Vermes’ The Story of the Scrolls

For the time being, the paperback version of Geza Vermes’ The Story of the Scrolls is only $1.58 on Amazon. Just before the book was published, Vermes gave a lecture with the same title at the Louisiana State University’s Hill Memorial Library. A video of the the lecture is available on YouTube and has been embedded below.

Professor Vermes passed away on May 8, 2013. You can read several tributes to his life and work at The Marginalia Review of Books.

Lawrence Schiffman Surveys the Scrolls

I have not found online a more engaging, informative, well-balanced survey of the Dead Sea Scrolls than the video embedded below. As far as published resources go, you have a few very good options: Timothy Lim’s The Dead Sea Scrolls: A Very Short Introduction, John J. Collins’ The Dead Sea Scrolls: A Biography, and Craig A. Evans’ Holman Quick Source Guide to the Dead Sea Scrolls. All three of these provide clearly written introductions accessible to the general public.

Finding quality, free content online is a different story. YouTube is full of all sorts or crazy videos about the Dead Sea Scrolls. I was delighted to see that Lawrence Schiffman’s lecture provides not only quality information (I knew it would do that much), but also tells the story very well. I think this video made its way around the blogs and Twitter feeds several months ago when Schiffman joined the biblioblogosphere, but I just got a chance to watch it this morning, while carrying my 5 month old around the house as he slept.

Schiffman hits the high points concerning the discovery of the Scrolls, the archaeology of Khirbet Qumran, and surveys the contents of the Scrolls, all in an hour. Enjoy!

‘Warning’ or ‘Turning’ in Isaiah 8.11

This text-critical problem has been my hobby horse for a while now. I’ve posted on the problem before, but since then I have changed my mind and completely reworked my paper as a critique of the solution offered by the Comité pour l’analyse textuelle de l’Ancien Testament hébru. I presented this last semester in the Isaiah seminar at SBTS, and I am posting it here for feedback. Though I have revised and rewritten the paper several times, it is still technically under construction. So whether you agree or disagree, your comments are welcome.
You can access the paper here. Below, I’ve included a portion of my introduction and conclusion without the footnotes:

In 1969 the United Bible Society launched the Hebrew Old Testament Text Project (HOTTP). As an aid to their translators, six scholars were commissioned to analyze roughly 5,000 of the most significant text critical problems in the Hebrew Bible. Dominique Barthélemy drafted the committee’s “final report” in his magisterial four-volume Critique textuelle de l’Ancien Testament. This paper is a critique of the committee’s report on וְיִסְּרֵנִי in Isaiah 8:11. The Masoretic Text reads as follows:

כִּי כֹה אָמַר יְהוָה אֵלַי כְּחֶזְקַת הַיָּד וְיִסְּרֵנִי מִלֶּכֶת בְּדֶרֶךְ הָעָם־הַזֶּה לֵאמֹר

The HOTTP committee proposed repointing the form as a hiphil wayyiqtol from סור (“and he turned me”). Barthélemy concludes as follows: “The reading וַיְסִירֵנִי, read here by Symmachus, appeared preferable to the committee, as holding an intermediate position between that of MT and those of 1Q-a and G…”

I propose, against Barthélemy, that MT’s וְיִסְּרֵנִי is the more original reading—a qalwəyiqtol 3ms of יסר, “to warn, instruct”… Reading ויסרני as a form of יסר allows one to better explain how the alternative readings might have arisen, and the form וְיִסְּרֵנִי, a qal wəyiqtol, can be translated in the context of Isaiah 8:11 in a way that fits with the conventions of Classical Hebrew syntax.

Isaiah 9:6 | BHS on 1QIsa-a

In Isaiah 9:6 the apparatus of BHS says that 1QIsa-a reads למ רבה, with a space between the mem and resh. I don’t think there is a space between the two letters.

  1. Without the high-resolution images we have access to today, one might not be able to see just how closely the tail of the mem extends toward the resh.
  2. It is true that in the DSS final mems are not always used, but in this case, as is clear in the photo below, the scribe used a final mem in the previous word. If he intended the text to read similar to the LXX’s μεγάλη ἡ ἀρχὴ αὐτοῦ, then one would expect to see a final mem or a waw after the mem.

What do you think? Does the distance between the top of the mem and the resh warrant reading the text as למ רבה?

Weston Fields’ Full History of the DSS, vol. 1

I just read the last page of Weston Fields’ The Dead Sea Scrolls: A Full History, and I want to share a few reflections in order to bring this book to your attention if you do not already know about it and, hopefully, to motivate you to pick it up in the near future.

I have never been a “history guy.” History books do not line my shelves. I say this with a little shame, but it is true. Nevertheless, Weston Fields’ Full History of the Dead Sea Scrolls is on my short-list of books to buy this year at SBL. This history does not consist of boring, broad generalizations about events the author merely read about in other history books. Fields’ book is based on eye-witness testimony from,  interviews with, and the letters and diary entries of the people involved in the discovery, acquisition, research, and publication of the DSS. Fields writes,

Between 1999 and 2003 my wife and I traveled to every one of the people whose interviews are cited here, to Israel, the Netherlands, Jordan, Germany, Switzerland, France, the Isle of Man, England, and in the United States to New York, Boston, Washington, DC, Los Angeles, San Diego, and Claremont. We met and learned from these men whose names are forever melded to the scrolls. (14-15)

This is real history writing. The difficulty of putting together the history of these fragmentary documents is no doubt comparable to the monumental task the Scrolls team faced in trying to piece together the thousands of fragments from Cave 4. It is an intriguing story told with the level-headed rigor of a scholar and the genuine excitement and passion of an enthusiast.

Toward the end of last semester I read the first couple chapters, which document the discovery of and initial research on the Cave 1 materials. My reaction:

I picked the book up again this summer during vacation. The remaining chapters tell the story of the discovery and acquisition of materials from Wadi Murabbaʿat (ch.3) and Caves 2-11 (ch.4-13), with special focus on the Cave 4. My favorite chapter is chapter 6, where Fields gives short biographies of each member originally considered for and/or a part of the Cave 4 team (Cross, Milik, Wernberg-Moller, Allegro, Emerton, Starcky, Strugnell, Hunzinger, Skehan, Baillet, and de Vaux [an administrator over the team], pp.193-231). Leslie, my wife, read this chapter to me while we drove to her parents for vacation, and she seemed to enjoy it, too. Fields has accomplished his goal of writing a history of the DSS for “all audiences.” He writes,

The book is intended for all audiences. Many books have been written about the Dead Sea Scrolls by specialist for specialists. This is not one of them. (16)

As is clear from the glowing review by Charlotte Hempel, the newly appointed executive editor of the Dead Sea Discoveries, the book certainly has something to offer to the specialist, as well. I walk away from Fields’ Full History feeling like I know these scholars. How could I not? The book is beautifully illustrated, and a large chunk of the 592 pages is filled with the (often witty and humorous) letters written between team members.

Four of the team members stood out to me in particular. I was inspired to immediately start gathering articles and books written by Frank M. Cross, Jr. “‘The Great Cross,’ as Allegro called him in a letter to Baillet in 1982, ‘Paragon,’ as W.F. Albright described him in 1950…” (193). If you get your hands on a copy of this book, please note the stately picture of this scholarly “paragon” on page 194. It’s impressive. Fields’ portrayal of Józef T. Milik leaves me with the impression that any work bearing Milik’s name is worthy of careful consideration. John Strugnell’s solid scholarship and gracious personality, especially in his dealings with Allegro, stood out as well. Fields’ description of John Marco Allegro’s descent from colleague of the scrollery to exile had me in one moment sympathizing with Allegro’s plight and in the next shaking my head in agreement with the decision of de Vaux (et al) to disassociate with him. When you get to hear this drama play out from the actual letters written between Allegro and the other team members, it is moving–an absolutely tragic story.

Thank you, Weston W. Fields, for a fantastic read! You have helped kindle within me an interest in the Dead Sea Scrolls that I suspect will not soon be extinguished. As Charlotte Hempel said, “We look forward to the next installment.”