Audiobook Review: Great Courses: The Dead Sea Scrolls: Part 2

Great Courses:  The Dead Sea Scrolls:  Part 2, by Professor Gary A. Rendsburg

At times it is necessary to get to the end of something before one can come to a final determination about how you think or feel about something.  There are some books or courses or other artifacts about whose one opinion one differs after having come to a conclusion.  So it was with this course.  While I must say that I do not agree with everything that the author says, the tensions of this course and of the Judaism discussed in it and the instructor of it become better understood once one reaches the end.  Admittedly, I do not come to this course or to the Dead Sea Scrolls as a neophyte [1].  Perhaps someone who was not as well-versed in the scrolls and their controversy would have a higher degree of respect for the professor than I did, but although the professor did not show himself as less flawed at the conclusion, his flaws were at least easier to understand.  The course ended with a discussion that left this listener at least with a poignant feeling that was as unexpected as it was welcome, in reflecting on the way in which Second Temple Judaism and its sectarian divides has much to say to our equally divided contemporary world.

This audiobook contains the second half of the lectures about the Dead Sea Scrolls on six discs of half an hour or so apiece.  Beginning with the long and tortured path from assignment of the texts to various scholars to publication, the professor then turns to the vision of the Qumran sect for a new temple as well as daily life in Qumran.  The next lecture shows the Halakhic letter and the way that rituals and the interpretation of law defined the sect.  After that the professor discusses the nature of the biblical canon found in Qumran and then spends a lecture discussing the solar calendar that the sect used in distinction to the lunar-solar calendar used by most Jews and Jewish Christian today.  After this the professor discusses Jewish scholars and Qumran ritual practices as well as prayers, hymns, and the relationship between the sect and the synagogue.  The following lecture presents the coded insider speak of the sect in its sectarian literature that demonstrates features of what is known as an anti-language, ways in which words are used to hinder communication and understanding of a kind familiar in small and embattled religious groups.  After this the professor discusses the enigma of the Copper Scroll and closes the course with a discussion of the relationship between the Dead Sea Scrolls and Christianity as well as the insights the scrolls, even in their smallest fragments, can give us about Judaism.

At the end of this course, the professor has a discussion about Judaism that is surprisingly poignant and relevant to the lives of those of us who take an interest in these scrolls.  He remarks that the rationale given for the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple given by the rabbis was “senseless hatred.”  There is much, for example, in the senseless hatred shown by rabbinic Jews towards Christians in the “blessings” required to be in a good standing in a synagogue, and in the hatred of many professed Christians for Jews, and in different denominations and organizations for each other in the present day, and these divides were to be found in the Dead Sea Scrolls and mark an important aspect of their tone and purpose, in quarrels over the interpretation of law or in the view of the legitimacy or lack thereof of various authorities.  I have myself, it must be admitted, participated in a fair amount of senseless hatred for those who should not have been my enemies, and no doubt others have viewed me with a great deal of senseless hatred over the course of my conflict-ridden life.  And though I do not agree with the professor that pluralism is the solution to this problem, I do agree that we have to do a better job at distinguishing between different interpretations of texts that may or may not be valid, between disagreement and ignorance, and between those whose worldview is similar and those whose worldview is genuinely incompatible.  These are all areas where we could stand to do better and therefore learn from the mistakes and errors of our past.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/02/25/book-review-second-thoughts-on-the-dead-sea-scrolls/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/05/23/book-review-israel-i-looked-over-jordan/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/02/25/book-review-the-untold-story-of-qumran/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/02/09/another-trip-on-the-hype-machine/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/10/05/book-review-is-the-bible-true/

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 Bible, Biblical History, Christianity, History and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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