An Introduction to the Dead Sea Scrolls

Immerse yourself in the history behind the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the ensuing publication controversy.

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Ever since their discovery in the 1940s the Dead Sea Scrolls have generated massive amounts of scholarly controversy.  Even those outside of the field of Biblical studies tend to be vaguely aware of academic scandals, Religiously motivated cover-ups and conspiracy theories. So what is it about the “most significant archaeological discovery of the 20th century” that has generated so much controversy?

This course offers an introduction to some of the main issues surrounding the Dead Sea Scrolls. These include: the discovery of the scrolls, the publication controversy, the archaeology, the Essene theory, and an overview of the documents themselves.

As an introduction, the course presupposes no prior knowledge of the topic, but will be of particular interest to those interested in Biblical texts, Biblical and post-Biblical history, Jewish history or the early Church.

Course outline

Session 1

The discovery of the “Dead Sea Scrolls:” 1947-1956: “The Ain Feshkah Genizah” documents. The Wadi Qumran discoveries and the Wadi Murabba’at discoveries.  The École Biblique, the American Schools of Oriental Research, the Jordanian Department of Antiquities and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Session 2

Discovery and publication: 1956-1967. French, English, Israeli and American scholarship. The growing consensus.  The Publication Controversy and resolution: 1967-1991: Middle-East politics and conspiracy theories.

Session 3

“The 1991 Revolution”: “Crisis in the Scrollery”: The consensus breaks down. “Sectually Explicit” literature from Qumran.

Session 4

The “other” Dead Sea Scrolls: Wadi Murabba’at, Nahal Hever (Se’elim), Wadi Daliyeh, Khirbet Mird and Masada. Three ancient witnesses on the “Essenes.”

Session 5

The Archaeology of Qumran. Roland De Vaux and the École Biblique (1951-1959).  “Armchair archaeology” of Qumran (1994 to present). The École Biblique, Yizhar Hirschfeld, Jurgen Zangenburg, Jodi Magness and Joan Taylor.

Session 6

The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Historical Jesus, the early Church and the New Testament.

Learning outcomes

On completion of the course, participants will be able to:
  • describe the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the ensuing publication controversy, and then evaluate the impact this has had on subsequent understanding of the Dead Sea Scrolls
  • analyse the religious and social factors which led to the sectarianism, and the religio-political violence, of the “Second Temple period” of Jewish history
  • evaluate the interface between textual history and Archaeological evidence
  • demonstarate a greater understanding of the social, religious and political dynamics behind the evolution of the Ancient Israelite Tradition into, both, Judaism and Christianity.

Who should attend?

This course is an introductory course designed for non-specialists. As an introduction, the course presupposes no prior knowledge of the topic, but would be of particular interest for those intersted in Biblical Studies, Jewish Studies or early Church history.