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The Dead Sea Scrolls & the New Testament

Author: George J Brooke
Published By: SPCK (London)
Pages: 336
Price: £20.00
ISBN: 0281 05710

Reviewed by Charles Brewster.

George Brooke is Professor of Biblical Criticism and Exegesis at Manchester University, and this opus is a collection of academic articles and conference presentations variously published between 1989 and 2003. The original papers were intended for specialist consumption and this is reflected in the technical flavour of the material and the provision of detailed footnotes throughout.

A non-specialist reader, once acclimatised to the scholastic style and language, will find much here to stimulate and illuminate a broader appreciation of the relevance of the Dead Sea Scrolls to New Testament and non-canonical literature contemporaneous with the early Christian era. The book does not set out to be an introduction to the scrolls, and is best enjoyed with a comprehensive reference to the extant Qumran texts close at hand. The comprehensive bibliography is helpful in identifying suitable supporting material, and this reviewer made extensive use of the Garcia Martinez translation (Brill, Leiden, 2nd edition, 1996).

Many authors seeking to present the Dead Sea Scrolls to a general readership - for example, Eisenman and Wise (The Dead Sea Scrolls Uncovered; Element, 1992) and Thiering (Jesus The Man,            Doubleday (1992) - have done so in support of a particular over-arching thesis or personal viewpoint, and it is refreshing that Brooke does not give the impression of such an objective. Inasmuch as the book presents a general theme of linkage between the Qumran material and the New Testament, Brooke seeks to minimise mutual influence. Several of the articles re-iterate that the most that can be firmly supported by evidence is that some individual members of the early Church may have previously been part of the Qumran community or a closely affiliated group.

For all the book’s conformance with the aridities of academic rigour, the author betrays a subtle sense of humour. His introductory summary of the past 50 years of scholarship on the Qumran scrolls is punctuated with appropriate section headings, and these are none other than those which would be applied to an account of the phases of occupation of the Qumran site itself as revealed by the archaeology. This synchronicity is not made explicit, but a reader familiar with the history of the site could be permitted a chuckle.

An important correspondence is identified in the Hebrew scriptural material referenced both in the Scrolls and in the New Testament, although contrasts in specific uses of such material are highlighted. The point is made that such parallelism does assist understanding of both sets of texts, and the articles present detail of particular instances.

Topics examined include the Beatitudes of Matthew’s Gospel and the scroll 4Q525, the Parable of the Vineyard, and the 153 fishes of John 21.11. Interesting deductions are also made about the role of women in the Qumran and the early Christian community.

If you are among those who have been put off by the difficult and fragmentary nature of the scrolls themselves, this book will help to draw out some of the most striking correspondences and contrasts with New Testament material, but without leading towards conclusions which are difficult to sustain on the basis of strong direct evidence.

Charles Brewster

Charles Brewster is a mathematician, with a particular interest in the numerical and mathematical qualities of para-biblical literature.

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You are reading Issue 35 of Ministry Today, published in November 2005.

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