The Discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Its Consequence

April 16 2015

Lawrence Schiffman recounts the story of the Dead Sea Scrolls from their surprising discovery, through the attempts by a small group of scholars to maintain strict control over them, to the ways the study of the scrolls has changed scholars’ understanding of ancient Judaism. On the last subject, he writes:

The impact of the scrolls on our understanding of the history of halakhah (Jewish law) has been enormous. With the help of the scrolls we have been able to reconstruct the Sadducee/Zadokite system of Jewish law that competed in Second Temple times with the Pharisaic-rabbinic system that is the basis for later Judaism. But this is far less important than what the scrolls tell us about the inner ferment and debate that took place within the Jewish community in the second and first centuries BCE and the early first century CE. The apocalyptic messianism we see in the scrolls propelled the Jewish community toward two revolts against Rome (first revolt, 66–70 CE; second revolt, 132–135 CE), both of which had messianic overtones. Furthermore, the expectation of an assumed-to-come redeemer and numerous other motifs found in Qumran apocalyptic tradition have left their mark on the rise of Christianity and its eventual separation from Judaism.

A fascinating corollary to all this scroll research has been their effect on Jewish-Christian relations. The scrolls have been part of a wider, post-Holocaust phenomenon of understanding earliest Christianity as a Jewish sect. In turn, this historical understanding has furnished the intellectual basis for the continued evolution of contemporary Christianity away from anti-Judaic positions to a renewed understanding of the common background that Jews and Christians share. Jews, in turn, have come to understand the way in which Christianity developed out of Judaism in light of our current understanding of the variegated nature of Second Temple Judaism.

Read more at Lawrence Schiffman

More about: ancient Judaism, Archaeology, Dead Sea Scrolls, History & Ideas, Jewish-Christian relations, Sadducees


When It Comes to Peace with Israel, Many Saudis Have Religious Concerns

Sept. 22 2023

While roughly a third of Saudis are willing to cooperate with the Jewish state in matters of technology and commerce, far fewer are willing to allow Israeli teams to compete within the kingdom—let alone support diplomatic normalization. These are just a few results of a recent, detailed, and professional opinion survey—a rarity in Saudi Arabia—that has much bearing on current negotiations involving Washington, Jerusalem, and Riyadh. David Pollock notes some others:

When asked about possible factors “in considering whether or not Saudi Arabia should establish official relations with Israel,” the Saudi public opts first for an Islamic—rather than a specifically Saudi—agenda: almost half (46 percent) say it would be “important” to obtain “new Israeli guarantees of Muslim rights at al-Aqsa Mosque and al-Haram al-Sharif [i.e., the Temple Mount] in Jerusalem.” Prioritizing this issue is significantly more popular than any other option offered. . . .

This popular focus on religion is in line with responses to other controversial questions in the survey. Exactly the same percentage, for example, feel “strongly” that “our country should cut off all relations with any other country where anybody hurts the Quran.”

By comparison, Palestinian aspirations come in second place in Saudi popular perceptions of a deal with Israel. Thirty-six percent of the Saudi public say it would be “important” to obtain “new steps toward political rights and better economic opportunities for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.” Far behind these drivers in popular attitudes, surprisingly, are hypothetical American contributions to a Saudi-Israel deal—even though these have reportedly been under heavy discussion at the official level in recent months.

Therefore, based on this analysis of these new survey findings, all three governments involved in a possible trilateral U.S.-Saudi-Israel deal would be well advised to pay at least as much attention to its religious dimension as to its political, security, and economic ones.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Islam, Israel-Arab relations, Saudi Arabia, Temple Mount