April 11th, 2011


The Dead Sea Scrolls: A Very Short Introduction by Timothy Lim

Spurred by the recent discovery of the almost certainly fake-o-matic lead codices, I suddenly thought to myself, 'Surely by now, someone must know something about the contents of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and I'm positive that person is not me.' The dinguses were discovered more than 60 years ago, and fragmentary though they are, great things seemed to be expected of them. They were going to overturn our ideas of the Holy Land and early Christianity. And then mostly silence. And then scholarly squabbling over the right to publish, and secrecy, and the Inquisition, and the Illuminati, and so on.

Anyway, to address my own deficiency of knowledge, I kindled The Dead Sea Scrolls: A Very Short Introduction. This was also my very short introduction to the Very Short Introduction series by the Oxford University Press.

I do like the format - a relevant scholar provides a relatively brief survey of a topic, written at an accessible level, but with many resources provided for an interested party to follow up with.

Lim offers interesting background on the discovery, the associated excavations at Qumran, and how the contents of the scrolls relate to community that lived there. Perhaps the most interesting section is really about the internal debates and conspiracy theories that have floated around not only in Dan Brown circles, but among the experts themselves. Lim takes the boring but probably all-too-true view that most of this can be laid to professional jealousies rather than malice.

Similarly, it appears that, although the Scrolls provide inestimable wealth in understanding the variety of religious and textual traditions that existed in Judaism at the time, they don't really have anything earthshattering to say specifically about Christianity, or even modern Judaism. One specific variant seems to show a missing passage from 1 Samuel. But though it makes the story flow better, it's hardly earthshattering (unless you're the sort of cretin who thinks God personally wrote the KJV).

I would've liked more detail about these variants and idiosyncracies in the content of the scrolls, such as the appearance of Lilith (not mentioned in the book) but I guess there's only so much that fits into a very short introduction. I was hoping for a bit more Dan Brown type material, but Lim has effectively pooh-poohed all that, and I find my interest in the Scrolls has now been more than adequately satisfied, making me unlikely to dig deeper into the topic. Just as he planned.

(no subject)

I don't really have the shelf-space or the scratch for even a repro of Burton's Thousand Nights and a Night, but again the intertubes and the kindle come to my aid. But it's not all entertainment... from the intro:

Apparently England is ever forgetting that she is at present the greatest Mohammedan empire in the world. Of late years she has systematically neglected Arabism and, indeed, actively discouraged it in examinations for the Indian Civil Service, where it is incomparably more valuable than Greek and Latin. Hence, when suddenly compelled to assume the reins of government in Moslem lands, as Afghanistan in times past and Egypt at present, she fails after a fashion which scandalises her few (very few) friends; and her crass ignorance concerning the Oriental peoples which should most interest her, exposes her to the contempt of Europe as well as of the Eastern world.