Religious Studies 427: THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS

Robert Kraft, University of Pennsylvania, Fall 2004


  • Requirements
  • Recommended Books, Resources -- see also Davila's Course Page and the Library of Congress DSS site
  • Maps: Cave Locations; Qumran and its Environment; Cave 4
  • Minutes from Previous Classes and Current Minutes
  • Reviews by Previous Students
  • Research Papers from Previous Classes
  • Class Discussion Topics
  • Primary Text Files and Older Versions
  • New Gaster, CD-ROM Index, and other Indices to DSS Translations, Resources
  • New 427 page under construction
  • What Now? Prospects for Future Research (Nov 2009)

  • Welcome to the electronic world of Religious Studies 427, THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS, at the University of Pennsylvania. The course is intended as primarily seminar-discussion type. There are no prerequisites, so discussion will focus on the English translations, with an attempt to be selfconscious about the necessary smattering of semitic (Hebrew and Aramaic) words (titles, technical terms). The course will include a significant electronic component, with messages distributed through the class list -- rels427-401-04c@lists. Attention will also be given to discussions taking place on international discussion lists, and to information on the Orion Center for Dead Sea Scrolls Studies in Jerusalem.

    Non registrants who wish to be included on the class list must send me their electronic addresses so that I can add them. My private email address is Similarly, people may leave the list by requesting that I unenroll them.


    All registered students are automatically members of the class list, and are responsible for checking email regularly and reading the messages. Each registered member of the class will contribute at least the following items for circulation on the class list:

    1. A list of main topics presented and/or discussed during two class sessions, for the class "minutes" or "notes" to be added to the course web page.

    2. A critical review of one approved publication (or set of publications) dealing with the DSS, or an approved substitute project (e.g. summary of the discussion of a major related topic on the Ioudaios or similar scholarly discussion groups).

    3. A one screen prospectus of your research paper topic and tentative outline, due right after the fall break in October.

    There are 13 weeks of class sessions. After each class, one student will prepare a brief list (main headings) of topics discussed in class, for circulation on the class list. This material is expected to be posted to the list by the Monday after each class or sooner (e.g. by 5 pm on Monday, for the previous week's class). You will be held accountable for the accuracy as well as the prompt delivery of your summaries.

    Publications for reviewing need to be approved by the instructor; names of select books will be found in the bibliographical list, but this is not a complete list, nor is it completely up to date. The review should not exceed 1000 words (5 traditional pages) and should include both descriptive information (who the author is and what the author has attempted to do) and critical observations (how well the author succeeds; neglected subjects, accuracy, consistency, etc.). The format of the review should imitate that used by IOUDAIOS-REVIEW. Reviews should be approved prior to the midterm break in October, and will be presented in class after the break.

    In some instances it may be possible to begin with a review that was prepared for an earlier edition of this course, and to expand or strengthen it. Newer books may also be reviewed, with the instructor's approval, as well as certain types of scholarly articles (e.g. in anthologies of DSS studies or in one of the DSS journals). Special topic reports are also acceptable, with prior approval.

    Each registered student will prepare a research paper, due at the final class meeting in December. Topics need to be approved in the week right after fall break. The paper should not exceed 16 traditional pages in length (about 4000 words), plus any notes, appendices, etc. A paper proposal of about 200 words or less (no more than one computer screen full), must be submitted for distribution on the class list immediately after spring break. In certain situations, the instructor may schedule a half-hour oral followup to the paper, to explore further the topic of the paper and its relationship to the rest of the course.

    As a final wrapup of information and insights you have gained from the course, each student will also submit an essay no longer than 1500 words (about 5 traditional pages) on "Who Wrote the DSS?" There is no correct answer, but there are a variety of relevant issues of which you are expected to show awareness. This essay is due at the end of the final exam period, at latest.

    Resources for Study.--

    The course is intended to have three main foci:

    (1) information about the discovery and impact of the DSS in modern scholarship (and imagination) -- what could be called "introduction to the DSS";

    (2) extensive exposure to the texts and fragments themselves, at least in English translation -- interpreting selected DSS; and

    (3) informed awareness of the methodological problems involved in the study of history, especially with reference to newly discovered evidence -- what is being assumed, how are definitions decided and generalizations formulated, etc.

    To achieve these ends, the following books are recommended for students with little or no background, to provide a common core of information with reference to which other items can be assessed; the books can also be ordered online from such discounted sources as Amazon or Christianbook (check for prices):

    James VanderKam (University of Notre Dame), The Dead Sea Scrolls Today (Eerdmans 1994) -- VanderKam is one of the "younger" scholars to become involved in the study of the scrolls in recent years. He has worked extensively on Jewish "pseudepigrapha" such as the book of Jubilees, fragments of which appear among the DSS.

    Joseph A. Fitzmyer (Catholic University of America, emeritus), Responses to 101 Questions on the Dead Sea Scrolls (Paulist Press 1992) -- as a young scholar, Fitzmyer became part of the team organized to study the scrolls when they were first discovered and thus provides a long-range and well informed view of the situation.

    Please note that there are also summaries of previous class discussions available on the class web page, which can supplement such books as the above.

    For English translations, three now available which provide extensive coverage: probably the most complete collection at present is that by Florentino Garcia Martinez, The Dead Sea Scrolls Translated (Leiden: Brill, 1996\2). It contains most of what is sufficiently well preserved to be translated and is organized in an uncomplicated manner according to subject matter, for the most part, with useful supplementary information and relatively brief introductions.

    Similar to Garcia Martinez in scope and organization, but with more introductory material, is the latest edition by Geza Vermes, with its new title The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English (London/NY: Penguin 1997). Vermes published his first English edition in 1962, and successive editions have appeared since then as more materials became available.

    The third extensive translation is organized differently (following the sequence of DSS caves and assigned numbers to the items) and is often more daring in its interpretational decisions -- Michael Wise, Martin Abegg, and Edward Cook, The Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Translation (San Francisco: Harper Collins 1996). Several controversial translations appear here, with accompanying comments.

    When working from translations, it can be very dangerous to rely on only one rendering. The aforementioned translations tend to follow a relatively "literal" approach to the task. Significantly different is the older effort of Theodore Gaster, The Dead Sea Scriptures in English Translation (Doubleday-Anchor 1956\1, 1964\2, 1976\3), which is a very "free" rendering (and thus valuable for suggesting other possible nuances) and has extremely useful appendices and indices to which we will pay some attention. Unfortunately, Gaster did not live to update his translations to include materials that became available after the 1970s.

    In addition, an increasing number of electronic resource are available, including a 1994 CD-ROM from LOGOS Research Systems entitled The Dead Sea Scrolls Revealed, which is a goldmine of relevant material with color photographs of many scrolls and video clips of various aspects of the study of the scrolls. There are some minor "bugs" and inconveniences in accessing this material, but hopefully users can find ways to work around them. Also accessible electronically, through the World Wide Web (WWW), are various materials including those from the DSS Exhibit that toured this country a few years ago. You can access them from the ORION home page or also through the links on RAK's home page.

    There are also several video tapes dealing with the discovery and investigation of the DSS, many of which have appeared on TV. They will also be included in our study.

    Some Topics for Discussion --

    Why study the scrolls?
  • unfiltered primary sources for ancient investigation
    The discoveries: how? (history of)
  • what? (physical; text fragments)
  • where? (archaeology, caves, Qumran)
  • from when? (paleography, archaeology, dating)
  • who and why? (the historical mysteries)
    The investigation team and process (see CD-ROM and Videos)
    Classification of Materials (overview; see Indices)
    Identification of Characteristic Perspectives (overview)
    Searching for Context
  • Josephus' Evidence
  • Philo & Pliny
  • Nazarenes -- the Joshua/Jesus movements
  • lost communities -- caves & their contents
  • "baptizing groups" in antiquity
    "Sectarian" Writings (focus on community history and organization)
  • Manual of Discipline = Community Rule (1QS)
  • Damascus Document (CD) (Cairo Geniza tangent)
  • Temple Scroll (11QTemple)
    Respected Traditional Works (pre-sectarian)
  • pre-Moses -- Enoch, Melchizedek, Abraham, Patriarchs
  • Moses & the Law & the Priesthood (& Temple)
  • post-Moses -- Joshua, David, Isaiah, Daniel, etc.
    Commentary & Contemporeity (community in action)
  • The Torah Letter (4QMMT)
  • Pesharim = Commentaries (e.g. Habakkuk, Nahum, Isaiah, Psalms)
  • Hodayot
  • War Scroll
    Current Debates (see also ORION discussions, CD-ROM and Videos)
  • the community site and the scroll sites
  • unity of the scroll writers' orientation?
  • identity of the scroll writers' community?
  • relation of scroll evidence to knowledge of Judaism
  • --and to knowledge of Christianity
    Prospects for Future Study and Relevance (see ORION news)