Interpreting Collection in the Dead Sea Scrolls

Sara Ben-Isaac's picture
October 22, 2020
United Kingdom
Subject Fields: 
History Education, Intellectual History, Jewish History / Studies, Languages

Institute of Jewish Studies UCL Autumn 2020 online lecture series


Recently we have become increasingly interested in how the Dead Sea scrolls were produced: who wrote and copied these scrolls and how did they do it – materially and intellectually? One striking feature is that many of the Dead Sea scrolls consist of collections: of psalms or hymns, prayers, rules, laws, or exegetical interpretations. And frequently texts of different character are connected, for example penal rules with hymns. Often these collections are attested in variant forms: they are similar, but different. By analysing such collections, we try to understand the material and literary production of scrolls. Did these Jewish scribes collect texts in one scroll for practical reasons? Does collection reflect a creative growth of traditions? Or were scribes driven by an anthological temper? Should unique combinations of collected texts be regarded as intentional literary productions? We want to give an overview, and discuss some of the rules of these scrolls, such as the limits or unlimitedness of collection. This is important for the names we give to such scrolls and how we interpret them, but also for our understanding of contemporary writings.


Hindy Najman is the Oriel and Laing Professor of the Interpretation of Holy Scripture at the University of Oxford.  She is also the director and founder of the Oriel College Centre for the Study of the Bible. She has written on the Hebrew Bible, the Dead Sea Scrolls, Rabbinic Literature and Pseudepigrapha.  Her publications include Losing the Temple and Recovering the Future: An Analysis of 4 Ezra (2014), “Past Renewals: Interpretive Authority, Renewed Revelation and the Quest for Perfection” (Journal for the Study of Judaism 53. 2010), “Seconding Sinai: The Development of Mosaic Discourse in Second Temple Judaism” (Journal for the Study of Judaism 77, 2003),  and a recent essay entitled “Ethical Reading: The Transformation of Text and Self” (Journal of Theological Studies 18 pt. 2, 2017). She is currently working on a new book entitled: Reading Practices and the Vitality of Scripture.


Eibert Tigchelaar is a Professor in the Research Unit Biblical Studies at the KU Leuven and editor-in-chief of the Journal for the Study of Judaism. He research is largely on the Dead Sea Scrolls, with main interests in the scribal production of the scrolls, the material and literary reconstruction of scrolls, and the embeddedness of the scrolls in their wider Aramaic and Hellenistic cultural and historical contexts.   

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