The Untold Story of Qumran, by John C. Trever
This was a fun book to read. Although the book is obscure and by no means new, there is a certain excitement and joy in reading this first-hand account of the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls  near Wadi Qumran and how it is that they came to be introduced to the West in the midst of a drama of theft and war. This is not to say that the account is a perfect one–Trever, like many insiders, talks up his own role in the Dead Sea Scrolls and writes a bit too much about himself and his own views at times –but it is a very energetic account that mostly makes up for its occasional failures with verve and sincerity. One can tell, in reading this book, that the author is committed to the Dead Sea Scrolls and desired to help out the people involved in their discovery and also preserve the scrolls for scholarly exploration, something he managed to have an important role in through his photographs of some of the early scrolls. This is the sort of book that manages to sound somewhat like an Indiana Jones adventure in the best way.
In terms of its contents, this book has between 150 and 200 pages worth of material, depending on what one counts, possibly including the author’s thoughtful and personal endnotes, and it is divided into several chapters that are based on the chronology of the author’s understanding and not according to the chronology of how and when things happened, making this book read somewhat like a film. In fact, it is somewhat surprising that I do not know of any film being made of this, as Trever’s story would make an exciting film involving planes being shot down and the author trying to avoid being shot while making his rounds between the American School in Jerusalem and a Syrian Monastery which managed to obtain some early scrolls from Arab deals who themselves had gotten them from Bedouin youths, the price of the scrolls going up each time they got passed from one hand to another. We see the author try to scramble to get high quality film so that the fragile scrolls’ text can be preserved for posterity’s sake and see him learning enough paleo-Hebrew to try his hand at understanding an exciting historical mystery. If you like archaeology and its relationship with human and social issues, this is a great book to read.
That is not to say, though, that the book is perfect. The book’s failures, though, do not result from problems in the story, but in the shortcomings of the storyteller. For one, the author has a strong anti-Jewish bias that is more than a little bit unpleasant, as it is pretty clear his sympathies lie with the Arabs. Likewise, the author clearly lacks a strong enough belief in the proper chronology of the book of Daniel for his textual knowledge to be all that insightful. One gets the sense from this book that the author was a textual neophyte who considered himself far more knowledgeable than he was and had some bad teachers when it came to understanding biblical chronology, and so his comments on textual criticism fall more than a little bit flat. Again, though, with these caveats, if you are reading this book for an insider’s perspective of a dramatic historical moment when the Dead Sea Scrolls became known to the West, and the dramatic events associated with that rediscovery, this is a fantastic adventure account. If you are reading this book for its value in textual criticism, you are likely to be either disappointed or led astray by it. Read with caution, therefore, but also enjoyment.
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