Three things made November an exciting month for fans of the Dead Sea Scrolls: First, the long awaited Dead Sea Scroll exhibition opened at the Leonardo in Salt Lake City. Second, our Center for the Preservation of Ancient Religious Texts completed the latest installment of its Dead Sea Scrolls electronic library. To top it all off, the Maxwell Institute published Illuminating the Dead Sea Scrolls, Donald Parry’s brilliantly illuminating and splendidly illustrated basic introduction to the scrolls. And this is just the beginning of an exciting six months during which the scrolls will be visited, read about, lectured upon and taken as the subject of an exciting conference. Of course, such excitement cannot pass without comment from this blog!
A good place to start, both for me and for you, is with Donald Parry’s Illuminating the Dead Sea Scrolls: Mysteries of Qumran Revealed (Maxwell Institute, 2014). Perhaps the only problem that I’ve found with this splendid book is that the illustrations are so well chosen, so interesting and so beautifully presented that you have to spend some time just enjoying them before you can settle down to read the engaging narrative. I quite like this problem. Once you do settle down to read the volume you immediately know you are in good hands. Professor Parry is a world-renowned Dead Sea Scrolls scholar—but not only that, he’s a scholar who has spent a lifetime communicating his excitement and hard won insights to students and the interested public.
The story of the discovery of the scrolls is well told with interesting details that bring the narrative to life: Unrecognized treasures, suspicious scholars, curious clerics and the authoritative voice of the great W.F. Albright cutting through the misguided local chatter like Inspector Poirot. The reader is then given the kind of clear account of the content of the scrolls and the site of Qumran that could only emerge after decades of careful scholarship.
The heart of the Parry’s book leads the reader expertly through the biblical, parabiblical and sectarian scrolls (behind these last two unusual terms lays the exciting world of an expanding scriptural canon and an earnest group of messianic Jews waiting anxiously in the desert for the promised messiah). The excitement of the discovery and the intrigue of their sale, purchase, and publication should serve as a delicious appetizer to the main course of the scrolls themselves, which is exactly how things stand in this volume.
Although almost everything about the scrolls seems mysterious—at least until you’ve read this book—there are some real mysteries, and also some supposed mysteries that turn out to be simply the vain imaginations of the human heart. These are the subject of chapter 5, while chapter 6 introduces the reader to the technological mysteries that helped date, analyze and publish the scrolls. Chapter 7 gently eases the reader out of the intriguing world of the Dead Sea Scrolls community with a few prosaic fragments that remind us that even in the rarified world of Qumran people still had to buy and sell provisions and children still had to go to school and learn their ABCs!
I can’t imagine a more delightful way to spend a cold winter’s afternoon than enjoying a warm, armchair tour of the scrolls with Professor Parry’s Illuminating the Dead Sea Scrolls: Mysteries of Qumran Revealed. You can pick it up at Amazon today.