It’s amusing sometimes, to see what lengths people go to in order to attack things they don’t believe in. In the case of Christianity, they often use strange interpretations of the Dead Sea Scrolls. You remember them? They were found near the ruins of Qumran, and there has been a project going since the late 40’s attempting to date them and translate them.
Anyway, the usual tactic I’ve run into is to assert they say things which they don’t, or to make other, similarly unsupported, speculations about the community of Essenes (for example, I’ve run into folks who proudly assert the Essenes were Christians, or were a sect which followed “True Christianity” — the intent of the last assertion is, of course, to support a claim that all current Christian sects are therefore false). Those who make arguments based upon these assertions manage to shut up their targets, not through the force of Truth, but in the main because the average Christian is notoriously uninformed about Christian history, often accepting rather bizarre revisions of history as fact simply through ignorance. (My daughter’s Advanced Placement European History teacher once stated baldly that the major difference of opinion between Martin Luther and John Calvin was that Martin Luther believed in free will while Calvin didn’t. We went out and bought my daughter an independent study guide for the AP European History exam, so the teacher’s ignorance didn’t hurt her. We’d both learned quite a bit earlier that pointing out errors to this teacher led only to reprisals, not truth, so there was no point in trying to educate the teacher.)
This is a rather long way round to introducing one of my current study topics, the Dead Sea Scrolls. The book is The Meaning Of The Dead Sea Scrolls by James Vanderkam and Peter Flint. It’s an excellent introduction to the scrolls themselves (the current “official” translation of the scrolls runs to 39 volumes; the nasty part of me thinks this is why they’re such fertile ground for fabrication — it’s not likely anyone you’re talking to has read them all). But more importantly, from my standpoint, is they tell the history of the project to translate the scrolls, and debunk a lot of the myths that have arisen around them.
The myths grew in part because of the speed (lack thereof) of publication. Many things slowed the pace of the scholarship, but to speculators outside the only real reason was that there must be something in the scrolls that would completely destroy the orthodoxy of the day, either Christian or Jewish (speculation on the latter rose sharply when Israel wrested control of the scrolls from Jordan after the Six-Day War). I mean it’s obvious that must be the reason for the delay — it can’t be because the work is difficult, or because there are so many things exploding around the scholars that it’s hard to remain there on the job, or any one of a hundred other, more innocuous reasons. It’s human nature to leap to the most malignant reason behind someone’s behavior.
This is a highly recommended read for anyone wanting to know something more (or just something, even) about the discoveries in Qumran. The authors have written a very approachable introduction to a very complex and important subject.