Bible Review 13:4, August 1997

Bible Books

The Birth of Messianism

The Scepter and the Star: The Messiahs of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Other Ancient Literature

John J. Collins, ed. (New York: Doubleday, 1995) Anchor Bible Reference Library, 270 pp., $30

The popularity of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the controversy surrounding their publication have led to the appearance of a spate of books on the Qumran scrolls in recent years. With so many books on the shelves, it is difficult for the reader to differentiate the good from the bad, the wheat from the chaff. Among the books recently published concerning the scrolls, John Collins’s book The Scepter and the Star represents a nugget of pure gold.

The book, which is concerned with the messianic expectations found in the Qumran scrolls, is the culmination of a long series of articles on the Messiah at Qumran written by Collins over the last decade. Collins begins with a general overview of the subject of messianism in Judaism in the Second Temple period and then moves to a discussion of messianic passages in the Hebrew Bible. He reaches the somewhat startling conclusion that “messianism was virtually dormant from the early fifth to the late second century B.C.E.” and only emerged as an active ideology in the first century B.C.E., the period of the waning of the Hasmonean dynasty and the emergence of Rome.

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