Book Review

The Dead Sea Scrolls by CHARLES F. PFIEFFER, 2nd ed., Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1962, 119 pp., $2.50

Tell el Amarna and the Bible by CHARLES F. PFEIFFER, Baker Studies in Biblical Archaeology II, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1963, 75 pp., $1.50 (paper).

Discoveries as important as the Dead Sea scrolls come few and far between. Not every generation of biblical scholars has been as blessed as ours with new resources to study and ponder as it carried on the work of gaining insights into the meaning of the Holy Scriptures and an understanding of its message. These scrolls and fragments of ancient writings which were discovered in several caves along the northwestern side of the Dead Sea in the years Immediately following the Second World War have opened a whole new area of scholarly pursuit. The amount of material published in study, interpretation, and debate of the significance of the scrolls is now tremendous, and there is no indication that the steady flow from the presses is about to subside.

In his book Tile Dead Sea Scrolls Dr. Pfeiffer gives a rapid survey of the whole subject. He tells about the discovery of the scrolls, the ancient community of Qumran near which they were discovered, the methods used for determining the dates of the scrolls. the historical situation at the time the Qumran community flourished, and the peculiar nature of this community and of its beliefs. As is to be expected. Dr. Pfeiffer shows particular interest in what the scrolls reveal to u.s about the Old Testament Scriptures and their usage in the Jewish world during these years just before and after Christ’s life on earth. He finds them generally confirming the reliability of the Old Testament text which has come down to us. He also finds that’ll opening up some new perspectives for some of the more technical problems of just how the New Testament writers were using the Old Testament Scriptures.

This book is an attempt to bring to the general reading public some idea of what has been learned and is being learned since these ancient writings from Palestine have come to light. A serious student of this subject will find this book too sketchy and would want further verification and documentation of many ideas and positions expressed here. Men are named and their views given without attempting to identify who they are or where they have views given without attempting to identify who they are or where they have made their views known. The work is not intended as a scholarly tool, not even as a summary of the field to which students can resort for ready reference. One can only judge that Pfeiffer is writing for the enlightenment of the general reading public.

However, the question arises whether Dr. Pfeiffer has succeeded in popularizing his material sufficiently to carry the average reader with him to the end of the hook. Will many readers not be tempted to lay the book aside with the thought that it tells them more about the Dead Sea scrolls than they are interested in knowing? It is heavily laden with facts and not very popularly written. It sometimes assumes a pretty broad knowledge of its readers. Do most people know what “an Aramaic midrash” is, or when the second Jewish revolt was? h the average reader helped by the detailed etymological discussions of the names by which the Qumran community was known? There is no Question that much can be learned about the Dead Sea scrolls from this book. One wishes that the material could have been presented more popularly and interestingly.

‘This publication calls for one further comment. Is it appropriate for the publisher to advertise this second edition of Pfeiffer’s book as a  “REVISED enlarged and illustrated” edition (cf. the book jacket)? True, it is enlarged over the first edition; a tenth chapter has been added to the previous nine. Also it is illustrated; six pages of photographs appear at the beginning of the hook. But revised? The author says in his preface, “In this second edition, the first nine chapter of the book are reprinted without alteration” (p. 10). In view of the rapid expansion of the whole field in the five years between the first and second editions, one is surprised that the author found no need to revise his earlier work But then, how can it be advertised as a revised work? Let the prospective buyer be alert to what he is purchasing. This “revised edition” is a reprint with one further chapter and some pictures added.

Dr. Pfeiffer’s honk Tell el Amarna and the Bible is the second in a series of monographs entitled Baker Studies in Biblical Archaeology. These monographs are addressed to “the informed layman,” “the non-specialist as well as the scholar.” This book is well documented and presents a substantial bibliography for those interested in pursuing the subject further. At the same time it does not become overly technical and seems well suited to any proficient reader who wishes to inform himself on some of the things that have been going on in this phase of archaeology.

The book deals with the Amarna tablets and the Armarna age. In the fifteenth and fourteenth centuries before Christ one of the Egyptian Pharaohs broke with the established religion of Egypt, espoused the worship of another god, and approached a kind of monotheism in regard to this deity. He built a new religious center and national capital at Amarna along the Nile river. l1lc whole movement came to nothing shortly after his death, and the city was abandoned, destroyed, and never rebuilt. When archaeologists finally began to take interest in it toward the end of the previous century, it turned out to be a particularly favorable place for archaeological investigation, since no further city or civilization existed either on top of it or below it. It was the discovery of the tablets at Amarna that first called serious attention In the site. When deciphered, these tablets turned out to be mainly political communications to the Egyptian government at Amarna from her various allies. These allies were found all the way from Asia Minor to Babylon, and many Canaanites were included.

According to Pfeiffer and many other modern scholars the Amarna age came during the Israelite’s bondage in Egypt. Them are also those who propose that these were the days when Joshua was leading Israel against the Canaanites, or shortly thereafter. In either case the tablets shed light on the civilization in Egypt in the days when Israel was most intimately associated with it. It is also interesting to gain further light on the civilization and culture among the Canaanites. It aids in understanding the period of Joshua and the Judges to find out how loosely organized and rivalrous the independent Canaanite city-states were.

This book surveys in a helpful way a bit of international history from the ancient world. It brings biblical material into clearer focus by filling in some of the larger background in which it was happening.