Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 12 (2012) - Review

Lim, Timothy H. and John J. Collins (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of the Dead Sea Scrolls (OHRT; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010). Pp. xx+768. Hardback. US$150.00. ISBN 9780199207237.

Over one hundred volumes have now been published in the prestigious Oxford Handbook series and, not surprisingly, individual editors in the series have understood the goals and purposes of this series in different ways. In the Oxford Handbook of the Dead Sea Scrolls, editors Timothy Lim and John Collins explicitly lay out their objective on page 1: “to probe the main disputed areas in the study of the scrolls.” They acknowledge what has already been accomplished in earlier compendia that focused on broad surveys of new materials and on areas of agreement, in particular, The Dead Sea Scrolls after Fifty Years: A Comprehensive Assessment and the Encyclopedia of the Dead Sea Scrolls,[1] as well as collections that presented the proceedings of various anniversary conferences (e.g., the 50th anniversary conference in Jerusalem, 1997; the 60th anniversary Jerusalem conference in 2008; the Ljubljana meeting of the IOQS in 2007). In light of what has already been done, Lim and Collins take up a specific challenge in their volume: “to reflect on diverse opinions and viewpoints, highlight the points of disagreement, and point to promising directions for future research” (p. 2).

This volume needs to be read in terms of its self-defined goal. It is not an introduction to the scrolls nor is it a history of scholarship, although both elements play a considerable role in at least some of the essays. The volume presupposes an acquaintance with basic issues and controversies, though almost all the essays should be readily accessible to scholars who are non-specialists in a given topic. It is divided into eight sections, each with two to six entries, for a total of thirty essays; for the sake of convenience, the full list is included at the end of this review. Most of the titles are self-explanatory and so the list gives a good indication of the scope of the volume. Each essay is followed by a bibliography preceded by a short section entitled “Suggested Reading”; although occasionally this is merely a list of items from the bibliography, in most cases the author makes a judicious selection of key works and adds succinct comments on the specific contribution of each, so that this section proves to be very helpful for the non-specialist reader. There is a text index and a name index but, unfortunately, no topic index.

It is always revealing to look over the list of who is invited to write for a volume like this. The breadth of the contributors is wide and representative. The “giants” of the first generation of scrolls scholarship who were still writing for the 50th anniversary volumes (Cross, Sanders, Baumgarten, Fitzmyer) are not to be found here. Many of the essays are by those of the next generation who have established themselves as “the experts” on a given topic (e.g., Collins on Sectarian Communities, Vanderkam on Enoch, Brooke on New Testament, Newsom on Rhetorical Criticism). A few essays come from junior scholars (Zahn, Lambert) who are drawing largely on their doctoral dissertations. On two topics, the editors went outside the Qumran field to invite specialists: Albert de Jong, an expert in Zoroastrianism from Leiden University to write on “Iranian Connections,” and an attorney, Hector MacQueen, an expert in copyright law, for the final essay on “The Scrolls and the Legal Definition of Authorship.” The range of authors is international: England/British Isles is well represented (ten essays by scholars presently teaching there) as is the United States (eleven essays); there are three essays by Israeli scholars (four if Tal Ilan is counted here). Changes in the geography of Qumran scholarship are reflected by the inclusion of a scholar from the Nordic area (Jokiranta) and the fact that there are only two Germans (Lange and Frey, teaching now in Austria and Switzerland respectively) and no French scholar. Views of “the main disputed areas” are often summarized and discussed and the positions of some authors (e.g., Golb, Peleg) are frequently mentioned as being in this category, although such positions are not voiced by these scholars directly.

The twenty-page introductory essay by Lim and Collins is insightful and helpful, but also a bit puzzling and at times frustrating. Certainly the Introduction can and should be read on its own as a careful and analytical summary of current research, supplemented by provocative hints about topics and questions that merit further work. Lim and Collins seem sometimes to be summarizing what follows in the rest of the book and sometimes to have a slightly different agenda and to be presenting an alternate survey. For example, they claim that “the fundamental question to be asked about the scrolls” is the question of “the nature of the collection” (p. 2), but there is no essay specifically on that particular topic and their discussion makes little reference to what is said about the collection in the volume itself. Often when they refer to a scholar by name, it is difficult to know whether reference is being made to an essay in the volume (since no internal page references are given) or to an article/book that is to be found in their bibliography. As Lim and Collins reflect on the book as a whole, they conclude that the “old consensus” that Qumran was a sectarian site occupied most probably by the Essenes is still held by most scholars, but that the focus of interest has shifted to the broader sectarian movement and its interaction with the Judaism of the day (pp. 15–16); there is less interest now in the implications of the scrolls for Christianity and more attention paid to their relationship with rabbinic Judaism, but still relatively little research on how they fit into the wider Hellenistic-Roman world.

Although it is obviously impossible to examine all of the essays individually in this short review, a few can be highlighted as expressing “new” views or at least a more radical turn away from the “old consensus”: Martin Goodman's proposal that “the Jews who produced the scrolls were indeed as much committed to the Jerusalem cult as other Jews” (p. 86); Michael Wise's placement of the Teacher and his movement in the first century b.c.e., not the second century; and Sacha Stern's claim that the calendar was not a polemical issue and does not appear “to have played a particular role in forging the Qumran community's sectarian identity” (p. 250). Other essays take up issues that have emerged and become central to scrolls' discussion over the last decade or so: for example, the presence and role of women in the sectarian community, a topic treated specifically by Tal Ilan but also peripherally by many other authors. Some essays are particularly strong in articulating questions and directions for future study, often in light of perceived inadequacies in present models and conceptualizations: for example, Jonathan Klawans' proposal of an alternative model of “quasi-purity,” and the many challenging questions that Daniel Falk raises about literary models, historical development, function and ideology in the study of prayer and liturgy. Although ever since the 50th anniversary conferences in 1997 there have been repeated calls for integrating more diverse methodologies and for moving toward an interdisciplinary approach to scrolls research, there are only two relevant essays in the section entitled “New Approaches to the Scrolls,” (Carol Newsom and Maxine Grossman who both deal with literary approaches). Jutta Jokiranta's article on sociological approaches could perhaps have come in this section as well, and there are brief acknowledgements of new approaches in other essays (e.g. Falk on Ritual Studies), but clearly this is a major area for future developments.

While Lim and Collins's final sentence that “little if anything is definitively settled in the study of the Dead Sea Scrolls” (p. 16) may be somewhat hyperbolic, they are certainly justified in their prediction that the scrolls are “likely to remain a source of vibrant debate for generations to come.” This volume will supply much of the framework and resources for this debate, and Lim and Collins along with the authors of individual articles are to be congratulated and thanked for their significant contribution to advancing the discussion.

Appendix: Table of Contents

Part I: Archaeology of Khirbet Qumran and the Judaean Wilderness

Eric M. Meyers, “Khirbet Qumran and its Environs”; Rachel Hachili, “The Qumran Cemetery Reassessed.”

Part II: The Scrolls and Jewish History

Martin Goodman, “Constructing Ancient Judaism from the Scrolls”; Michael O. Wise, “The Origins and History of the Teacher's Movement”; Tal Ilan, “Women in Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls.”

Part III: The Scrolls and Sectarianism

John J. Collins, “Sectarian Communities in the Dead Sea Scrolls”; Joan E. Taylor, “The Classical Sources on the Essenes and the Scrolls Communities”; Jutta Jokiranta, “Sociological Approaches to Qumran Sectarianism”; Sacha Stern, “Qumran Calendars and Sectarianism”; James C. VanderKam, “The Book of Enoch and the Qumran Scrolls.”

Part IV: The Biblical Texts, Interpretation and Languages of the Scrolls

Ronald S. Hendel, “Assessing the Text-Critical Theories of the Hebrew Bible after Qumran”; Timothy H. Lim, “Authoritative Scriptures and the Dead Sea Scrolls”; Molly Zahn, “Rewritten Scripture”; Bilhah Nitzan, “The Continuity of Biblical Interpretation in the Qumran Scrolls and Rabbinic Literature”; Jan Joosten, “Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek in the Qumran Scrolls.”

Part V: Religious Themes in the Scrolls

Jonathan Klawans, “Purity in the Dead Sea Scrolls”; Michael A. Knibb, “Apocalypticism and Messianism”; James R. Davila, “Exploring the Mystical Background of the Dead Sea Scrolls”; Armin Lange, “Wisdom Literature and Thought in the Dead Sea Scrolls”; Albert de Jong, “Iranian Connections in the Dead Sea Scrolls”; David Lambert, “Was the Dead Sea Sect a Penitential Movement?”

Part VI: The Scrolls and Early Christianity

Jörg Frey, “Critical Issues in the Investigation of the Scrolls and the New Testament”; Larry W. Hurtado, “Monotheism, Principal Angels and the Background of Christology”; George J. Brooke, “Shared Exegetical Traditions between the Scrolls and the New Testament.”

Part VII: The Scrolls and Later Judaism

Aharon Shemesh, “Halakhah between the Dead Sea Scrolls and Rabbinic Literature”; Daniel K. Falk, “The Contribution of the Qumran Scrolls to the Study of Ancient Jewish Liturgy”; Stefan C. Reif, “Reviewing the Links between the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Cairo Genizah.”

Part VIII: New Approaches to the Scrolls

Carol. A. Newsom, “Rhetorical Criticism and the Reading of the Qumran Scrolls”; Maxine L. Grossman, “Roland Barthes and the Teacher of Righteousness: The Death of the Author of the Dead Sea Scrolls”; Hector L. MacQueen, “The Scrolls and the Legal Definition of Authorship.”

Eileen M. Schuller, McMaster University

[1] Peter W. Flint and James C. VanderKam, The Dead Sea Scrolls after Fifty Years: A Comprehensive Assessment (2 vols; Leiden: Brill, 1998); Lawrence H. Schiffman and James C. VanderKam, Encyclopedia of the Dead Sea Scrolls (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000). reference