James VanderKam and Peter Flint set out to write, in their own words, “a new, comprehensive, and up-to-date introduction” to the Dead Sea Scrolls. They have accomplished that goal admirably, especially when it comes to comprehensiveness. The volume touches on every area of scroll scholarship, and presents a synthetic account of the history of the Dead Sea Scrolls, their importance as a collection of ancient primary texts, and their impact on our understanding of Second Temple Judaism and the roots of Christianity.
VanderKam and Flint begin their survey with a history of the discovery of the scrolls; a detailed discussion of the methods used to date the scrolls (particularly paleography); the results of various archaeological investigations of the Judean desert site Khirbet Qumran, near where the scrolls were discovered; and the advances made in understanding the scrolls through the application of advanced technologies such as accelerator mass spectrometry and DNA analysis. They then offer a lengthy analysis of the history of the text of the Hebrew Bible both before and after the discovery of the scrolls, and the formation of the canon of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, as well as new information learned from the scrolls about the books of our present Apocrypha and the so-called Pseudepigrapha. They describe the community at Qumran, its theology, history and identity, through an analysis of the scroll collection discovered in the eleven caves in the vicinity of the site. And they also elaborate on the controversies surrounding the scrolls and the scholars responsible for their publication that generated so much public interest in the 1980s and 90s.