THE SCROLLS FROM THE DEAD SEA. by Edmund Wilson W. H. Allen, 10s. 6d.):
Iwill always be to the 1 credit of Prof. W. F. Albright. of Johns Hopkins University, U.S.A., one of the greatest living archxologists, that he was prepared to recognise the manuscript of the Book of Isaiah found among many others in a cave near the Dead Sea in 1947 as having been written in pre-Christian times. After careful examination he wrote: "What an absolutely incredible find ! And there can happily not be the slightest doubt in the world about the genuineness of the manuscript." It was a question not of a mere scrap of the text but of the whole Book of Isaiah-and the discovery has to be seen in the light of the fact that hitherto our earliest extant manuscripts of the Old Testament in Hebrew dated from many centuries after Christ. We have fragments of the text of Ecclesiasticus, found half a century ago in Cairo, dating from perhaps A.D. 1100, and in the British Museum there is a manuscript of the Pentateuch dating from the 9th century A.D. Albright thought that the newly found Isaiah manuscript could be dated about B.C. 100.
THE discovery of the
manuscripts in jars in a cave by a wandering Bedouin in 1947 is by now too well known to be repeated here, and in any case it is fully described in the book under review. It is as well, however, to recall that this discovery was only the beginning. Once the startling nature of the discovery became widely known, a veritable treasure hunt began.
As usual, the Bedouins on the spot were there first, and no one knows even now how much damage they did or what manuscripts they still hold to ransom. Nevertheless, Pere de Vaux, O.P., of the Ecole Biblique in Jerusalem, and Mr. G. Lankester Harding, of the Jordan Department of Antiquities, began intensive and methodical search of the whole area, entering hundreds of caves. The results were most rewarding. Besides numerous nonBiblical texts, fragments were discovered of nearly all the Books of the Old Testament. many written in the archaic script.
It had come to be accepted
almost as axiomatic that important manuscript finds in Palestine were not to he looked for. Such startling discoveries as the El Amnia Tablets or the Oxyrhyncus Papyri in Egypt or the Ras Shamra or Mari Tablets in Syria and Mesopotamia would never he paralleled in the Holy Land. And now a series of discoveries Was in progress that has rightly been called the greatest in modern times.,
THE literature already produced on the subject is enormous. Dr. Rowley, of Manchester University, has set himself the unenviable task of taking account and tabulating
everything that is written on the matter. But it has severely taxed even his seemingly inexhaustible energy to keep track of the hundreds of books and articles that have appeared and continue to appear.
It is curious that though so much has been written and though many popular articles have been produced, Mr. Wilson's book seems to be the first attempt to describe at length for the ordinary man the absorbingly interesting story of the discoveries. On the whole he succeeds.
He devotes much space to the finding of the ruins of a monastery by the shores of the Dead Sea, not far from the caves where the manuscripts were found, which seems to have belonged to the Essenes-a sect of the Jews which professed an exalted moral and ascetical code of life. The monastery was apparentlyoccupied from the end of the second century B.C. to the year A.D. 68 during the Jewish revolt, when it was destroyed by the Romans.
MR. WILSON gives us an extensive account of the Essenes and their teaching, especially as illustrated in some of the newly discovered manuscripts.
He points out that many of
the moral doctrines professed by Christians are in fact to be found in the Essene code-and underlines this at great length. apparently under the impression that the parallel was not known before.
This. of course, is not so. It has been known for a long time. The new discoveries merely illustrate.
Our author, however-as so many before him-goes on to argue from this fact against the unique character of Christianity and its exclusive claims. In a long chapter ambiguously entitled" What Would Renan Have Said'! " he struggles somewhat turgidly towards his conclusion, which appears finally on page 142 as follows: " It would seem an immense advantage for cultural and social intercoursethat is, for civilisation-that the rise of Christianity should at last be generally understood as simply an episode of human history rather than propagated as dogma and divine revelation. The study of the Dead Sea Scrolls-with the direction it is now taking-cannot fail, one would think, to conduce to this."
IT may well be that the study of the " background " to Christianity has been too often neglected. But this may he due not to any fear of diminishing its uniqueness but rather to the fact that its immeasurable superiority has absorbed the attention of writers to the exclusion of other matters.
Yet the comparisons have been made throughout the centuries, starting with Christ Himself, Who said: " I came not to destroy but to fufil." The free recognition of this in all its implications, so far from lessening our regard, leaves us rather in silent contemplation of the workings of Divine Providence, culminating fully and finally in Jesus Christ.
Mr. Wilson seems to think that Christians await with apprehension each new discovery for fear lest the foundations of their faith will be undermined. He is in error. If we believe Christianity to be true, we cannot but welcome any discovery that helps us to understand it a little better.
It is a pity that our author devotes so much space to riding this particular hobby-horse of his, as it cannot but seriously diminish the value of his book, which otherwise could be heartily recommended.