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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Illuminating manuscripts, 3 Feb 2008
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This review is from: The Dead Sea Scrolls: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) (Paperback)
Despite the occasional carp that media coverage of the Dead Sea Scrolls coincides with high points of the Christian (as opposed to Jewish) calendar, or about the use of the term 'insurgents' for freedom fighters in the Second Jewish Revolt (against Rome), this is an admirably dispassionate and reasoned VSI. The finding of ancient scrolls in Khirbet Qumran, Palestine, in 1947, has been called 'the greatest manuscript discovery ever'. That Lim avoids exaggeration is evident from his own more qualified view (in more ways than one, I suspect): 'the greatest discovery ... for Jewish studies of the Second Temple Period and biblical studies' - which gives a rather less sensational slant.

Such avoidance of hyperbole might sound unexciting. Certainly, discussion of copyright law, or the torturous history of Second Temple Judaism might seem as arid as the desert sands, but there should be enough to engage the mind. There are no cheap, Dan Brownesque Vatican conspiracies exposed or major scriptural revelations announced. Yet in terms of the light shed on the early scribes and scriptures, on the archaeology of Qumran, on modern scholarly practice and on a unique period of human history, there are revelations and controversies enough.

Lim offers an insight into the religious life of one of the ancient world's great sects, the extremely ascetic Essenes. It was intriguing to learn that Jewish demotic was Aramaic, not Hebrew, during the Persian period. And that the Essenes may well have had scriptoria, like medieval monks, in which to copy their scriptures. I've also learnt a new word: 'parablepsis', a phenomenon whereby the eye skips a line or a phrase when copying - a mistake we've all made, but an especially taxing one when ancient scribes commit the error. Lim's account of how the Qumran texts have helped to fill in the gaps of suspected lacunae in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) is exemplary - for example, 1 Samuel, 10-11. This isn't usually my 'territory', but I found Lim's VSI strangely fascinating nonetheless.
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Jon Chambers
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Location: Birmingham, England

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