The Dead Sea Scrolls and Other Jewish Literature
Carol A. Newsom
It would be a serious mistake to assume that the Bible contains all the literature produced by Israel in antiquity. The Bible itself occasionally makes reference to writings that no longer exist, works such as “the Book of Jashar” (Josh. 10.13 ). It is hardly surprising that much of the literature of ancient Israel has been lost. Texts written on leather or papyrus are highly perishable. But the process of recopying them by hand is expensive and extremely time consuming. As the needs and interests of Jewish communities changed over time, and as new texts continued to be written, many of the older writings ceased to be recopied and were ultimately lost. A small but significant number were preserved and copied by the early church, translated into Greek and ultimately into the languages of the various Christian communities: Latin, Syriac, Ethiopic, Armenian, Old Church Slavonic, etc. Often Christian scribes inserted passages referring to Christ or to distinctively Christian theological ideas into such works. Occasionally, it is uncertain whether a text is a Christian composition or a Jewish text adapted for Christian use.
Archaeological finds added spectacularly to our knowledge of ancient Jewish literature with the discovery in 1947 of the Qumran Scrolls in caves near the shore of the Dead Sea. Although most of the scrolls were preserved only in small fragments, it is estimated that these fragments come from some 800 different manuscripts, including over 500 nonbiblical texts. Although it is often difficult to establish the date a text was originally composed, virtually all of the surviving nonbiblical literature was probably written between 300 B.C.E. and 200 C.E.