Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Books: Reliving the Dead Sea Scrolls Volume 56 Number 1, January/February 2003
by Christopher A. Rollston

Since that fateful moment in 1947 when Bedouin shepherd Muhammad ed-Dheib first stumbled across ancient manuscripts in a Qumran cave, the world's imagination has been captured by the Dead Sea Scrolls. Books on the subject have proliferated and show no signs of abating, but two recent works should be of particular interest to lay readers.

Philip Davies, George Brooke, and Phillip Callaway's well-illustrated The Complete World of the Dead Sea Scrolls (New York: Thames and Hudson, 2002; $34.95) begins with ed-Dheib's discovery and then covers the investigation of the ten additional caves found by Bedouin shepherds and archaeologists. Cave-by-cave discussions detail the major documents found. Numerous sidebars describe various technical terms as well as literary, historical, and cultural phenomena, and include English translations of the historian Josephus' statements about the most important Jewish sects of the time, as well as interpretive comments about them. The archaeology of the Qumran settlement and the meaning of the scrolls for both Judaism and early Christianity are also discussed.

Regrettably, Roland de Vaux, the original excavator of a settlement near the caves called Khirbet Qumran, never produced a final publication of his work; his field notes and archaeological finds are now administered by Jerusalem-based archaeologist Jean-Baptiste Humbert. While Jodi Magness apparently was given only limited access to these resources when writing The Archaeology of Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002, $26), her volume is the latest and best discussion of the site's various archaeological phases, the function of certain features, and the women buried in the cemetery at Qumran.

Magness also discusses the relationship between the scrolls and the settlement at Khirbet Qumran, noting the view--not held by her--that Khirbet Qumran was not a religious settlement but a country villa. This book is essential reading for specialists and general readers alike.

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© 2003 by the Archaeological Institute of America