The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Bible. By JAMES C. VanderKam. Grand Rapids, Mich.: WILLIAM B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2012. Pp. xiv + 188. $25 (paper).
This work of James VanderKam, one of the leading scholars of the Dead Sea Scrolls and their world, is based on his lectures delivered at Oxford University for the prestigious Speaker's Lectures in Biblical Studies in 2009. While the first person address of the lectures has been shifted to third person, and the author has added many useful footnotes, the book maintains the lighter and more general tone of the oral delivery. In addition, and in contrast to many books that begin as lectures, a selective but useful bibliography and index are included, and the table of contents includes useful subsection information.
VanderKam's purpose, in the lectures and the book, is "to provide up-to-date, accessible overviews of major subjects in the area of the scrolls and the Bible, especially ones that have interested me over the last several decades" (p. ix). This is not an attempt or claim to offer a general overview covering all important subjects, but an overview that reflects the personal concerns and previous labors of the author, whose work has been of major significance in the field, qualitatively and quantitatively. By means of their common tone and purpose, the chapters are united, and their topics are closely related, but they also stand alone as discrete units; VanderKam is not building an argument in successive chapters.
Chapter 1, "The 'Biblical' Scrolls and Their Implications," gives a quick survey of the number of copies found in the Judean wilderness (not just Qumran) of those scrolls that later became part of the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible, Protestant Old Testament). VanderKam then moves to examples of kinds of variants that are found when one compares these texts with younger Greek, Masoretic, and Samaritan manuscripts (pp. 7-15) and then to implications for reconstructing the textual history of biblical books (pp. 15-24). His coverage is judicious and his examples well chosen and explained, but anyone in the field would know that in so few pages one could only whet the appetite of readers by a few examples (knowledge of Greek and Hebrew required) and the picture painted must be done in very broad strokes. VanderKam does not attempt to put forth sweeping, new conclusions, but instead leaves the reader quite aware of textual complexity that calls into question generalizations and simple...