Michael Wise, Martin Abegg, Jr., & Edward Cook, The Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Translation (HarperSanFrancisco: 1996). Pp. xiv + 513. $35.00.

by Sheila Elizabeth McGinn, Ph.D., John Carroll University, University Heights, Ohio 44118
27 October 1997

This new translation and commentary incorporates the most recently released texts from the Qumran collection. Included are several calendar scrolls and Biblical commentaries or paraphrases. I will mention only a few of the more interesting ones. A Paraphrase of Genesis and Exodus (4Q225) begins with a Job-style reworking of the akedah in Genesis 22 to blame the idea on Satan (Mastemah here) rather than God (262). The Healing of King Nabonidus (4Q242) may preserve a source behind the Biblical episode in Daniel 4 (265). A Vision of the Son of God (4Q246), when read in its entirety, shows the title character to be not a messiah but a villain who usurps God's place (269). The Ashes of the Red Heifer (4Q276-277) adopts the Sadducean preparation method later reported in the Mishnah (284). The War of the Messiah (4Q285, 11Q14) seems to preserve the War Scroll's missing end, where the Community Leader vanquishes the enemy (292). The Parable of the Bountiful Tree (4Q302a) conclusively shows that Jesus' parables (contra Jeremias) were not "something entirely new" (295).

There are also some variations from previous editions of the Scrolls. The order for the Thanksgiving Psalms (1QH) follows the reconstruction of Emile Puech ["Quelques aspects de la restauration du Rouleau des Hymnes (1QH)," Journal of Jewish Studies 39 (1988): 38-55] and includes the fragments 1Q35 and 4Q427-432. In their discussion of the War Scroll (1QM, 4Q491-496), the authors argue that Manuscript C of 4Q491 should be included with the Thanksgiving Psalms. They correct the DJD 5 line numbering for Fragments 10-12 of the Reworking of Genesis and Exodus (4Q158), as well as Allegro's misplaced conjunction in the Horoscope Written in Code (4Q186).

On the basis of these new texts, and reinterpretations of some of the previously-released ones -- e.g., The Copper Scroll (3Q15) and the Commentary on Habbakuk (1QpHab) -- the authors argue against Roland de Vaux's historical reconstruction for the settlement at Qumran. Instead, they suggest a predominantly first-century scenario: "the Teacher of Righteousness began his ministry late in the second or early in the first century B.C.E., perhaps during the reign of Alexander [Jannaeus]. After the Pharisees came to power under Salome, they persecuted the Teacher's group, which was sympathetic to the Sadducean establishment, eventually hounding the Teacher into exile. When Hyrcanus II became king, he renewed his efforts to destroy the Teacher and his group. The Roman intervention [in 63 B.C.E.] ended the Jewish civil war of Pharisee versus Sadducee, Hyrcanus versus Aristobulus." (32)

Rather than understanding the Scrolls as having been produced by Essenes at Qumran, the authors suggest, on long-recognized paleographic grounds, that the Scrolls were written by "hundreds of different scribes" and then brought to Qumran (22). This does not preclude the site having been used by the Essenes at some point -- a fact which seems indisputable based on the ostracon inscription referring to the Yahad -- but neither does it mean that the group was the monastic-type community originally envisaged. While the Essenes may have arisen from the pro-Sadducee group at Qumran, the authors suggest -- on the basis of both Qumran and Masada finds -- that first-century C.E. readers of the Dead Sea Scrolls also included the sicarii, the logical source for 3Q15 (33). This new reconstruction will no doubt elicit vigorous discussion by Scrolls scholars.

For scholars of early Christianity, there are interesting parallels between various second- and third-century doctrinal movements and the teachings in the scrolls. Perhaps the two most notable are the acceptance of an apocalyptic scenario (e.g., 1QS, 4Q255-264a, 5Q11; cf. Chiliastic movements) and the emphasis on the idea of true wisdom as a mystery hidden from many but revealed by God to the elect (e.g., 1Q27, 4Q299-301; cf. Gnosticism). Such similarities deserve more attention than they hitherto have received.

For beginners, the chapter on "Reading a Dead Sea Scroll" presents a clear, concise summary of how individual texts are reconstructed from the hundreds of scroll fragments which were found. It brings out the limitations and hypothetical nature of such reconstructions -- an important caveat for introductory readers. Likewise, the explanation of the basic sigla used in the transcriptions is helpful for students. These features make this volume a potentially useful, if pricey, textbook.