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103842 new Dead Sea Scrolls books (by JJ Colins; JE Taylor)

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  • Stephen Goranson
    Nov 3, 2012

      1) John J. Collins, The Dead Sea Scrolls: A Biography (Princeton UP, copyright 2013[?]). This "Lives of Great Religious Books" series contribution offers a more breezy, journalistic overview from one of the Scrolls editors. It's readable and mostly reliable. It rightly notes (p. 33) that, early on, several (including I. Sowmy) independently raised the possible Essene connection, but (p. 34) writes that "it is not clear exactly when Sukenik reached this conclusion." Actually, his son Y. Yadin published excerpts from his diary in the Eretz Israel 8 Sukenik volume (1967), with dates. Coverage of the relevant history of scholarship before 1948 is somewhat hit-or-miss: mentioning Scaliger on Philo but not Conybeare; mentioning some mistaken etymologies but not not the likeliest ones, for which, see now J. VanderKam, The DSS and the Bible (2012) 100-104. Collins recounts several, but surely not all, of the Scrolls controversies. For example, omitted is Yadin's claim that B-Z Wacholder in Dawn of Qumran plagiarized him. There are some misspellings, including Rafael for Raphael Golb. An OK read.

      2) Joan E. Taylor, The Essenes, the Scrolls, and the Dead Sea (Oxford UP, 2012).  This major work deserves long, detailed reviews, so this note is merely for starters. To be brief, Taylor has really, and in detail, strengthened the case that some Essenes lived at Qumran for parts of the first centuries BCE and CE. The book covers much ground, and has strengths and weaknesses. It is unreliable and practically self-contradictory about Essene etymology. It makes a questionable argument that NT Herodians was another name for Essenes, yet does not cite the directly-relevant text by Y. Yadin, The Temple Scroll: The Hidden Law...(1985) 80-83 (much less my BA 1985 p. 127 review of it). She goes on at length about healing--a subject admittedly of interest to most religious [or non-religious] groups, but has little to show that healing was a remarkably characteristic feature of Essenes, beyond a few passing words in Josephus. Steckoll's dig is cited as if reliable. She cites a YouTube video by John Allegro (who did say Essenes were healers, but on other days said other things) averring that Essenes grew healing herbs at Ain Feshkha (p. 306). Draws on Ankephalaiosis as if authored by Epiphanius (despite Holl T & U 1910). Writes of "4QTherapeia"--4Q431, 4QM130, that J. Naveh and J. Greenfield et al. consider a writing exercise--in a most curious manner, leaving unanalysed whether she regards it evidence for Essene healing (pages 306 & 329--inaccurate in the index). 306: "...Allegro noted texts from the Dead Sea Scrolls that seemed to have associations with healing, particularly a text once known as 4QTherapeia." 329: "Specific medical or pharmacological terms have been suggested in only one text, originally called 4QTherapeia (4Q341). Allegro was particularly interested in this, reading it as designating a variety of medications, However, because of the difficulty in comprehending this, the identification of of it as a writing exercise is currently assumed." Given Taylor's claims about healing, leaning on so little, a reader might expect to hear if she considers Therapeia an appropriate name, and why. But the book's weaknesses on etymology and healing (and, we shall see, maybe or maybe not on Herodians) should not keep readers away from the book's many, many strengths. It includes much of interest.

      Stephen Goranson