Your Own Personal Qumran Library
The Dead Sea Scrolls Translated: The Qumran Texts in English
Florentino García Martínez
(Leiden: Brill; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1996), 2nd ed., 519 pp., $30.00 (paperback)
The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English
(New York: Allen Lane/Penguin Press, 1997), 5th ed., 648 pp., $39.95 (hardcover)
The Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Translation
Michael Wise, Martin Abegg, Jr., and Edward Cook
(San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1996), 513 pp., $35.00 (hardcover)
Although scholars have had virtually complete access to the Dead Sea Scrolls for a number of years, until recently the general public has been restricted to seriously incomplete translations. Now, 50 years after the first scrolls were discovered in a cave by the Dead Sea, that state of affairs has changed dramatically. We are fortunate to have three very different one-volume editions of the “nonbiblical” Dead Sea documents. Each book offers readers access to English translations of almost all of the surviving, readable, nonbiblical scrolls (although none of the three contains them all).
The backbone of each volume consists of the remains of hundreds of documents, including nonbiblical and postbiblical hymns and psalms, commentaries on biblical texts, Pseudepigrapha (writings attributed to an ancient figure, such as Moses, Jeremiah or Ezekiel, who was not actually the author) and sectarian documents of a legal, liturgical or theological nature. The newest material relating to the Bible includes biblical “paraphrases,” such as scrolls 4Q225 and 4Q422, which retell portions of Genesis and Exodus; commentaries, including, for example, 4Q252-254a, on Genesis; and parabiblical material related to previously published Pseudepigrapha, such as the Book of Enoch, the Book of Giants and the testaments of Levi and Naphtali. The scrolls known as the Reworked Pentateuch (4Q364-67) rearrange and supplement the Pentateuch in ways that may give insight both into how the Bible was interpreted and how its text continued to be developed, as in the Samaritan Pentateuch (the Torah as canonized by the Samaritans in the last centuries B.C.E.). And there is much more new material connected to the Hebrew Bible that I have not even mentioned! Study of these newly translated texts is essential for anyone interested in the way in which the Bible was read and understood in late antiquity.
All of the translators have made serious contributions to Dead Sea Scroll scholarship from the 1950s to the 1990s: Geza Vermes of Oxford University represents the first generation of Qumran scholarship; Florentino García Martínez of the University of Groningen, in the Netherlands, is part of a later one, and the American scholars Michael Wise, Martin Abegg and Edward Cook are part of the most recent. Their translations, as might be expected, differ considerably from each other, and further and more significant differences become apparent to the reader of the introductions to each volume. These introductions to the scrolls, their origins and the group(s) that produced them are particularly important because they establish the framework for reading texts that would otherwise exist only in a vacuum.
García Martínez provides the most 014concise summary of the history of the discoveries, touching briefly on the major questions regarding the scrolls. His presentation of the history of the group that produced the scrolls is based on the “Groningen hypothesis” (named for his university), of which he has been one of the major proponents. According to this hypothesis, Essenism is a Palestinian movement with roots in the “apocalyptic tradition”a that flourished in the late third and second centuries B.C.E. Within the Essene community a rift developed between a small faction led by the figure referred to in the scrolls as the “Teacher of Righteousness” and a larger one led by the “Man of Lies.” This split—over the calendar and laws concerning the Temple, worship and purity—eventually forced the Teacher of Righteousness’s followers into exile in the wilderness of Qumran.
According to García Martínez and other champions of this view, the Qumran community developed during the high priesthoods of the Maccabeans Jonathan and Simon (152–135 B.C.E.). The “Wicked Priest,” according to this theory, is a title shared by all the Maccabean leaders from Judas Maccabee to Alexander Jannaeus. It was the high priest John Hyrcanus (135–104 B.C.E.) who attacked the Teacher of Righteousness at Qumran, as is alluded to in a famous passage from the Habakkuk Pesher (1QpHab).
Regarding the “library” of scrolls found in the caves, García Martínez states unequivocally: “This library belonged to a group of people with their central community in the ruins of Qumran, as has been adequately established by archeological excavations.” Although he concedes that not everything in the caves is a product of the Qumran sect, he writes that “all the works which were retrieved belong to the longer history of the sect.” He translates the 270 most important manuscripts with minimal restorations of lacunae, and, more significantly, with little introductory matter and few notes on the texts, noting that “everything needed to understand these difficult texts is included in [his forthcoming] Introduction to the Literature from Qumran.” This is clearly a deficiency when compared even with the limited annotations found in both of the other translations.
Vermes’s translation is, in effect, the fifth edition of his The Dead Sea Scrolls in English, which, since it was first published in 1962, has become one of the standard, if not the standard, English translations of the growing corpus of available scrolls. This edition stands as a fitting culmination to an academic career dedicated largely to the study of the Qumran scrolls and their context in Second Temple Judaism. As the editions have progressed and the number of texts in them has grown, the amount of introductory material has also increased, from 58 pages in the second edition to 90 in the fifth. As more texts have been published, Vermes has updated and added information on the scroll community, their history and religious ideas; the current state of Dead Sea Scroll studies, including a discussion of the dating, provenance and significance of the scrolls; Qumran and the New Testament; and Qumran’s contribution to our understanding of the genesis of Jewish literary composition. Vermes presents a broader discussion of the Qumran group 016than is found in either of the other volumes. He also includes a complete catalogue of all the Qumran scrolls.
In the 1980s, Vermes was one of the leading critics of the snail’s pace of the original scroll publication team. He derided their failure to publish as “the academic scandal par excellence of the twentieth century” and was a leading advocate of open access to the unpublished material. The tone of his survey of recent events in scroll scholarship reflects that stance, although he is careful to emphasize that “the many criticisms advanced in subsequent years, focusing on these scholars’ refusal to put their valuable findings into the public domain, should not prevent one from acknowledging that this critical achievement [the decipherment of virtually all of the fragments by 1960], in which J.T. Milik had the lion’s share, deserves unrestricted admiration.”
Although Vermes has criticized the official publication team for its editorial practices, his views on the dating of the scrolls and the group that produced them are very much in the mainstream of Qumran scholarship. He stresses the scholarly consensus (increasingly challenged by some scholars) regarding the identification of the Qumran group with the Essenes, and the dating of the scrolls to the second century B.C.E. through the first century C.E. He asserts, “Today the Essene theory is questioned by some, but usually for unsound reasons,” such as apparent contradictions between the Latin and Greek sources on the Essenes and the Qumran texts. “Of the proposed solutions,” he writes, “the Essene theory is relatively the soundest.” Vermes characterizes the Groningen hypothesis championed by García Martínez as “a variation on this theme.”
Norman Golb’s theory that the scrolls are not Essene but came from a Jerusalem library and were put in caves for safekeeping during the Roman siege of the city (67–70 C.E.) draws Vermes’s special attention. Vermes rejects Golb’s argument primarily on the grounds that the sectarian nature of the scrolls is unlikely to represent anything other than a sectarian library.
Overall, there is not a great deal of new ground broken as Vermes revises only slightly, in light of new data, his long-held positions on the community and its ideas. But his use of citations from the newly published material presents valuable additional insights as he delineates the ideology of the sect. His mini-monograph serves as an excellent introduction to the “Standard Model” (to borrow a term used by Wise-Abegg-Cook) of the history reflected in the scrolls, as well as to the beliefs of this group in the context of other Jewish groups from the Second Temple period.
For their part, Wise-Abegg-Cook conclude their preface with a sentiment that should mark every translation of or publication on the scrolls: “This book, then, is more of a beginning of research on the scrolls than it is a completion. Many of the conclusions reached in the following pages will stand the test of time and become foundation stones for subsequent generations of students. Other affirmations—few, we hope—will be revised, overturned, and eventually forgotten.” As much as I admire that statement, their assertion that a “victory over scholarly secrecy and possessiveness made the book you hold in your hand possible” is a bit grandiose and may very well grow stale in the course of time.
The writing in Wise-Abegg-Cook is vigorous, though the tone, when dealing with 017the history of scroll scholarship, is perhaps too harsh. (Others will say they simply let the chips fall where they may.) More positively, the spirit of debate and critique, reappraisal and revision is here very much present. The brief discussions of the languages and scripts of the scrolls (perhaps reflecting Michael Wise’s particular interests) are a nice and somewhat unusual touch in a volume of this kind. The brief section “Reading a Dead Sea Scroll” provides a useful description for the nonscholar of how scroll texts are reconstructed, edited and read, and how translations are made.
Wise-Abegg-Cook present fairly the problems involved in determining the origin of the scrolls and set forth what they call the “Standard Model,” which consists, in their formulation, of “the Essene hypothesis” (the scroll community was Essene), “the anti-Hasmonean hypothesis” (the community developed in opposition to the Hasmonean high priesthood) and “the mother house hypothesis” (the scroll community was centered at Qumran and left behind the scrolls in the nearby caves). Wise-Abegg-Cook’s judgment on this model is “that it has had much too easy a time of it in scholarly circles. There are significant gaps in this theory, and some of the new texts have the effect of spotlighting these gaps.”
Wise-Abegg-Cook then proceed to give the Standard Model a “hard time.” In just over 13 pages, Wise-Abegg-Cook present a very up-to-date critique of the archaeological, historical and literary evidence against (and for) the Standard Model. (Both Wise-Abegg-Cook and Vermes are sufficiently up-to-date that both refer to, and the latter publishes, the ostracon found beside the Qumran settlement that has been claimed by its editors, Frank Moore Cross and Esther Eshel, to be the first non-scroll allusion to the
Wise-Abegg-Cook propose an alternate solution to the standard one, based on the reading of newly published texts like 4Q448, a poem in praise of the Hasmonean high priest Alexander Jannaeus, a supporter of the Sadducees, who was formerly believed to have been an enemy of the Qumran group. According to Wise-Abegg-Cook, the poem, as well as the Nahum Pesher (4QpNahum) and the Temple Scroll (11QTemple), indicate that the scroll community supported Alexander Jannaeus and the Sadducees rather than the Pharisees. 4QMMT (called the Sectarian Manifesto in Wise-Abegg-Cook’s occasionally idiosyncratic nomenclature), which lists laws similar to those described as Sadducean in later rabbinic literature, is also called to testify to the possible Sadducean connections of the Qumran group, although Wise-Abegg-Cook are careful to note that the same kind 050of objections to the Essene theory may be applied to any Sadducee theory.
Wise-Abegg-Cook write, “The scroll group resembled the Sadducees in some ways and the Essenes in others. Yet there are major obstacles to identifying the group straightforwardly as one or the other.” I have often phrased the issue the same way in class, adding that the problem for the next generation of Qumran scholars is to understand how one subgroup of texts and ancient evidence can give one set of conclusions while another subgroup of texts yields virtually contradictory results.
Historically, as opposed to theologically, Wise-Abegg-Cook locate the activity of the Qumran group in the first half of the first century B.C.E., rather than the second century B.C.E., believing that the reigns of Alexander Jannaeus (103–76 B.C.E.) and his widow Queen Salome Alexandra (76–67 B.C.E.), whose name actually appears in one of the scrolls (called by Wise-Abegg-Cook the Annalistic Calendar), furnish the most likely context for the political climate described in certain scrolls (especially the Nahum Pesher) and in the writings of the first-century C.E. Jewish historian Flavius Josephus. Further, the calendar where the names of Salome and her son Hyrcanus appear has no references to events of the second century B.C.E., where the Standard Model puts the rise of the sectarians, or to the second half of the first century B.C.E.
Wise-Abegg-Cook speculate further about the possible identities of various figures whose names are encoded in the scrolls, such as the Wicked Priest, the Man of the Lie and the Teacher of Righteousness, but their conjectures are much more tenuous than the alternative historical model that they present. Likewise, their hypotheses about what happened to different elements in the Qumran group after this period, though interesting, are unprovable at this point. What is most significant is the challenge that Wise-Abegg-Cook have presented to the Standard Model, and we should expect the debates on the appropriate chronological matrix for the scrolls to be carried on in both the academic and popular press for some time to come.
Some of the formulations in Wise-Abegg-Cook, however, make me, as a Jew, a bit uncomfortable. Why should we, at the beginning of the sixth decade of Qumran scholarship, read phrases like “Jewish scholars, most notably [Lawrence] Schiffman…,” when the authors really mean “scholars familiar with rabbinic literature,” who, in most cases, happen to be Jewish? Why should the discoverer of the Damascus Document in the Cairo Genizah be referred to as “the Jewish scholar Solomon Schechter”? It may be too much to expect not to find the relative chronology of Second Temple Judaism referred to as “in the time of Jesus,” but I find disturbing, coming from an avowedly Christian team of scholars, the statement that the message of the scrolls for Jews is “that there are [my italics] different ways of being authentically Jewish.” What the scrolls may show about authentic ways to have been Jewish in the Second Temple period is an issue worthy of discussion, but what would be the reaction if a Jewish scholar prescribed the correct way to practice authentic Christianity today on the basis of his or her reading of first- to second-century C.E. Christian sources? Furthermore, the reference to “ceding control” of the Qumran region “to the new Palestinian state” is inaccurate and might even be taken as inflammatory by some readers.
In terms of the utility of the volumes, two very different systems of arranging the texts are chosen by García Martínez and Vermes, on the one hand, and Wise-Abegg-Cook, on the other. The former choose to arrange by literary genre or type, grouping together texts they believe belong to the same or similar categories. Needless to say, at times the classification and categorization of Qumran texts can be very problematic, and scholars of sound judgment can easily disagree in this area. Readers, however, at least have an arrangement that facilitates entry into the scrolls by theme or topic. Wise-Abegg-Cook obviously chose not to prejudice the reader into accepting any a priori classification of the scrolls and instead arrange the documents in the order of the numbers assigned to them by the original editorial team, beginning with the first scrolls discovered in what came to be known as Cave 1 and ending with texts from Cave 11. (Multiple copies of the same text from different caves are grouped together.) I have a slight preference for the arrangement used by García Martínez and Vermes, especially because Wise-Abegg-Cook occasionally employ idiosyncratic titles and descriptions that may leave the reader wondering what text is referred to or what a particular text has in store.
The absence of any index, beyond the list of texts, from García Martínez is a shortcoming, while Wise-Abegg-Cook’s index of references to the Hebrew Bible, 052Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, the New Testament, and rabbinic texts is quite useful. Vermes’s catalogue of all the scrolls is laid out most clearly and indicates either the first or the major publication of each text wherever available. Only Vermes contains a general index, another feature to recommend it.
I like different things about these very different volumes. Like most other scholars who work with the scrolls, I shall be quite happy to have the three of them side-by-side on my bookshelf. García Martínez is the volume I use if I want to read the texts without any interference, but that virtue is simultaneously a flaw because there are no helpful annotations. Untrained readers will find it difficult to use García Martínez without some other volume on the scrolls at their side. If I had to choose only one of these to acquire, my choice would be either Vermes or Wise-Abegg-Cook. Vermes places all of the interpretive material for each text before the translation, whereas Wise-Abegg-Cook present an introduction to each text as well as interpretive remarks interspersed within the translation. Vermes is thus less distracting, but Wise-Abegg-Cook’s notes within the text at times make it easier to follow. Vermes is easier to read both stylistically and typographically; the language and the layout are most attractive. Wise-Abegg-Cook’s pages are somewhat more crowded, but the translations, while less smooth, perhaps reflect the originals more faithfully. There is also something very attractive about the aggressive and lively tone of Wise-Abegg-Cook, which challenges the reader more than Vermes does. The relative advantages of these two volumes makes it difficult to render a clear preference.
Your Own Personal Qumran Library