In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Qumran/Dead Sea Scrolls

  • Introduction
  • General Treatments
  • Bibliographies
  • Critical Text Editions and Photographs
  • Electronic and Microfiche Editions
  • Study Editions
  • Translations Without Hebrew/Aramaic Texts
  • Journals
  • Book Series
  • Electronic and Online Resources
  • Reference Works and Research Tools
  • Essay Collections
  • Qumran Biblical Scrolls, Textual Criticism, and the Formation of the Canon
  • Religious Practices and Theology
  • Qumran Eschatology and Messianic Expectations
  • Identity and History of the Qumran Community
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Archaeology
  • Dating of the Dead Sea Scrolls
  • The Dead Sea Scrolls and Christian Origins

Biblical Studies Qumran/Dead Sea Scrolls
Carol Newsom
  • LAST REVIEWED: 09 June 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 13 September 2010
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0102


The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947–1948 has rightly been called the most important archaeological discovery of the 20th century. The fragments of nine hundred manuscripts and the excavation of the nearby archaeological site have transformed the understanding of Judaism in the late Second Temple period and have shed new light on the development of early Judaism and Christianity, including the development of the Bible. The biblical texts recovered from Qumran are some thousand years older than the medieval Hebrew manuscripts that form the basis of modern translations. Of the nonbiblical texts, some are clearly composed by members of the sectarian religious movement that collected and preserved the scrolls, a movement that flourished from the middle of the 2d century BCE at least to the time of the Jewish revolt against Rome (66–70 CE). Other texts are not sectarian but represent a variety of writings popular in Jewish religious literature of the time. The fragmentary condition of many of the finds, the character of the texts themselves, and the nature of the archaeological remains have made the scholarly task of understanding and interpreting their significance extremely difficult. Consequently, many issues remain undecided and often hotly debated. Nevertheless, remarkable progress has been made in just over sixty years in reconstructing, deciphering, and interpreting these extraordinary documents and placing them within historical context.

General Treatments

Of the following introductory surveys, VanderKam 1994 and Vermès 1999 provide excellent starting places for an overview of the scrolls and their significance. VanderKam and Flint 2002 is more comprehensive and easiest to use as a reference work on specific topics. Schiffman 1994 gives more attention to legal texts and issues than do most of the others. Davies, et al. 2002 has exceptional photographs and other user-friendly features.

  • Davies, Philip R., George J. Brooke, and Phillip R. Callaway. The Complete World of the Dead Sea Scrolls. London: Thames and Hudson, 2002.

    An introduction aimed at a popular audience, this volume is lavishly illustrated with numerous sidebars. In addition to examining the scrolls in their ancient context, the book also gives attention to the various controversies surrounding the scrolls and their publication.

  • Schiffman, Lawrence H. Reclaiming the Dead Sea Scrolls: The History of Judaism, the Background of Christianity, the Lost Library of Qumran. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1994.

    A detailed and insightful introduction, with a glossary of terms and an extensive bibliography. Schiffman gives particular attention to Jewish law, relations with Gentiles, and other topics often not extensively covered in other introductions. The author’s views on the Sadducean origins of the Qumran community have not won wide support, however.

  • VanderKam, James C. The Dead Sea Scrolls Today. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1994.

    The best and most authoritative short introduction. VanderKam’s views represent what is often called the “consensus” position, which identifies the Qumran community with the Essenes, though he also discusses objections to this theory and alternative suggestions.

  • VanderKam, James, and Peter Flint. The Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls: Their Significance for Understanding the Bible, Judaism, Jesus, and Christianity. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2002.

    The most comprehensive introduction to the Dead Sea Scrolls, about twice as long as VanderKam 1994. The coverage is similar, including archaeological, historical, and interpretive issues, as well as controversies about the scrolls. The judgments on contested issues are judicious.

  • Vermès, Géza. An Introduction to the Complete Dead Sea Scrolls. London: SCM, 1999.

    This volume is a significant updating of the author’s highly regarded The Dead Sea Scrolls: Qumran in Perspective (Rev. ed. London: SCM, 1994) and serves as a companion to Vermès’s translation of the scrolls. The volume includes a classified survey of the main documents in the Qumran library and a valuable digest of each of the volumes of the Discoveries in the Judean Desert series published up to 1999.

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