Audiobook Review: Great Courses: The Dead Sea Scrolls: Part 1

Great Courses:  The Dead Sea Scrolls:  Part 1, by Professor Gary A. Rendsburg

As someone who has a profound interest in the Judaism of the second temple period as well as in the interpretation of ancient texts (and not-so-ancient ones) in general, it is little wonder that from time to time I find myself reading about Qumran studies [1].  In this case, I have a mixed impression of the person instructing this course.  On the positive sides, he is certainly very knowledgeable about the texts and the history of their discovery and interpretation and very honest about the various views outside of the consensus understanding of the text as to their sectarian nature.  On the other hand, though, his viewpoint of the Bible in particular is notably defective, as is his view that there is nothing more to a text than what an interpreter brings to it, which is a dangerous view of texts because there are times where people bring terrible misinterpretations to text, something that has greatly harmed my own life, and made me very unwilling to accept such illegitimate interpretations as definitive.  There is absolutely a meaning (or a variety of meanings) for a text, and the illegitimate interpretations brought to it by others are of no standing whatsoever and may often hinder proper understanding of texts, as they often do with the epistles of Paul when one deals with New Testament studies.

The contents of this course, which make up a pretty traditional twelve lectures of thirty minutes apiece, give a good picture of what matters are of particular importance to contemporary scholars of the texts found near Kirbet Qumran in the period just before the Israeli War of Independence. The lectures begin by discussing the discovery of the first texts by some local Bedouin and the signifance of the discovery.  After that the author discusses the first seven scrolls and the opening and reading of the first scroll found.  The focus turns to the historical context of ancient Judaism and the rise of Jewish sects after that.  The Dead Sea site of the Qumran sect is then discussed as if the emergence of the rabbinic system out of second Temple Pharisaic thought.  After an examination of a Dead Sea scroll found in the Cairo genizah, the professor writes about the importance of Pesher interpretation of prophecies as well as the war scroll and other apocalyptic writings.  The last two lectures of the first part of the course discuss biblical manuscripts found at Qumran, of which there were many, as well as some alternative views of Qumran and the scrolls that the professor deals with in a generally polite manner.

The large amount of finds and their clear relevance for biblical studies accounts for the continued interest in Qumran for many people.  The scrolls and the ruins have inspired a great deal of imagination on the part of people and have spurred interest in the complicated nature of religious thought in the Second Temple period, which in terms of religion was a time where there was no king in Israel and everyone did what was right in their own eyes, including tampering with the calendar system as part of a way to show themselves as more conservative than the regimes that ran religious affairs for the people of Judea as a whole.  Surely the sectarian nature of Judaism in the period around the birth of Jesus Christ has some relevance for us today, but strangely the professor seems disinclined to examine these issues as he does not take the proper issue of interpreting biblical law and meditating and reflecting upon its worth in contemporary society is not something the author is interested in.  Like all too many people who fancy themselves scholars of biblical and other ancient texts, he does not come from a perspective of belief, which makes his understanding far more unsound than it would be otherwise.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Biblical History, Christianity, History and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Audiobook Review: Great Courses: The Dead Sea Scrolls: Part 1

  1. Pingback: Book Review: Lost Scriptures | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: Audiobook Review: Great Courses: The Apostle Paul | Edge Induced Cohesion

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