Dead Sea Scrolls studies are currently polarized by debate over whether or not an
Essene community dwelling at Qumran produced the Scrolls. For over thirty years
interpretations of the Scrolls were dominated by the "traditional" (as it is now
called) assumption that the Dead Sea Scrolls were copied, collected and stored by Essene
sectarians at Qumran. The last decade has witnessed growing dissent to that
In choosing the selections below, we have tried to present notable books representing
both traditional and dissenting views, and to give some indication where each books sits
in the current argument. (For more information on this sometimes heated debate, see
our Introduction to the Dead Sea Scrolls.)
For an initial reading program we suggest three books (all listed below): The Dead
Sea Scrolls Today by James Vanderkam, for a concise overview; The Dead
Sea Scrolls by M. Wise, for a complete collection of the DSS texts in
translation; and Who Wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls? by Norman Golb, to gain
insight into current debates about the origin of the DSS.
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Collections of the Dead Sea Scrolls in
Dead Sea Scrolls by M. Wise, M. Abegg & E. Cook
This is a new translation of nearly all the unique documents found at Qumran. It offers
an excellent general introduction, and gives a balanced critique of the traditional Essene
hypothesis, along with suggestions for a new approach to the documents. The translations
of the DSS texts are well annotated and very readable. This is perhaps the best
available general collection of the Dead Sea Scrolls in translation. Highly recommended.
The Dead Sea Scrolls
Translated by Florentino Garcia Martinez
This is one of the best scholarly collections of the DSS texts and a book that will be
found in the library of every serious student of the Scrolls. Martinez not only
gives a translation of the major texts, but also offers parallel evaluations of different
versions of the same text when more than one copy exists among the Scrolls. The book also
includes a listing of all the scrolls found near Qumran, with brief bibliographical notes
on each. Martinez is in agreement with traditional approaches to the Scrolls, and the
book's introduction gives a good review of the Essene-Qumran hypothesis. The book was
originally written in Spanish and then translated to English. As a result, texts of
the Scrolls have been translated twice (first to Spanish, then to English); readability
occasionally suffers as a resulting of this double translation. This book is recommended
as a compliment to one of the other standard collections (such as the Wise, Abegg and Cook
translation, above) for students engaged in a serious study of the texts from the DDS.
The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls by Geza Vermes
This is the classic translation of the Scrolls, first published in 1962 and last
updated in 2004, by one of the most respected scholars involved in traditional
interpretations of the collection. It remains the one book on the DSS most often
purchased by visitors to our bookstore. Vermes presents a very readable text, along
with an introduction and notes, all strongly based in the Qumran-Essene theory about
origins of the Scrolls. Due to this bias and a reluctance to discuss
alternative approaches to the Scrolls, some readers find the book outdated. In our
opinion, it remains a classic and is well worth reading -- but it should be balanced by
one of the books offering a dissenting view about origins of the DSS.
Introductory and Advanced Commentary on the Dead
The Dead Sea Scrolls Today by James
A concise and informative introductory work. It offers a general history of the DSS
discovery, a survey of the manuscripts, an overview of the traditional Essene-Qumran
hypothesis (which the author accepts without apparent reservation), and an evaluation of
impact the Scrolls have had on both OT and NT scholarship. The book seems designed for use
in an introductory class on the DSS, and is well suited to that task.
Who Wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls? by Norman Golb
For over thirty years Dr. Golb has been a respected and vocal critic of traditional DSS
scholarship. In this work he gives a detailed history of his personal battle with that
dominant viewpoint. Along the way, he offers an extensive review of his own reasons for
rejecting traditional assumptions about an Essene community living at Qumran and producing
the Dead Sea Scrolls. The book is strongly argumentative and will be best appreciated by
readers already somewhat familiar with traditional DSS scholarship. Highly
recommended for those seeking to understand the debate currently surrounding the Scrolls.
Reclaiming the Dead Sea Scrolls by Lawrence
This is a book to explore after having dipped into a few other introductory works.
Schiffman, like several other Jewish scholars of the DSS, is critical of the
Christian bias frequently perceived in some traditional approaches to the discovery. In
balance, he emphasizes here the importance of the Scrolls from an exclusively Jewish
perspective. The author rejects the Essene-Qumran hypothesis, arguing that the Scrolls are
better understood as writings of a splinter sect of Sadducees. One gets the
impression that Schiffman brings a strong ideological bias to his subject; this bias
occasional sustains his arguments where objective evidence appears scant. Nonetheless, the
book is well written and offers several uniquely valuable insights into the Dead Sea
Beyond the Essene Hypothesis: The Parting of the Ways between
Qumran and Enochic Judaism by Gabriele Boccaccini
Another very interesting non-traditional approach to the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Boccaccini identifies a trend in intertestamental Judaism integrally associated with the
Enoch literature, and locates authorship of the Scrolls within that tradition. The
author suggests that early Christianity was influenced by the same visionary tradition (a
suggestion which is not, however, the focus of this study). Again, this a book to
investigate after sampling other introductory material. Boccaccini's work is a fine
representative of new approaches developing in DSS studies. Definitely recommended.