The year: 1947. A Bedouin shepherd tracks one of his stray goats into a cave mouth above the shore of the Dead Sea at a desolate place named Qumran. Inside, he discovers a pair of tall, thin clay pots. And what he finds when he opens those pots will be nothing less than the greatest archaeological discovery of the 20th century: the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Soon enough, archaeologists began swarming the dusty cliffs of Qumran in search of more caves and more scrolls. In time, the original 7 scrolls this Bedouin shepherd haphazardly uncovered grew to 930 scrolls; some of them complete, others merely fragments.
In the 60 years since their dramatic discovery, excavation, reassembly, and translation, the Dead Sea Scrolls have provided us with these and other fascinating insights:
- Our oldest biblical manuscripts, including all of the book of Isaiah, portions of virtually every other book in the Hebrew Bible, and other texts esteemed by ancient Jews
- An unprecedented window into two great monotheistic traditions in the pivotal years before and after the time of Jesus, offering insights into Jewish history, culture, and religion, as well as the growth of early Christianity out of Judaism
- Evidence of both the theological stance and ritual practices of the Yahad, an Essene group that had authored the scrolls and that, thousands of years later, have given scholars a fresh perspective on rival sects like the Sadducees and Pharisees
- The remarkable consistency in wording and meaning between the biblical texts discovered at Qumran and the great medieval codices that form a part of the spiritual lives of millions of Jews and Christians
- Enhanced knowledge of how the Bible was transmitted across the ages
Whether complete or only fragmentary, the 930 extant Dead Sea Scrolls irrevocably altered how we look at and understand the foundations of faith and religious practice.
Now you can get a comprehensive introduction to this unique series of archaeological documents, and to scholars' evolving understanding of their authorship and significance, with The Dead Sea Scrolls. Taught by Professor Gary A. Rendsburg, a dedicated Dead Sea Scrolls scholar who has spent decades immersed in the study of this amazing find, these 24 lectures will tell you what the scrolls are, what they contain, and how the insights they offered into religious and ancient history came into focus.
And in following the extraordinary story of how the scrolls were acquired and ultimately published—a story fully 40 years in its unfolding—you'll also gain a fascinating peek behind the scholarly curtain to see the rivalries, setbacks, and drama surrounding that process.
Follow a Tale of Scholarly Intrigue
Few areas of historical scholarship can match the Dead Sea Scrolls' combination of intellectual excitement, novel-like intrigue, and curiosity-satisfying forays along fascinating side trails. Organizing his lectures both chronologically and topically, Professor Rendsburg draws on history, religion, archaeology, close textual analysis, linguistics, and other key disciplines to help you share in this excitement.
What kinds of continuities have these ancient scrolls established between periods in ancient history? How can they authenticate biblical texts for both believers and skeptics?
These are just a few of the many provocative questions whose answers you'll uncover in The Dead Sea Scrolls.
An Unlimited Treasure Trove of Insights
The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls has offered scholars what seems an almost unlimited treasure trove of new facts and insights, which this course shares. You'll learn about these and other topics:
- The only historical instance of the Jews ever forcibly converting a conquered people to Judaism, which happened when the Hasmonean king John Hyrcanus brought the vanquished people of Idumea (the biblical land of Edom) under the rule of Judea
- The three key sects of Judaism as observed by the great Jewish historian Josephus: the priestly Sadducees and their lack of belief in the immortality of the soul and in fate; the Pharisees, whose monopoly on historical perspective would eventually be shattered by the Dead Sea Scrolls; and the Essenes, whom most scholars regard as including the Qumran sect
- The rare stroke of scholarly fortune represented in the discovery of the first seven scrolls sealed in jars, and the triumph of recovering more than 900 documents from the ravages of 2,000 years of exposure
- The extraordinary intrigue (sometimes spanning generations) that overlays the story of the scrolls, such as the tale of Professor Eliezer Sukenik—who purchased three of the original seven scrolls disguised as an Arab—and his son, Yigael Yadin, who later purchased the remaining four scrolls through a classified advertisement in The Wall Street Journal
- The ways that parchment scrolls of the time were made and written upon
- The great lengths to which some ancient Jews went to ensure their adherence to the strict interpretations of halakha, or Jewish law
These stories and many more are brought vividly to life by Professor Rendsburg, whose knowledge of and enthusiasm for his subject are enhanced by decades of study and repeated visits to the Qumran site.
Develop an Appreciation for an Unprecedented Find
At the heart of The Dead Sea Scrolls are the documents themselves. Throughout the course, you spend a wealth of time reading parts of the actual scrolls in English translation. Professor Rendsburg continually trains your eye to uncover the salient religious practices and intriguing theological ideas expressed in these documents.
In addition, his specialized knowledge in the history of the Hebrew language and his skilled literary approaches to the Bible show through in every lecture of this wide-ranging exploration of the Dead Sea Scrolls and their invaluable importance. By the conclusion of the final lecture, you'll have developed a newfound understanding and appreciation of an unprecedented historical find and its enduring influence on the way we think about—and talk about—ancient Judaism and Christianity.