Written by James R. Davila Reviewed By Roger Beckwith

Though Pharisaism, as the most influential Jewish school of thought in the first century, provides most similarities (and contrasts) with primitive Christianity, one of the striking similarities provided by the Dead Sea Scrolls is the writing down of liturgical prayers. Why the Pharisees opposed this is uncertain, and it was not because they did not use pre-composed prayers, which they did; but it may have been designed to keep tradition distinct from Scripture, since their legal decisions also were transmitted by word of mouth for several centuries. In the Dead Sea Scrolls, however, written hymns and prayers abound, and in the same way we find the Lord’s Prayer written down in two of the Gospels and, in one of the earliest patristic texts, the Didache, there are a variety of written prayers. So here is a point on which the Church and Qumran agree in their practice.

Now that all the Dead Sea Scrolls are published, it is natural that discussion of them is being carried on with renewed energy. The Eerdmans Commentaries on the Dead Sea Scrolls Series is to be a series of sixteen volumes, of which this is the first to appear. It contains the surviving liturgical texts, apart from ‘The Thanksgiving Scroll’, ‘Psalms and Hymns’ and ‘Calendrical Texts’, which are assigned to three separate volumes and different editors. The most substantial work here is ‘Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice’, but an interesting variety of others are included.

The texts are presented in English, but what distinguishes this from earlier English translations is that there is also a commentary and notes. These make frequent references to the original Hebrew, which is quoted in Hebrew script (without transliteration), so those who understand the original will probably want to use the commentary and notes side by side with the Hebrew text, from one of the printed editions. Those who do not understand Hebrew are likely to find the commentary and notes of limited help, though the introductions may prove more illuminating.

The editor has read widely in the literature of the subject, and makes frequent reference to the work of Daniel Falk, among others. Particularly useful are his numerous quotations from the later Jewish Hekhalot literature, which represent a mysticism somewhat akin to that reflected in a number of the Qumran texts.

On the historical background, the editor is cautious. The team of scholars who first made the Qumran finds public is agreed that they dated from the period between the third or fourth century bc and the first century ad, and were the library of an Essene community. They relied not only on the Scrolls themselves but also on archaeology and history. With the later investigations and publications taken into account, this still seems the most probable view. That the Essenes had something in common with the Sadducees and took part in the first Zealot revolt does not destroy their identity. There is much discussion today, also reflected here, about how much of the Qumran literature originated outside the sect, but since the men of Qumran seem only to have kept works with which they were broadly in sympathy (even if not always entirely), this is not a question of ultimate importance. What is of real importance is the extraordinary amount the Qumran finds have contributed to our knowledge of Christian origins and to our understanding of all aspects of biblical literature. No student can ignore them.

Roger Beckwith