The Dead Sea Scrolls Uncovered: The First Complete Translation and Interpretation of 50 Key Documents Withheld for Over 35 Years (review)
- Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies
- Purdue University Press
- Volume 14, Number 2, Winter 1996
- pp. 178-181
- View Citation
- Additional Information
178 SHOFAR Winter 1996 Vol. 14, No.2 The Dead Sea Scrolls Uncovered: The First Complete Translation and Interpretation of 50 Key Documents Withheld for Over 35 Years, by Robert H. Eisenman and Michael Wise. Rockport, MA: Element, 1992. 286 pp. $24.95. The past five years have witnessed a veritable explosion of interest in the Qumran textual corpus, particularly within the popular news media, and the appearance of the present volume fueled no small part of this public ferment. Released by its publishers in time for display at the 1992 Society ofBiblical literature conference in San Francisco, the book created a sensation there, eliciting both effusive praise and harsh condemnation, depending upon one's status within what the authors term the "academic curia" (p. 5), i.e., that handful of scholars who prior to 1991 enjoyed official access to the unpublished portions of the Qumran discoveries. Robert Eisenman, chair of the Religious Studies Department at California State University, Long Beach, and Michael Wise, Assistant Professor of Aramaic in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilization at the University of Chicago, publish herein transcriptions, translations, and exegetical discussions of fifty nonbiblical compositions culled from the photographs of scroll fragments recovered from Cave 4. The Introduction provides a synopsis of the book's production. During the mid-to-Iate 1980s, Professor Eisenman grew increasingly frustrated with his (and many other scholars') lack of access to the unpublished Dead Sea scroll material and the painfully slow process of "official" publication, and began to lobby publicly for their release. As a result, in September of 1989, someone (he never reveals the identity of this person) began to send Eisenman photographic reproductions of the forbidden manuscripts. Eventually Eisenman acquired in this clandestine fashion approximately 1800 photographs oflargely unpublished fragments. In November of 1990 he invited Professor Wise to join him in the examination of this treasure trove, and made arrangements with E. J. Brill of Leiden to reproduce the photographs in a facsimile edition to be published in the spring of 1991. However, as the publication date drew near, Brill inexplicably withdrew its support, and Eisenman contacted Herschel Shanks, editor of Biblical Archaeology Review and also a vocal critic of the status quo, for his possible interest in publishing the photographs. Shanks's support was enthusiastically granted, and a twovolume facsimile edition duly appeared in November of 1991, edited by Eisenman and James M. Robinson. Meanwhile, Eisenman and Wise continued their interpretive labors, resolving to work their way through the entire collection of photographs Book Reviews 179 to assess their significance. The present volume is the fruit of that collaborative venture. Ultimately it was determined that the ftfty texts published here comprise "the best of what exists" in the photo hoard (p. 6), and these were prepared for publication between January 1991 and May 1992. The ftfty selections, 33 in Hebrew and 17 in Aramaic, are classified by the authors under the following headings: 1. Messianic and Visionary Recitals; 2. Prophets and Pseudo-prophets; 3. Biblical Interpretation;, 4. Calendrical Texts and Priestly Courses; 5. Testaments and Admonitions; 6. Works Reckoned as Righteousness-Legal Texts; 7. Hymns and Mysteries; and 8. Divination, Magic and Miscellaneous. A wide variety of literary genres are thus represented heC(~, all of which possess some analogue(s) within the previously published Qumran corpus. In fact, despite the subtitle's claim ("50 Key Documents Withheld for Over 35 Years"), an appreciable percentage of the literature presented herein has actually appeared (either in part or in toto) elsewhere, as a careful perusal of the bibliographical notes reveals. Nevertheless there is a sizeable amount of new material presented here, and scholars who lack access to the photograph volumes (whether Eisenman-Robinson or the newly released official microftche edition from Brill) are no doubt grateful for the transcriptions, and perhaps even the translations, provided in this volume. The primary problem with this work is the interpretive framework that is imposed upon the texts by the authors. The Qumran scrolls (all of them!) are declared to be the literature of a so-called "Messianic Movement " (p. 11) that flourished in ftrst-century Eretz Israel. This constructed "movement," sufficiently amorphous to display similarities with a...