrolls and thousands of manuscript fragments that make up the discoveries. Much of the book is devoted to tracing alternative theories and opinions about everything from the identity of the original scroll hiders (Temple partisans? Temple enemies? others?) to the nature of the nearby Qumran community (ascetic religious cult? military fortress? rest stop?) to the latter-day personality quirks of the scholars assigned to study and publish them (too varied even to mention).
Shanks, who has often seemed a down-to-earth voice in the stratospherics of academic Biblical archaeology, cools off some of the fireworks with two chapters about the real effects of the discoveries on modern Christianity and Judaism. He concludes pacifically that, except for "a certain kind" of faith, neither will suffer from anything the Dead Sea Scrolls have to reveal. In regard to one of the more inflammatory issues, Shanks states categorically that "Jesus is not in the Scrolls."Yet, already the Dead Sea Scrolls have changed the face of Biblical studies, and much remains to be learned from the scrolls and fragments now in hand. Shanks confidently anticipates many more manuscript discoveries to come, and every reader of this book will hope that in future overviews we may still enjoy the treasure of his company.