The Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls: The Documents that Shed a Brilliant New Light on Christianity



Book: The Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls: The Documents that Shed a Brilliant New Light on Christianity

Author: A. Powell Davies

Publisher: Signet, republished in 1961

ISBN-13: 978-0451624475

ISBN-10: 0451624475

Language level: 1

(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing and/or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing and/or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)

Recommended reading level: Adults

Rating: ** 2 stars (POOR)

Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker

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Davies, A. Powell.  The Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls: The Documents that Shed a Brilliant New Light on Christianity (published in 1956 by Mentor Books, an imprint of The New American Library of World Literature Inc., 501 Madison Ave., New York City, NY  10022).  Offhand, I don’t recall if this book came from my grandfather, a faithful gospel preacher, his sister, my great-aunt who was much more liberal in her religious views than he, or some other source, but with an interest in anything  related to a study of the Bible, I decided to read it.  The Dead Sea Scrolls are a collection of some 981 different texts discovered between 1946 and 1956 in eleven caves in the immediate vicinity of the Hellenistic-period Jewish settlement at Khirbet Qumran in the eastern Judaean Desert near the Dead Sea.  The consensus is that the Qumran Caves Scrolls date from c. 408 B.C. to A. D. 318.  The texts are of great historical, religious, and linguistic significance because they include the third oldest known surviving manuscripts of works included in the Hebrew Bible canon, along with extra-biblical manuscripts which preserve evidence of the diversity of religious thought in late Second Temple Judaism.  They did a lot to confirm the accuracy of the Massoretic Text of the Hebrew Old Testament.  The book’s description of the finding and examination of the scrolls was quite interesting and informative, but the problem arose when discussing the “meaning.”

The inside front cover of this book claims that their  “discovery in a cave in Trans-Jordan throws a blinding new light on scholars’ interpretations of the Old and New Testaments” with “their earth-shaking influences on established  religion” that “may completely change the traditional understanding of the Bible.”  Was this just hype to sell the book or did this suggest a distinctly modernist view?  Well, it probably was hype, but it did represent a decidedly modernist view.  Despite being “late pastor of the All Souls Church in Washington, DC,” author A. Powell Davies was a rank theological liberal.  His bottom-line about the meaning of the scrolls is stated thus.  “Christianity, we must now see, instead of being a faith ‘once for delivered to the saints’ in the Judea of the first century, is a development of one branch of Judaism into a religion which presently, when it mingled with other religions in the Gentile world, developed by a natural evolution into the religious system, widely divergent within itself, that we know today.”  There are many highly qualified conservative Bible scholars who have soundly disputed this naturalistic, evolutionary interpretation of the scrolls’ relationship to Christianity.  And even mainstream religious scholars are still divided by different theories about the origins of the scrolls.

Since the book is quite dated, having been written in the 1950s, one has to wonder how many  of the so-called “facts” which Powell kept saying that “we know” in his explanation of the scrolls have been thoroughly discarded in the meantime and are no longer accepted even by unbelieving experts in the field.  It reminds me of Ronald Reagan’s famous quote, “The trouble with our Liberal friends is not that they’re ignorant; it’s just that they know so much that isn’t so.”  Powell’s theologically liberal biases are seen in His conclusion.  “Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Islam, Taoism—all the high religions, no matter what their claims, have grown in natural ways and evolved with history….Surely the same God, the same indwelling Spirit, is at work in all….We can have, if we will, a faith that does not seek its basis in unique events and which does not need the miraculous or supernatural.”  If this is true, then why even bother with believing?  Just chuck the whole religion thing and live the way you want.  If you really wish to know more about the Dead Sea Scrolls, find a book that doesn’t have an agenda to pursue.

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