Like most Thames & Hudson productions, this book is a very beautiful text. Printed in vibrant, full-colour process, every page has graphics, pictures, colours, maps, or some other piece of visual interest. When dealing with a subject like the Dead Sea Scrolls, the material for visual presentation is grand, as are the settings in which many of the scrolls have been found.
After a brief introduction and chronology, the book is divided into five primary sections. The first section explores the early discoveries of the Dead Sea Scrolls, including the famous Damascus document, a 'Dead Sea Scroll' actually not from the Dead Sea area - 50 years prior to the 1947/48 discoveries, Solomon Schechter of Cambridge University discovered manuscripts in a Cairo genizah, and after the discovery of the DSS, the particular 'Damascus document' was recognised as being related to the DSS texts. This section also looks at the editorial process and the personalities first involved in reconstruction and editing of the texts. This involves the many controversies (such as the charges of cover-ups of damaging material, intentional delays, and simply old fashioned academic rivalries) as well as controversial personalities (Allegro, for example, wrote extensively apart from his DSS assignments calling into question the origins of Christianity).
The second section looks at the world of the DSS. This sets the historical context of Judea/Palestine in the centuries before and during Roman domination and occupation. From the Babylonian exile to the revolts against Rome and the formation of Rabbinic Judaism, the culture of the communities is important for understanding the context in which the biblical and extra-biblical texts of the DSS were written.
The longest section of the book is the third section, looking specifically at the scrolls themselves. The authors take a cave-by-cave approach, showing the discoveries of each cave from Cave 1 to Cave 4 in great detail (these were the earliest and largest discoveries), Cave 5 to 10 as a set piece, and Cave 11 which includes the famous Temple Scroll and an important Psalm Scroll. One of the issues the authors highlight is the difficulty in using the term 'biblical' with regard to the scrolls - the canon of the Bible was not set until well after the scroll writing/copying period, and despite the fact that every book of the Hebrew Bible is represented among the scrolls save Esther, 'it seems that other texts were regarded as having equal status.' Some appear in the official Apocrypha of Christian Bibles, and others were unknown until the discovery of the scrolls.
The fourth section looks specifically at the ruins at Qumran, the archaeological digs and discoveries as well as the competing interpretations placed on the ruins and artifacts. Qumran has been envisioned as a monastery, a military outpost, a Herodian villa, and a proto-city. Whether or not the scrolls have any real connection to Qumran is also a debated topic, although most scholars currently think there is a connection.
The final section looks at the meaning of the scrolls as a set piece. What are the implications for Judaism? What does the scroll material reveal about early Christianity? 'The Dead Sea Scrolls have revolutionised our perception of Early Judaism,' the authors write. They are a unique witness to their time, offering contemporary, first-hand evidence of the sectarian issues of the day. With regard to early Christianity, the scrolls predate the origins of the early Christian writings, but they were by most accounts still being written, and then hidden, during the time of the Apostles. Scholars continue to speculate about the Essene connections with John the Baptist and Jesus (although the New Testament never mentions this sect, and yet does mention Pharisees and Sadduccees). There are important parallels, but neither the early Christian movement nor the Dead Sea Scroll community were unique in their messianic expectation.
This is a book about the scrolls. It discusses the context, the framework, the history and the discovery in good form. It is a good introductory text to what the scrolls are, and includes brief synopses of the contents of the scrolls. This is not a collection of the scrolls with translations; while it has pictures from all of the sets of scrolls, it is not a comprehensive compendium of photographic plates of all of the scrolls and scroll fragments. There are other (much more expensive) collections with these. This is a good book for use with study groups, classes, and for the general reader who wants an overview of the scrolls, their history, their basic contents, and the surrounding issues and controversies. The text was well written by Philip Davies, George Brooke, and Phillip Callaway, noted scholars in the field .