Team Is Ready to Publish Full Set of Dead Sea Scrolls


Fifty-four years after the discovery of the first of the Dead Sea Scrolls, a sensation in 20th-century archaeology, all the ancient texts have finally been published, or nearly so.p. p. The announcement of the virtual completion of the publication project — involving some 900 scrolls and commentaries in 38 volumes, 2 of them in the final stages of preparation — is to be made today at the New York Public Library by Dr. Emanuel Tov, a professor at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem who has been the project’s editor in chief since 1990.p. The scrolls, some dating from 250 B.C. while others are as recent as A.D. 70, were found between 1947 and 1956 in caves at Qumran, nine miles south of Jericho on the western shore of the Dead Sea in what is now the West Bank. They have revealed little to shake the foundations of either Judaism or Christianity, as once was thought possible.p. One of the scrolls, containing a Hebrew song of thanksgiving, is to be dedicated to the City of New York in tribute to its resilience in the face of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. It calls on “beloved ones” top. p. Rejoice with everlasting joy
p. [Un]ceasingly, worship in the common assembly
p. Bless the one who
p. Wonderfully does majestic deeds, and makes known his strong hand
p. Scholars consider the scrolls a treasure of Jewish history and religion. They provide insights into what the Hebrew Bible looked like more than 2,000 years ago and reflect the thinking of Jews during the turbulent period that produced the beginnings of rabbinic Judaism.p. Although there is no mention of Jesus or John the Baptist, or anything resembling the religious movement described in the New Testament, scholars said the scrolls give them a richer understanding of the Jewish world during the life of Jesus. “The scrolls are even more valuable than we thought 50 years ago,” Dr. Tov said. “They give us a literature of ancient Israel.”p. p. The accomplishment being announced today seemed far from reach little more than a decade ago. At that time, the scrolls were under the control of only 10 scholars who were in no apparent hurry to share them with others.p. p. Only after a scholarly insurrection, which employed bootlegged copies of some texts and an archive of scroll photographs, was the so-called monopoly broken. A new, wider community of about 100 international scholars, overseen by the Israel Antiquities Authority, took charge of the scrolls in 1991, pledging to expedite publication.p. p. Over the four decades when the previous editors were in charge, only eight volumes of the texts were published. In its 10 years, the team led by Dr. Tov team has issued 28 volumes, not counting the two in the final stages of preparation. The books are published by Oxford University Press under the general title “Discoveries in the Judean Desert.”p. p. This week, a relieved and elated Dr. Tov said: “My task was to see to it that the scrolls will be in the public domain. This is now more or less completed, and the scrolls from the Judean Desert have been presented to the scholarly world in the form of critical editions.”p. In interviews, Dr. Tov and others associated with the project said that nothing in the scrolls is likely to shake religious foundations.p. p. Such reverberations were once thought possible, causing great concern among some religious leaders. An argument for ensuring the wide dissemination of the texts was that it would end lingering suspicions that the original editors were suppressing publication of documents for fear that they would cast Judaism or early Christianity in a bad light.p. p. The scrolls were written primarily in Hebrew and Aramaic. About 200 of them contain the earliest preserved original biblical material, though no new books of the Hebrew Bible have been uncovered. The others contain prayers, rituals and rules of behavior for an austere and insular Hebrew sect, probably the Essenes, who lived in Qumram during much of this time.p. p. Dr. James C. VanderKam , professor of Hebrew scriptures at the University of Notre Dame and a contributing editor to the scrolls project, said the reigning theory is still that many of the texts were written or copied by the monastic Essenes at Qumran, but others were probably written elsewhere and taken there as new members joined the sect.p. p. Dr. VanderKam and other editors said they doubted a minority view that the scrolls came from a library in Jerusalem and were hidden in the caves for safekeeping. If that were the case, he said, the scrolls would reflect a variety of points of view, not mainly Essene ideas and practices.p. p. Dr. Tov is scheduled to give a more detailed report of the scrolls’ publication on Monday in Denver at a conference of the Society of Biblical Literature. An introductory volume is to be published early next year with a history of the project and a list of all the texts in the various volumes. In a foreword, Dr. Tov noted that in such endeavors it was customary for the introduction to appear “at the end of the production when all is said and done” and the editors have a clearer idea of the overall significance of the research.p. p. Asked how he had managed to complete publication in only a decade, Dr. Tov credited improved financial support, which enabled him to enlarge the editing team to 98 members, including other Jewish scholars for the first time. Others praised Dr. Tov’s administrative skills and ability to persuade the former editor, Dr. John Strugnell of Harvard, and a few of his colleagues to stick with the project, producing several important volumes.p. p. Hershel Shanks, editor of Biblical Archaeology Review, was a leader in campaigning to replace the previous editors and open the scrolls to the broad scholarly community.p. p. “It was just too much for these few scholars,” Mr. Shanks said. “What we did was really open it up to a mass of researchers, and Tov has been an excellent administrator and a dogged encourager.”p. p. Dr. Tov said he planned to remain as the project’s chief editor, finishing off one more volume and then bringing out revised editions of some earlier volumes.p. p. New technologies, especially digital photography and multispectral imaging, have enabled experts to see words and letters that were not previously visible. Other archaeological finds have revealed more about the communal life of the Qumran sect, though explorations the last two summers failed to turn up more scrolls in the caves.p. p. Dr. Tov recalled the “excitement but often also despair” of getting the Dead Sea Scrolls published.p. p. “We continuously struggle with such questions as the identification of the fragments, their sequence, the number of manuscripts of a given composition and the relation between them,” he said. “Then, all of a sudden, in a flash of enlightenment you are able to make sense of what you have been working on for years. That is a moment of immense satisfaction.”

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