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The Story of the Scrolls: The miraculous discovery and true significance of the Dead Sea Scrolls Paperback – 4 Feb 2010
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Vermes has the rare gift of wearing his immense scholarship lightly (David Goldberg Independent)
From the Back Cover
The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in Qumran, between 1947 and 1956, was one of the greatest archaeological finds of all time. Written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek, and hidden in caves by an ancient Jewish sect, these mysterious manuscripts revolutionized our understanding of the Bible, of Judaism and the early Christian world.
Geza Vermes is the world's leading Dead Sea Scrolls scholar, whose English translations brought these extraordinary documents to thousands, and whose life has been inextricably interwoven with the scrolls for over sixty years. In this illuminating book he relates the controversial story of their discovery and publication around the world, revealing cover-ups, blunders and academic in-fighting, but also the passion and dedication of many of those involved. He shares what he has learned about the scrolls and, evaluating passages from them, gives his views on their true significance and what they can teach us, as well as those areas where scholarly consensus has not yet been reached.
Few scholars have been as closely associated with the Dead Sea Scrolls as Vermes. Writing with candour and unique authority, he has created an ideal introduction to understanding these miraculous documents.See all Product description
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Split into two parts, the first half of Vermes's book tells the story of how the scrolls were found and what then happened to them. Part two looks at what they actually say, placing the contents into the wider context of Biblical scholarship and thought, with speculations about the group that actually wrote them.
Part one is very lively, since it begins with that amazing discovery near the Dead Sea. Bathos soon takes over, however, and Vermes gives us chapter and verse on the whole sorry tale of bad management, incompetence and academic jealousy. Put simply, only a minority of the initially small team charged with restoring and translating the Scrolls were able to do the job with any competence. Vermes describes as a "scandal" the whole saga of misinterpretation, missed deadlines and the whole closed shop atmosphere, where only a select few were allowed access to the scrolls. As a consequence, four decades after the Scrolls' discovery, only a tiny fraction had been studied and translated. This is less of story of academic foibles than a tale of human folly on a global scale, and it's all the more fascinating for it.
Luckily, the last couple of decades have seen open access to the Scrolls' contents, and so study has continued apace.The second part of the book is, therefore, a comprehensive overview of the state of current Scrolls studies and a summary of the latest theories about the group that produced them.
Written at a brisk pace in a jaunty style, this book won't take you long to read and in fact it'll probably want you to go straight to the Professor's own translation of the scrolls themselves.
However, on closer consideration, it is apparent that in the scope of a fairly short book, the author has dealt with the main aspects of the scrolls. He is able to dismiss any lingering doubts that more interesting documents might have been hidden from public view. He identifies the scrolls with the Essenes, a sect who were established in the first or possibly the late second century BC, and continued through the first century AD until they were destroyed by the Roman army in AD68. The author argues from the archaeological record against researchers who suggested the site the scrolls were found near could have been an agricultural or military rather than a religious complex.
He also gives a concise description of the main religious proceeding of the sect. New members or novices were trained over a number of year before initiation, while children of existing members could be initiated at the age of twenty. At a yearly ceremony, a procession of both those being initiated and existing members entered the water for baptism or immersion. The ceremony ended with the recital of a poem that referred to gazing on what is eternal and knowledge hidden from the sons of man.
Gesa Vermes' book is an excellent read, with sufficient scholarship to ensure the reader will learn plenty and key facts to lay the conspiracy theories to rest. As I have usually found, cock-up beats conspiracy most days and this book gently puts that record straight.
In the course of doing both these things it tells you about the life of a great scholar almost in passing.
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