The scrolls from the Dead Sea

by Edmund Wilson

Hardcover, 1955



Call number




Allen, 1955.

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LibraryThing member nbmars
Wilson focuses on the discovery and processing of the scrolls found in 1947 in caves near the Dead Sea. The content of the scrolls is given more cursory coverage, but the general thrust is conveyed. They were attributed to the Essene sect, whose presence in the region spanned from around the last third of 200 B.C. until at least 68 A.D. The theology evinced by the scrolls is similar to that of late apocryphal documents and also Persian theology, which, according to Wilson, "for a time gave Christianity some fairly severe competition." The principal elements of thought were: (1) the Two Ways (Darkness and Light); (2) Last Judgment at the end of time; (3) use of baptism; and (4) sacred repast in which bread and wine attain ritual significance. The scrolls also describe a "Teacher of Righteousness" who preaches sentiments later duplicated in the Gospels and who is persecuted and sentenced to die by an evil ruler.

Wilson notes that reaction to the translation of the scrolls was not favorable: Jews didn't like the idea that a powerful sect had "grown up inside Judaism but had nothing to do with Judaism." Christians were reluctant to recognize that the characteristic doctrines of Christianity as well as the outlines of [a Savior's] personal history were developed within a dissident branch of Judaism well before Jesus was even born.

Wilson's book was published in 1959. It will be interesting, when I go to the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit later this month, to see how the response to the revelation of the scrolls has evolved over time.

ADDENDUM: Postscript after visiting the exhibit in San Diego:

What a surprise! There were some terrific photographs of Israel, and in particular the Dead Sea region. There were the scroll segments, there were the translations, and there were some pots and shards. What did they mean? Where was the controversy? If one hadn't previously absorbed the message that museums collaborate in the creation (or re-creation) of history and memory, the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit brings it on home. A feast for postmodernist deconstructionists.

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LibraryThing member EricCostello
Very erudite book, chunks of which will go over the head of those who are not more deeply immersed in biblical studies. The wrangling and academic infighting sequences are more compelling and gripping, and more readily understandable. Wilson does make a game effort to try to place the contents of the Dead Sea Scrolls in context, but I'm not sure how much patience he has for the average reader. The appendix to this edition contains a series of letters that's essentially a "flame war" between a book reviewer and Wilson, and seems to be a pretty petty addition to the book.… (more)

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