- Rediscovering the Dead Sea Scrolls: An Assessment of Old and New Approaches and Methods
This interesting and unusual volume is the brainchild of Maxine Grossman, a leader in the field of Dead Sea Scrolls studies known for prompting serious methodological reflection among Scrolls scholars. She has gathered together contributions from scholars applying diverse methods of inquiry to the corpus of ancient Jewish manuscripts known as the Dead Sea Scrolls, and invited them to introduce and explain their method and the results that proceed from its use. As she states in her Introduction:
The purpose of this volume . . . is to bring together a range of diverse perspectives on and scholarly approaches to the scrolls, some addressing issues that are foundational to the field, and some exploring avenues that lead in untested or experimental directions. In formulating their contributions, authors were asked to provide not only an introduction to a given approach to the scrolls, but also a more self-reflective assessment of the limits of their approaches and the potential pitfalls associated with them.(p. 1)
Grossman also gives a working definition of method and methodology that sets the frame for the following essays:
Methodology, the analysis or study of a given approach within a discipline, provides a kind of contextualizing discourse within which an actual method can be understood. The point of methodology is not only to understand the pragmatics of a method or approach, but more fully to make sense of its underlying logics, to identify (and query) its assumptions, and to push for a better understanding of its limitations, biases, and potential contributions to the field.(p. 3)
As the title of the book indicates, the methods under consideration include both tried and true approaches that have been used on the Scrolls since they were first discovered, and approaches that have been applied only in the past decade or so. Having worked with the Qumran manuscripts for over twenty-five years now, I found the essays on the older methods particularly fascinating, simply because most of the first- and second-generation Scrolls scholars did not reflect on the methods they used to bring order to the chaos of the fragmentary manuscripts, but simply used the tools in which they were trained or had to develop in the course of their work.
Although I will not be able to discuss every contribution in this fine volume, I would like to highlight several that I found particularly rewarding. The volume opens with an essay by Sarianna Metso, “When the Evidence Does Not Fit: Method, Theory, and the Dead Sea Scrolls.” Metso explores the question of what happens when the new evidence of the Scrolls does not [End Page 202] fit existing scholarly categories. She gives several examples of this phenomenon, where the application of previous categories to the Dead Sea Scrolls led to misunderstandings of the Scroll corpus. These include the separation of manuscripts into the categories “biblical” and “nonbiblical,” and the use of the term “halakhah” to describe legal rulings in the manuscripts. She notes that these categories have gradually been discarded as a result of intensive study of the corpus as a whole. Her essay is a cautionary tale on the limits of any particular approach or set of assumptions.
Eibert Tigchelaar’s article, “Constructing, Deconstructing and Reconstructing Fragmentary Manuscripts: Illustrated by a Study of 4Q184 (4QWiles of the Wicked Woman),” investigates an activity fundamental to Scrolls scholarship: the reconstruction of manuscript fragments into coherent documents. He reminds us that, except in a very few cases where whole or nearly whole scrolls were found, “manuscripts are scholarly constructs” (p. 26). Thus, any person reading a document for the first (or the forty-first!) time should remember that its reconstruction is always tentative, and changes to it can and should be made.
One essay that I found especially helpful was Martin Abegg’s, “The Linguistic Analysis of the Dead Sea Scrolls: More Than (Initially) Meets the Eye.” Abegg provides a very readable primer on the various...