The Dead Sea Scrolls

Rated 5 out of 5 by from GREAT COURSE This was a very fascinating course and well lectured. While I was read on this subject I learned quite a bit more. It was truly interesting and great to expand my knowledge.
Date published: 2020-09-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Content and Presentation I love this course! I found the professor's presentation exciting and not boring. The content was excellent. And even though I had some prior knowledge of the subject matter, I learned much from this course. Additionally, the graphics were great! (I must say that TLC/TGCs has really improved their production quality over the years. I need visuals to enhance my reading, e.g., graphics, captions of the speaker's .quotations, graphs, photos, etc otherwise the lecturer is just a "talking head" and the lecturer becomes monotonous to watch. NOT so with this course! ) In any event, I found this one of the better video courses I have taken recently and I look forward to more. I am also a subscriber to The Great Courses Plus now and love it!
Date published: 2020-07-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Course Loved everything about this course. I had certainly heard of the dead sea scrolls but had no knowledge of their content. This was an incredibly informative course.
Date published: 2020-07-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Filled with information, even though I have lived through this period of time--discovery of the scrolls, I was totally unaware of and never received info through the media. Interesting and enlightening. Well done study.
Date published: 2020-06-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I am leading a bible study at our church and found the information in the video outstanding and very useful. I thought the professor was excellent.
Date published: 2020-06-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Except presenation I have only listened to the first four lectures but am very pleased. The information is presented well and reflects great research.
Date published: 2020-03-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Extremely Knowledgeable Professor There are a number of inaccurate reports about the Dead Sea Scrolls that circulate through our communities. Dr. Rendsburg has been dealing with the scrolls for most of his professional life. He tells the real story about the scrolls in a manner that is informative and interesting.
Date published: 2019-09-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Eye-Opening and Enjoyable Beginning to End This 2010 TC course presented by Professor Gary A. Rendsburg really expanded my knowledge of and appreciation for the importance of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Like most folks, I had a hazy idea that a lot of very old documents, many just fragments, had been found at Qumran (occupied by a group known as the Yahud, a Jewish sect likely related to the Essenes) on the Dead Sea back in the late 1940s, and that scholars had been working on them for decades. From time to time I would hear about new developments, and have even taken TC courses that mentioned the Dead Sea Scrolls. This course, however, brings everything together for an understanding of just how important the Dead Sea Scrolls have been for the study of Second Temple Judaism, and even early Christianity. As Professor Rendsburg states: “The Dead Sea Scrolls contain not only our oldest copies of the Bible but Jewish texts from the 3rd century B.C.E. through 68 C.E. that provide an unprecedented view of Jewish history, culture, and religion from before and during the time of Jesus” (Course Guidebook, Page 1). There is a great deal in this course that Professor Rendsburg presents chronologically and thematically to good effect, employing history, religion, archaeology, textual study, Bible transmission and more. I will not try to summarize or and analyze this course so much as to point out some matters that seem important to me. For instance, why there was a rough start in study and preservation in the decades after the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The story borders on a mystery or even an adventure at times, including the posting of a 1954 sale notice in the Wall Street Journal for four of the Scrolls; how the Scrolls helped flesh out the existence of various sects of the era, especially the Sadducees and Pharisees; how they very significantly affected biblical scholarship; why it took so long to publish the Dead Sea Scrolls, as well as the great variety and sometimes quite idiosyncratic theories about them; how religious affiliation affected Dead Sea Scroll study and interpretation, with Jewish scholars initially excluded; how a “cartel” (Lecture 19:Audio) was broken in the early 1990s allowing greater access by Jewish scholars; and how the Scrolls came to be identified more with Judaism than with Christianity. It is an absorbing set of lectures. One of the most interesting parts of the course relates to the Dead Sea Scrolls and Christianity. Professor Rendsburg references early Christians in many of the lectures and devotes the entire lecture twenty-three to ‘Connections to Christianity’. According to Professor Rendsburg: “Many of these [Yahud/Essene] beliefs resonate with the Christian movement, which began as a Jewish sect of the 1st century C.E. and which also was characterized by a communal lifestyle, distanced itself from the sacrificial system, and held apocalyptic beliefs. There are further points of similarity between the Dead Sea Scrolls community and the Jesus movement: Both groups believed in an ongoing revelation, both placed an emphasis on ritual immersion (baptism) not only for purification but for initiation, and both believed that the prophetic texts of old spoke to the present with new meaning and interpretation. This is not to say that Christianity and the Qumran community should be seen as one and the same—far from it, for as we stress in the course, the former relaxed Jewish law as much as possible, while the latter held to the most stringent interpretation of Halakah” (Guidebook, Page 2). An example of just how stringent they could be is in an apparent Sabbath prohibition on what Professor Rendsburg refers to as “toileting.” Such a prohibition, I am sure, would require considerable intestinal fortitude. I listened straight through on the audio version of the course on my walks and found it easy to follow most of the time. This course was also available to me in video format via The Great Courses Plus, and I sampled several lectures. I think if I had the time, I would prefer the video over audio. Not so much for the illustrations, since there are not so many as in other TC video courses, but for the key, often unfamiliar, words and ideas and summary points projected on the screen. The 133-page course guidebook is fine, including not only basic lecture summaries and a few of the graphics from the video, but also very useful timeline, glossary, biographical notes, and annotated bibliography.Highly recommended!
Date published: 2019-05-08
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The Dead Sea Scrolls
Course Trailer
The Discoveries and Their Significance
1: The Discoveries and Their Significance

Learn what the Dead Sea Scrolls are, the story of their unlikely discovery, and the state of scholarship about ancient Judaism and early Christianity prior to the scrolls' surfacing. The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls would alter our understanding of every aspect of the crucial historical period in which they were created.

32 min
The First Seven Scrolls
2: The First Seven Scrolls

Plunge into a tale of excitement and adventure and discover more about how scholars gained access to the first seven scrolls discovered at Qumran-and what they found when they began to translate these extraordinary initial discoveries.

28 min
Opening and Reading the First Scroll
3: Opening and Reading the First Scroll

This lecture begins your immersion into the text of the scrolls themselves, starting with the scroll known as the Community Rule or Manual of Discipline-the important text that gives us our first insight into the community and theology of the scrolls' creators and guardians.

32 min
The Historical Backdrop of Ancient Judaism
4: The Historical Backdrop of Ancient Judaism

Consider history prior to the scrolls, beginning with the biblical period and moving forward to focus on the Maccabean revolt, the arrival of the Romans, the reign of King Herod, the life of Jesus, the Zealot uprising, the destruction of Jerusalem, and the fall of Masada.

31 min
The Rise of the Jewish Sects
5: The Rise of the Jewish Sects

Gain insight into the appearance of Jewish sectarianism in late antiquity-focusing primarily on the Sadducees, Pharisees, Essenes, and Zealots-through the Jewish historian Josephus, along with the Jewish philosopher Philo, the authors of the New Testament books, the later rabbis, and even the Roman polymath Pliny the Elder.

29 min
The Dead Sea Site of the Qumran Sect
6: The Dead Sea Site of the Qumran Sect

Journey to the isolated region of Qumran's caves and learn how archaeological excavations of a nearby ruin helped scholars form the most accepted hypothesis of who wrote the scrolls and why the scrolls were deposited in the caves.

32 min
The Emergence of the Rabbinic System
7: The Emergence of the Rabbinic System

Step forward in time to examine some later rabbinic texts from the 3rd century and the rise of the rabbinical tradition itself, both of which provide vital perspectives on the composition of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

32 min
A Dead Sea Scroll from Medieval Cairo
8: A Dead Sea Scroll from Medieval Cairo

Focus on the famous Damascus Document, two copies of which were discovered in a Cairo synagogue in the 1890s. Although the copies were medieval, the texts themselves were believed to be ancient-a conclusion later confirmed when fragments of the same texts were found at Qumran.

30 min
Pesher Interpretation-Prophecy Read Anew
9: Pesher Interpretation-Prophecy Read Anew

Look at a scroll known as the Pesher Habakkuk, the most prominent representative of an interpretive method whereby the true message of a biblical book is read as speaking to present-day conditions, as opposed to the original setting centuries earlier.

28 min
The War Scroll and Other Apocalyptic Texts
10: The War Scroll and Other Apocalyptic Texts

Two key scrolls-one of which details a cataclysmic battle between the "Sons of Light" (the Qumran sect's self-designation) and the "Sons of Darkness" (all other Jews, apparently)-offer you a window into apocalyptic belief among the Dead Sea sectarians.

29 min
Biblical Manuscripts at Qumran
11: Biblical Manuscripts at Qumran

Using clarifying examples of biblical text, enter the arcane world of textual criticism, learning about the transmission of texts in antiquity, the oral reading tradition, the translation of the Bible into Greek, the Samaritan version of the Torah, and, of course, the Qumran biblical manuscripts themselves.

31 min
Alternative Views of Qumran and the Scrolls
12: Alternative Views of Qumran and the Scrolls

Most scholars believe the Dead Sea Scrolls were authored by a Jewish sect identified with the Essenes, who then hid the documents from the advancing Roman army in 68 C.E. This is not the only view, however. In this lecture, learn about several dissenting views.

29 min
Stops and Starts En Route to Publication
13: Stops and Starts En Route to Publication

The story of the Dead Sea Scrolls involves much more than just archaeology and analysis. This lecture takes you into the intrigue, scholarly rivalry, and sometimes astonishing delays that marked the scrolls' long journey from discovery to complete publication.

28 min
The Qumran Vision for a New Temple
14: The Qumran Vision for a New Temple

Explore in detail the Temple Scroll, which reworked the Torah's laws, using the book of Deuteronomy as a base. Also, learn how a key shift in the text's narrative voice-to that of God speaking in the first person-has drawn attention to a major belief central to the Qumran sect.

31 min
Daily Life at Qumran
15: Daily Life at Qumran

How did the Qumran community go about its daily life? This lecture integrates both textual and archaeological data to examine the sect's social structure, economy, farming, food production, and the question of women at Qumran.

31 min
The Halakhic Letter-Rituals Define the Sect
16: The Halakhic Letter-Rituals Define the Sect

This treatise on 20 points of Jewish law, written by the Qumran sect's leader, was published in modern form 40 years after its discovery. Follow the twists and turns of that story before delving into the contents of this foundational text for the Qumran community.

31 min
The Qumran Biblical Canon
17: The Qumran Biblical Canon

When the Qumran community existed, the biblical canon was not yet fixed, with different Jewish groups seeing as canonical some texts that others did not. Examine some texts shedding light on the Qumran canon, including the Genesis Apocryphon and its detailed elaboration of Sarah's physical beauty.

30 min
The Qumran Calendar
18: The Qumran Calendar

Look at the ways in which the arrangement of the yearly calendar influenced the practice of faith, and how the Qumran community used a different calendar from other Jews of the time.

31 min
Jewish Scholars and Qumran Ritual Practices
19: Jewish Scholars and Qumran Ritual Practices

Return to the process by which the scrolls were published, learning how several key events in 1991 ultimately shattered the scholarly monopoly and paved the way for close examination of religious practices at Qumran, including the use of tefillin, the mezuzah, and the recitation of Grace after Meals.

32 min
Prayers, Hymns, and the Synagogue
20: Prayers, Hymns, and the Synagogue

Continue your focus on Jewish ritual at Qumran, with special attention to prayer and the role of the synagogue, before turning to the last of the original seven documents to be examined in this course, a lengthy collection of poetry known as the Thanksgiving Hymns.

30 min
Qumran Hebrew as an Anti-Language
21: Qumran Hebrew as an Anti-Language

Turn to the dialect used in the Dead Sea Scrolls known to scholars as "Qumran Hebrew"-an example of the sociolinguistic phenomenon of "anti-language"-and investigate how it could be used by the sect to set itself apart.

31 min
The Enigma of the Copper Scroll
22: The Enigma of the Copper Scroll

Learn how the Qumran community's most remarkable and puzzling text-the corroded metal sheets of which needed to be cut apart into strips to permit reading-proved to contain obscure hints of the locations of vast and specific amounts of gold, silver, and other treasure.

32 min
Connections to Christianity
23: Connections to Christianity

There are many links between the Dead Sea Scrolls sect and the Jesus movement. This lecture gathers connections already mentioned in earlier lectures and further explores beliefs and practices shared by the Qumran sect and earliest Christianity.

33 min
Scroll Fragments and a New View of Judaism
24: Scroll Fragments and a New View of Judaism

Even quite fragmentary scrolls offer new insights. This lecture samples three such fragments, turns to the ultimate fates of the different sects, and then concludes with a look at lessons the scrolls offer us today.

34 min
Gary A. Rendsburg

I've always had a love of history, so I very much enjoy bringing this aspect to our course.


New York University


Rutgers University

About Gary A. Rendsburg

Dr. Gary A. Rendsburg holds the Blanche and Irving Laurie Chair in Jewish History in the Department of Jewish Studies at Rutgers University, where he also holds an appointment in the History Department. He earned his M.A. and Ph.D. in Hebrew Studies from New York University and taught at Canisius College and Cornell University-the latter for 18 years-before joining the Rutgers faculty in 2004. The author of six books and more than 120 scholarly articles, Professor Rendsburg takes a special interest in literary approaches to the Bible, the history of the Hebrew language, the history of ancient Israel, and the development of Judaism in the post-biblical period. His works include The Bible and the Ancient Near East (1997), a general survey of the biblical world coauthored with the late Cyrus H. Gordon, and, most recently, Solomon's Vineyard: Literary and Linguistic Studies in the Song of Songs (2009), coauthored with Scott B. Noegel. Professor Rendsburg has visited all of the major archaeological sites in Israel, Egypt, and Jordan and has explored Qumran, the site of the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, repeatedly for several decades. He has participated in excavations at Tel Dor and Caesarea. His main research interests are the literature of the Bible, the history of ancient Israel, the historical development of the Hebrew language, and the relationship between ancient Egypt and ancient Israel. Professor Rendsburg has received several fellowships including the Center for Advanced Judaic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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