Biblical Archaeology Review 39:5, September/October 2013

Strata: Milestone: Geza Vermes (1924–2013)

My friend Geza Vermes is dead. He was, most famously, the intellectual leader in the fight to free the Dead Sea Scrolls from the small coterie of scholars who was assigned to publish them but endlessly procrastinated and wouldn’t allow anyone else to see them in the meantime. Geza Vermes (GAY-za ver-MESH) really started the public campaign to free the scrolls with his ringing prediction at a lecture in 1977: “The world is entitled to ask the authorities … what they intend to do about this lamentable state of affairs. For unless drastic measures are taken at once, the greatest and most valuable of all Hebrew and Aramaic manuscript discoveries is likely to become the academic scandal par excellence of the 20th century.”

Even before they were fully released, Vermes was an authority on the scrolls that had already been published (mostly by Israeli scholars). His initial translation of the then-available scrolls was a 270-page volume. Edition after edition followed. Now in its seventh edition, the 720-page tome The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English is by far the best selling of the several English translations available, having sold in excess of a million copies.

Vermes was also an influential authority on so-called “historical Jesus” studies. In his view, now widely accepted, Jesus was not simply a Jew, as everybody knew, but the movement he led during his life was a thoroughly Jewish movement with little intent of becoming a separate religion. Vermes’s views heavily relied on his analysis of contemporaneous Judaism as revealed in the Dead Sea Scrolls.

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