• ISRAEL \ May 14, 2001
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    Bringing the Dead Sea Scrolls to life
Bringing the Dead Sea Scrolls to life (May 14) - This unique reference work of scholarship brings together the most comprehensive, up-to-date summaries of research covering historical geography, archeology, paleography, biblical studies, history, law, theology and religious studies.

Essays by leading experts from around the world provide detailed information and background material not only from the Qumran scrolls, but all the discoveries in the Judean Desert.

Written in an easily readable format, the articles present a broad but thorough perspective of the historical significance of the Scrolls - one of the most important sources for understanding Jewish civilization during the Hellenistic period.

Encyclopedias can be pretty boring works, filled with immense amounts of information - which this has - overwhelming for readers, unless you're writing a term paper. But this one is different. The subjects are also cross-referenced so that the reader can easily follow themes by moving between related subjects.

For example, eschatology, the doctrine of "last things," or "end of days" was an important component in the DSS. The idea is found in Jewish sources, but in the Book of Daniel, for the first time, there is a reference to calculating the time of the end.

The Essenes added an apocalyptic spice to this, and a specific figure which gave it real and even volatile impetus.

The authors then suggest consulting entries for several specific scrolls with which the reader might not be familiar, and other categories, like "Resurrection" and "Messiahs." This offers added conceptual dimension to any inquiry.

The concept of "Messiah" is mentioned in Jewish texts as anointed priests, kings and prophets. But none of these are understood as eschatological figures of salvation. This notion only begins in the third, or second century BCE, and then filters down through the Essenes, to end up prominently in Christianity.

At the end of the Messiah entry, the authors refer the reader to specific DSS texts, and also to the category of "Women," which would not readily come to mind.

One of the most interesting aspects of the Scrolls is their apocalyptic worldview - the belief that, led by a messianic figure, the world was about to come to an imminent, catastrophic end. The Essenes, generally regarded as the authors of the Scrolls, or at least their scribes, also believed that their pietistic community was an earthly representation of a heavenly one. Living what they believed was a holy existence, they awaited vindication in a final Day of Judgment that would destroy all evil and lead them to everlasting life.

Their ideas represent a major break with Judaism, and planted the seeds of what would eventually become a new religion.

There are excellent entries covering apocalyptic notions which appear around the 4th century BCE in the Book of Daniel, the Book of Enoch I, and Jubilees.

Apparently popular books among the Essenes, since they were found in multiple copies (unlike most other books), they are called eschatological because they envision the end of the old order and the beginning of a new age when justice and righteousness will triumph.

Other books were found, such as the Wisdom of Ben Sira, Tobit, Judith, Susanna, and Books of the Maccabees, but only the Book of Daniel was included in the Tanach. It is worth noting that the Dead Sea Scrolls contain every book of the Tanach except one: the Book of Esther.

Tefillin and mezuzot found at Qumran and other sites in the area seem to indicate that these Jews followed rabbinic prescriptions, but also added some texts that we do not use today. This may indicate their sectarian nature, or perhaps the practices were not as standardized as they are today.

I was surprised to find an entry for "Kabalah," since there is nothing to connect that tradition to the Dead Sea Scrolls. "Yet," the author notes, "there are interesting conceptual and sociological parallels that make a comparison of the two worthwhile." It is strange that there is no entry for "Halacha," especially since this is Professor Schiffman's particular interest, and certainly an important element in understanding who these people were.

Entries offer a vast range of information from languages in which the scrolls were written, water systems and architecture to sites in the area. The work also includes a list of all the documents and artifacts, cross-indexed by subject, that were discovered and the places where they were found.

This Encyclopedia is a synthesis of a tremendous amount of material and provides an exciting treasure hunt into the ever-intriguing mystery of the Dead Sea Scrolls.