He wrote about the Dead Sea Scrolls and ancient works in Aramaic such as the Targumim , and on the life and religion of Jesus. He was one of the most important voices in contemporary Jesus research,  and he has been described as the greatest Jesus scholar of his time. I realized I ought to recognize my genuine identity. Vermes attended a Catholic seminary. In Vermes obtained a doctorate in theology with the first dissertation written on the Dead Sea Scrolls and its historical framework.
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A major investigator of the Scrolls since their discovery explains why after 60 years they still have not made their full impact on the general public.
I was enormously privileged to witness from its initial stages the story of the Scrolls and to play an active part in their investigation and in their communication to the world. I first learned about them in , the year after an Arab shepherd accidentally stumbled on seven rolls in a cave by the Dead Sea in British mandatary Palestine, not yet divided into Israel and Jordan.
I was reading biblical studies in Louvain Belgium and keenly followed the press reports about Jewish manuscripts purported to date to the end of the pre-Christian era.
The story seemed unbelievable: it flatly contradicted the accepted wisdom according to which no ancient document written on leather could survive in the Palestinian climate. The decisive moment came one sunny morning, still in My professor of Hebrew turned up in class with the photograph of one of the manuscripts: it arrived that morning from Jerusalem and represented chapter 40 of the book of Isaiah. I stared at the picture, slowly deciphered the strange script, and felt in my bones that the document was genuine.
Against advice, I resolved to write my doctoral dissertation on the Dead Sea Scrolls. Ever since then they and my life have been intertwined. Thus, all seven scrolls were reunited and housed in the Shrine of the Book in Jerusalem.
Their publication facsimile edition of the original text with facing transliteration, but without translation or commentary swiftly followed. American scholars, commissioned by the Syrian monastery, issued in the complete manuscript of Isaiah and two unknown documents, a Commentary on the Book of Habakkuk and the Community Rule , giving the regulations of an ancient Jewish sect. By the mids, literary Dead Sea Scrolls scholarship was successfully launched.
Meanwhile, the archaeologists had entered the scene. Legion to look for the cave of the Scrolls. Between and , ten further caves containing five more scrolls and tens of thousands of fragments were discovered, mostly by clandestine Arab treasure hunters.
The fragments, some large, some small, originally belonged to scrolls, about one quarter of them biblical. They were written mostly on leather, 15 per cent on papyrus, a few on potsherds and one on copper sheets. The texts are chiefly in Hebrew with some Aramaic and a handful of Greek manuscripts. With the help of palaeography, carbon 14 analysis, archaeological data and, when possible, the examination of their content, the texts are dated from the end of the third century BC to the first century AD.
The work of the archaeologists was not exhausted by the 11 manuscript caves. Having first ignored the nearby ruins, known as Qumran, in the mistaken belief that they were the remains of a fourth-century Roman fortlet, Roland de Vaux and his colleagues set out to excavate this ancient settlement as well as a nearby farm further south at Ein Feshkha.
De Vaux concluded that the main period of occupation of the site fell between the late second century BC and its destruction by the Romans in AD 68; that the communal character of the establishment was indicated by a large assembly hall and dining room and over a thousand pots, bowls, plates, etc; that the adjacent cemetery of some 1, graves contained mostly male skeletons but only five per cent of the tombs have been examined ; and that numerous reservoirs, several furnished with steps, served for ritual purification.
The first-century AD Jewish writers Philo and Flavius Josephus report their daily purificatory baths, male celibacy and religious communism and their Roman contemporary, Pliny the Elder, places the Essenes to the western shore of the Dead Sea, between Jericho and Ein Gedi.
Her views, not yet published but given in interviews, have been loudly trumpeted in the media and may be summed up as claiming according to the Tel Aviv daily Haaretz of 13 March that the scrolls were written by Jerusalem Sadducee priests and not by Essenes; and that the Essenes never existed, but were invented by Flavius Josephus.
Josephus was not the first, let alone the only, author to describe in great detail the Essenes. He gives two separate accounts of the sect in his Jewish War and Jewish Antiquities and refers to various Essene individuals involved in Palestinian Jewish history from the mid-second century BC to the war against Rome in AD Moreover, in his autobiography he states to have himself joined for a time the Essene community.
Furthermore, Josephus was preceded by two other first century AD writers, the Jew Philo of Alexandria and the Roman Pliny the Elder, both providing a picture of the Essenes essentially the same as that of Josephus, and listing the uncommon features of religious communism and renunciation of marriage.
The Qumran Community Rule also refers to common ownership of property and lays down a way of life unsuitable for married people. Both are contrary to what we know about Sadducee priests. Finally, Pliny the Elder asserts that the Essenes lived on the western shore of the Dead Sea somewhere between Jericho in the north and Ein Gedi and Masada in the south corresponding to the area where Qumran lies. The two unique characteristics common ownership and male celibacy and the geographical location remain the solid grounds on which the theory of the Essene identity of the Dead Sea sect continues to stand.
After the release of the original scrolls between and , the publication of the fragments from Cave 1 in promptly inaugurated the collection Discoveries in the Judaean Desert DJD , the final volume of which has just appeared. Let me return to On the promise that his identity would be kept secret, he let me use the valuable information he disclosed. So I completed the first ever doctoral thesis on the Dead Sea Scrolls in , which among many other things identified the mid-second century BC Maccabee brothers, Jonathan and Simon, as the opponents of the Teacher of Righteousnes, founder of the Qumran community, a theory that soon became mainstream opinion among scholars.
However, before sending my manuscript to the printers, I set sail for Israel to gain first-hand experience of the Scrolls. The great adventure started badly. I was unable to inspect the manuscripts of the Hebrew University; Professor Sukenik was by then gravely ill and died the following year. So I was forced to opt for the riskier alternative, which entailed an illegal crossing from Israel to Jordan with false documents.
The two young scholars were engaged on editing the fragments discovered in Cave 1. They generously permitted me to study the texts and we shared our ideas about the Scrolls. While there, I also witnessed Bedouin nervously approaching de Vaux and pulling out from under their burnous matchboxes filled with freshly looted scroll fragments which they tried to sell to him.
Before leaving Jordan, I had the privilege of making my first pilgrimage to Qumran. After only a single season of digging, the site was very different from what it looks like today. Throughout my stay, Father de Vaux appeared kind and helpful. I was soon to discover his other face. I was floating in the clouds, but was soon catapulted down to earth by Father de Vaux, the top man in the field. He even added that simply by mentioning my visit to the school, I gave undue authority to my statements, some of which were inexact.
Totally shattered, I asked him to point out my errors as the second edition of the book was shortly due to appear, but he declined to do so as it would have taken up too much of his time. This reaction of de Vaux gave a foretaste of things to come during his dictatorial tenure as chief editor of the Scrolls. Nothing was ethical or correct unless it bore his seal of approval. Its privileged members were to take charge of the fragments, including the colossal heap retrieved in Cave 4.
There was no supervisory body to oversee the performance of the team. They and de Vaux were a law unto themselves. Last, but not least, no proper funding was raised for the continuation of the project. This far from satisfactory arrangement did not bode well for the future. Yet at the beginning the prospects were not gloomy. During the s, the still enthusiastic team assembled, transcribed and largely identified the hundreds of original works and a word concordance was prepared on index cards.
It comprises insignificant texts with the exception of the Copper Scroll with its list of 64 hiding places crammed with silver and gold.
Two factors had a deleterious effect on the editorial project. The lack of finance obliged the members of the team to seek academic appointments away from Jerusalem and turn into part-time or hardly-any-time editors.
Two Harvard University professors practised slow-motion editing by proxy, subletting their unpublished texts to clever graduate students. De Vaux and most of the members of the editorial team were pro-Arab, and at the prospect of the Israeli archaeological establishment becoming the chief authority in Scroll matters, de Vaux withdrew to his tent and until his death in the project remained at a standstill.
Playing the gentlemen, the Israeli archaeological establishment short-sightedly abstained from interfering. I felt it was my turn to step into the breach. By then, I held the senior post in Jewish Studies at Oxford.
Having since The Dead Sea Scrolls in English to my credit, I was in a position to approach Oxford University Press, a body with real muscle as they were the publishers of the Scrolls. The head of the press, the great Greek papyrologist C. Roberts, was convinced at once and told Benoit to get a move on. The weak chief editor made a semblance of effort.
Half of his collaborators simply did not reply and the other half politely promised delivery of the goods between and , but nothing happened. In , he resigned and was replaced by John Strugnell, an academically capable Oxford graduate, but a highly inefficient person.
Publishing was not his forte. In , on the 40th anniversary of Qumran, two British colleagues and I tried to breath fresh life into the moribund editorial process. We organised an international conference in London to which we enticed the editorial team.
The aim was to shame them into action. With one exception, they all turned up, made further promises, but my proposal at a public meeting that the photographs of the unpublished documents should be released at once met with blunt refusal from Strugnell.
By then, general dissatisfaction with the editorial delays had reached boiling point and media speculation was rife. Instead of blaming the team, journalists and popular writers dished out a conspiracy theory: the Vatican had decided to prevent the publication of the Scrolls because they contained compromising material for Christianity.
While revolution was brewing, Strugnell was finally demoted on account of an unforgivable faux pas. Neither his team-mates nor the Israeli archaeological establishment could stomach his characterisation of Judaism, in an interview with a Tel Aviv daily, as a horrible religion which should not exist.
He was relieved of his office on health grounds — he suffered from manic depression aggravated by alcoholism. The sensational opening move of the next chief editor, Emanuel Tov of the Hebrew University, chosen by the Israel Antiquities Authority IAA , was to appoint 60 new members myself included to the team. Its downfall was caused by the IAA and Strugnell.
The institutions were obliged to keep the unpublished documents under lock and key. Strugnell, in turn, published privately for the use of his editorial team 25 copies of a handwritten word concordance of the Qumran texts. Both of these leaked.
The concordance came into the hands of a professor in Cincinnati, who with the assistance of a computer-savvy graduate student succeeded in reconstructing from the word list several complete Qumran texts. The photo archive given to Claremont was the other source of the leak. All hell broke loose after the unauthorised publication by BAS, and Jerusalem threatened legal proceedings.
Meanwhile, in secret, the director of the powerful Huntington Library of Pasadena was getting ready to announce that its photographic collection of the Scrolls would be placed on open shelves. How did it obtain these photos? Elizabeth Bechtel, a Californian philanthropist and founder of the Claremont Centre for Ancient Manuscripts, was given by the IAA two sets of Scroll photos, one for the centre under the usual conditions of inaccessibility, and the other for her private collection of memorabilia.
After a quarrel with the trustees of her institute, she donated her own archive to the Huntington with no restrictive clauses. A press conference was called in New York on 21 September to announce the end of the Scroll embargo, but the news came out earlier. The archaeology correspondent of The Times interviewed me on 19 September and next day, 24 hours before the American press, he broke the story, quoting my warm approval of the Huntington.
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This year marks the 50th anniversary of the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. This momentous discovery, probably the most important archeological find in history, began in when two Bedouin shepherds, searching for a lost goat--or more likely illegally prospecting for antiquities--near the ruins of Qumran overlooking the Dead Sea, wandered into some caves and happened upon tall pottery jars containing seven leather scrolls. This trove was funneled to an antiquities dealer in Bethlehem who became the agent through which the Bedouins sold to Jordan and Israel the scrolls and scroll fragments subsequently discovered in the 11 scroll caves of Qumran and a variety of other Judean Desert sites. By the first seven scrolls, the most complete in the entire collection, had been acquired by the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls In English
Welcome sign in sign up. One day late in , when I was an undergraduate at the University of Louvain, my professor of biblical studies arrived img1. He had in his hand a letter from Jerusalem that contained extracts from a recently discovered scroll of the Book of Isaiah a thousand years older than the earliest known Hebrew manuscript of the Prophets, which is dated CE. I realized at once that this startling discovery invalidated the axiom, based on a century of intensive archaeological scrutiny of every corner of the land from Dan to Beersheba, that no ancient text written on leather or papyrus could have survived in the climate of Palestine. But after the initial excitement surrounding the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, a half-century of scholarly mismanagement and irresponsibility followed.
THE COMPLETE DEAD SEA SCROLLS IN ENGLISH. By Geza Vermes . Allen Lane/Penguin: 648 pp. $39.95
Geza Vermes, who died on 8 May at the age of 88, was a translator of the Dead Sea Scrolls acclaimed for his books exploring the Jewish background of Christ. The scrolls were a cache of documents written between BC and AD discovered in caves at Qumran, near Jericho, between and Vermes published the first English translation of the scrolls in The scrolls gave an insight to Jewish practices and thought at the time Jesus was preaching, and they informed books by Vermes on the historical Jesus beginning with Jesus the Jew ; The Authentic Gospel of Jesus was a commentary on all the sayings attributed to Jesus in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. Born in Mako, Hungary in , Vermes was six when his parents converted to Catholicism, which he described as a pragmatic search for shelter from rising anti-Semitism. In he entered a seminary and after the war, moved to a Belgian seminary and gained a doctorate from the Catholic University of Louvain, where his dissertation was on the Scrolls. Vermes left the priesthood and the Catholic Church in , remarking later that his studies of Jesus had reconverted him to Judaism.