A Christmas Gift from the Dead Sea by William Rutherford

I was very excited to see that the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), under the direction of Shuka Dorfman and Pnina Shor, launched The Leon Levy Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library in December, 2012. For the first time since the discovery of the first scrolls in 1947, the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) are now available online in digitized format for our viewing pleasure at www.deadseascrolls.org.il. Each fragment is delicately photographed with multispectral MegaVision imaging technology, allowing the user to view portions of writing undiscernible to the human eye yet clearly visible in the near-infrared wavelengths. (For an example, compare the full-spectrum color image of 4QGenesisg with the infrared image of the same fragment.) As of the writing of this blog, not all of the Scrolls have been imaged. IAA will continue to upload them as they become available. Drs. Dorfman and Shor and their team deserve our hearty thanks as they painstakingly work to image each of the thousands of extant Scroll fragments. Theirs is a daunting, yet noble, task, that of preserving for posterity a treasure of human civilization and of deep value to students of Jewish antiquity and Christian origins.

For those who may not be readily familiar with the Scrolls, they comprise a collection of biblical and extra-biblical texts (hymnic, apocalyptic, calendrical, exegetical and more) found in the region of the Judean Desert (in modern day Israel and Jordan) and written mainly in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek on parchment or papyrus (with one engraved on copper!). The Scrolls range in date from the eight century BCE to the eleventh century CE, with the majority coming from the second century BCE to the second century CE. Many of these texts were discovered in caves near Qumran, the site of an ancient Jewish community that lived on the shore of the Dead Sea. For a more extended overview of the Scrolls and their significance begin at the Introduction Page on IAA’s website and continue from there.

Here at HBU, we offer introductory and upper-level Hebrew reading courses. In this semester’s course (HEBR 4351), in addition to portions of biblical poetry, we will be reading selections of the Hodayot Psalms from Qumran.  These thanksgiving psalms have much to tell us about the nature of hymnody and worship in a pre-Christian Jewish community. One of the fascinating aspects of these scrolls is that they are unvocalized. Thnk hw dffclt rdng nglsh wtht vwls wld b!

If you would like to see some DSS fragments in person, Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas is hosting an exhibition titled Dead Sea Scrolls & the Bible through January 13 (link to Southwestern DSS Exhibition).

For those of you who have little or no training in Hebrew but would like to access the scrolls in English, I recommend the editions of Geza Vermes (The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English, now in its seventh edition); Florentino García Martínez (The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition); and Michael Wise, Martin Abegg, Jr., and Edward Cook (The Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Translation). These are readily available for purchase on sites like Amazon. Unfortunately, general editions of the Scrolls do not usually incorporate manuscripts of biblical texts, for which I would suggest you consult the edition of the biblical scrolls prepared by Martin Abegg, Jr., Peter Flint, and Eugene Ulrich (The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible: The Oldest Known Bible Translated for the First Time into English, HarperOne, 2002).

If you have had some training in biblical Hebrew and would like to try your hand at an extra-biblical document from the Dead Sea Scrolls, I recommend you start by translating through the recent edition of the Hodayot Psalms by Eileen Schuller and Carol Newsom (The Hodayot (Thanksgiving Psalms): A Study Edition of 1QHa) or picking a text in the (much more expensive) series by Donald Parry and Emanuel Tov (The Dead Sea Scrolls Reader. Six volumes). The helpful grammar of Elisha Qimron (The Hebrew of the Dead Sea Scrolls) will provide some guidelines for the Hebrew of the Scrolls.

One response

  1. Pingback: Thought of the Day — Jesus and The Judean Wilderness | Jack T. Scully

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