Second Thoughts On The Dead Sea Scrolls, by F.F. Bruce
This is the second time I have read this slim volume, the first time being quite a few years ago when I lived in Florida long before the age of my public book reviews. In fact, I think I may have been in high school when I read this book last, and so returning to it was almost like reading it for the first time given the thousands of books I have read in the meantime. As someone who occasionally reads and writes about the Dead Sea Scrolls , and someone who occasionally reads books from F.F. Bruce , this book is the work of someone who is used to having their thoughts and reflections considered as important who is not quite as good as he is often reputed to be. Nevertheless, even if this book is a bit on the overrated side, it does possess a fair amount of charm as the author reflects on the subject matter of an earlier book that he had written that had, rather foolishly, failed to take into account the Dead Sea Scrolls at all. This is an example of a celebrated author covering over the same ground and trying to catch up with research that had left his previous thoughts behind, and the results are amusing.
The contents of this book, a revised and enlarged edition that still clocks in at barely over 150 pages–one wonders how small the original version was–consist of a variety of chapters with very functional titles. These titles include: The First Discoveries, Later Discoveries, Wadi Murabba’at and Kirbet Mird, Dating The Finds, Khirbet Qumran, The Scrolls And The Old Testament, Biblical Interpretation, The Messianic Hope, The Teacher Of Righteousness And His Enemies, The Qumran Community, Qumran and the Essenes, and Qumran and Christianity. The contents are somewhat self-explanatory, and the author uses the book as a soapbox for his ideas about the text of the Bible and making speculations as to the time period of the Teacher of Righteousness and to the significance of the book for OT and NT studies. The result is mostly, but not completely, harmless, and overall the book appears as a bit of a cash grab from someone whose earlier skepticism about the Dead Sea Scrolls and their legitimacy led him to wonder what scholars like Albright and others like him saw in the scrolls early on.
So, aside from being generally inessential but mildly amusing (if one has a scholarly turn of mind), what can be said about this book? There are some areas where the author’s speculations appear particular of interest. For example, contrary to the general and erroneous view among many scholars that Daniel was written very late, the Dead Sea Scrolls demonstrate that the popularity of Daniel as a material for commentators in the Second Century BC signifies that the book was written long before, and Bruce speculates that the book of Daniel we possess may be an exemplar of a larger volume, which is entirely possible given the episodic nature of the material we possess. Although, it should be noted, that episodic nature is similar to Ezra and Nehemiah, which are perhaps a recognition of a particular genre convention among inspired writers in the early Persian period. We are all influenced by the writings of our times, after all. And this writing is certainly of its time and context as well. That does not make it entirely inessential, but it does make the book an obvious attempt by a noted scholar to jump on the Dead Sea Scrolls bandwagon, a demonstration that no scholar who took early Christianity or late Second Temple Judaism seriously could avoid reflecting on the implications of those writings.
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