Saturday, May 14, 2011

Accessing the Dead Sea Scrolls

The Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) are surprisingly accessible. Unfortunately, they often go unread. Many people just don't care, but I would imagine there are a few interested parties that just have no idea how to gain access to these scrolls. There are two books in particular that unlock these ancient documents in readable English that was previously unavailable.

The Dead Sea Scrolls - Revised Edition: A New TranslationThe Dead Sea Scrolls, translation by Wise, Abegg and Cook, provides very readable translations of the non-biblical scrolls. There are helpful introductions that show how these texts that don't appear in contemporary Bibles might be relevant to biblical texts.

The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible: The Oldest Known Bible Translated for the First Time into EnglishThe Dead Sea Scrolls Bible is an amazing tool. It provides a translation of OT texts from the DSS and footnotes wherever the DSS manuscripts differ from other OT manuscripts.

These resources are very helpful in two regards. First, they provide access to textual traditions that are much older than the best Hebrew manuscripts previously available. Before the DSS, scholars had to rely on the textual tradition of the Masoretic Text (MT), the Samaritan Pentateuch (SP), and a Greek translation of the OT known as the Septuagint (LXX). The MT is the standard for most English Bible translations today. The DSS, however, provide evidence that precedes the MT by almost 1,000 years!  

Second, these resources show us how Jews were copying, reading and interpreting sacred texts around the same time as Jesus and Paul. It is interesting to note that the three most popular books among the DSS caches were Psalms (37 manuscripts), Deuteronomy (30 manuscripts) and Isaiah (21 manuscripts). These are also the most frequently cited OT books in the NT! Comparing these texts to the NT shows us how other Jews were interpreting the same books sometimes in similar ways and other times in radically different ways than the NT writers.

If you want access to some of the most popular writings and traditions circulating around the time of Jesus, read these books.   

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