"AS I SEE IT"
Volume 7, Number 3, March 2004
“I too will have my say; I too will tell what I know.
For I am full of words, and the spirit within me compels me;
Inside I am like bottled-up wine, like new wineskins ready to burst.
I must speak and find relief; I must open my lips and reply.
I will show partiality to no one. Nor will I flatter any man.”
["As I See It" is a monthly electronic magazine compiled and edited by Doug Kutilek. Its purpose is to address important issues of the day and to draw attention to worthwhile Christian and other literature in order to aid believers in Jesus Christ, especially pastors, missionaries and Bible college and seminary students to more effectively study and teach the Word of God. The editor's perspective is that of an independent Baptist of fundamentalist theological persuasion.
AISI is sent free to all who request it by writing to the editor at: DKUTILEK@juno.com. You can be removed from the mailing list at the same address. Back issues sent on request. All back issues may be accessed at http://www.KJVOnly.org
All articles are by the editor (unless otherwise noted) and are copyrighted but may be reproduced for distribution, provided the following conditions are met:
1. articles must be reproduced in unedited, unabridged form; 2. the writer must be properly credited; and, 3. such reproduction must be for free distribution only. Permission to distribute in any other form must be secured in writing beforehand. Permission for reproduction in Christian print periodicals will generally be given.]
Joseph Story and the Interpretation of the Constitution
Outside of legal and constitutional circles, mentioning the name of Joseph Story regularly draws a blank stare. This is unfortunate, since Story made a significant contribution to American Constitutional law and its interpretation. Joseph Story (1779-1845) was an associate justice of the United States Supreme Court from 1811 to 1845, and was the youngest person ever appointed to the court (just 32). He was, simultaneously with much of his Supreme Court service, a professor of law at Harvard University. He wrote numerous important and influential works on various aspects of law. Story’s place in American jurisprudence, his expertise and long experience, not to mention the fact that he knew many of the framers of the Constitution, not the least being James Madison, chief author of the Constitution who appointed Story to the Supreme Court, placed him in an ideal position to discuss with authority the meaning and interpretation of the U. S. Constitution.
While the whole subject of Constitutional law sounds arcane at best and unspeakably boring at worst, it is of supreme importance--how the U.S. Constitution is interpreted and applied by Federal judges affects every aspect of life of every American: from absurd restrictions and prohibitions placed on religious and political speech (rights expressly defended in the Constitution), to imagined Constitutional rights to unrestricted abortion, homosexual marriage, absolute license for pornographers and purveyors of vice and violence to corrupt the minds and lives of people without let or hindrance (none of which are granted by the Constitution), these and a thousand other matters are influenced by how the Constitution is interpreted by the nine black-robed justices of the United States Supreme Court.
Among Joseph Story’s writings is one that is especially pertinent to the matter of the meaning and interpretation of the Constitution. That book, A Familiar Exposition of the Constitution of the United States, was originally published in 1840. His purpose in writing this book, an abridged and simplified version of a much longer, more detailed and more technical Constitutional commentary, was to provide for the average citizen, and particularly students, a clear explanation of the provisions of the Constitution, their purpose and design.
Story was a “strict constructionist”--that is, he believed the words of the Constitution should be understood in their plain, ordinary and obvious sense, as understood by their authors. Let us consider his precise words--
“Having given this general sketch of the origin of the Colonies, of the rise and fall of the Confederation, and of the formation and adoption of the Constitution of the United States, we are now prepared to enter upon an examination of the actual structure and organization of that Constitution, and the powers belonging to it.
We shall treat it, not as a mere compact, or league, or confederacy, existing at the mere will of any one or more of the States, during their good pleasure; but, (as it purports on its face to be,) as a Constitution of Government, framed and adopted by the people of the United States, and obligatory upon all the States, until it is altered, amended, or abolished by the people, in the manner pointed out in the instrument itself.
It is to be interpreted, as all other solemn instruments are, by endeavoring to ascertain the true sense and meaning of all the terms; and we are neither to narrow them, nor to enlarge them, by straining them from their just and natural import, for the purpose of adding to, or diminishing its powers, or bending them to any favorite theory or dogma of party.
It is the language of the people, to be judged of according to common sense, and not by mere theoretical reasoning. It is not an instrument for the mere private interpretation of any particular men. The people have established it and spoken their will; and their will, thus promulgated, is to be obeyed as the supreme law.”
A Familiar Exposition
of the Constitution of the United States.
Lake Bluff, Illinois: Regnery Gateway, 1986 reprint.
Of course, what Justice Story insists must be done in interpreting the Constitution--taking its words at face value in their ordinary sense, and finding neither more nor less in them that was originally intended by their authors--is exactly what is NOT being done by most of the Federal courts today. The Constitution, as written, contains no provisions for a right of privacy, or abortion rights, or homosexual marriage, or the abolition of the acknowledgement of God from the public arena. Yet, all these things have been imposed on the Constitution by the courts. And why? Because those who favor such things have been and continue to be unable to persuade the people to amend the Constitution to include these views. And since the proper method of securing such things--the amendment process expressly spelled out in the Constitution--has proven an insuperable barrier to imposing these things on the citizens, they have been imposed on an unwilling people by repeated and shameless acts of judicial usurpation and tyranny.
As a result, the Constitution has today no objective meaning; it only means what the nine justices collectively happen to say it means--today, though not necessarily tomorrow. “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean--neither more nor less” said Humpty-Dumpty to Alice (Through the Looking-Glass, chapter 6). She justly replied, “The question is whether you can make words mean so many different things.” With 6 of 9 current justices having so little respect for the Constitution as it is written (we are grateful for three strict constructionists, Justices Rehnquist, Thomas and Scalia), is it any wonder that the general populace views the law with scorn and the Court with increasing disrespect?
Should the courts continue their brazen overthrow of the Constitution and the fabrication of new hitherto unknown rights and the denial of expressly protected old ones by the exercise of arbitrary judicial tyranny, they will lose any claim to legitimacy, and the people will rise up in rebellion. Those in the judiciary who abuse the Constitution should recall the words of the Declaration of Independence: “Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends [i.e., the unalienable rights of the people], it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it.” Tyranny, including tyranny from the bench, will not be tolerated forever.
Joseph Story on the Second Amendment
The Second Amendment to the Constitution:
“A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”
“One of the ordinary modes, by which tyrants accomplish their purposes without resistance, is, by disarming the people, and making it an offense to keep arms, and by substituting a regular army in the stead of a resort to the militia. The friends of a free government cannot be too watchful, to overcome the dangerous tendency of the public mind to sacrifice, for the sake of private convenience, this powerful check upon the designs of ambitious men.”
“The importance of this article will scarcely be doubted by any persons, who have duly reflected upon the subject. The militia is the natural defense of a free country against sudden foreign invasions, domestic insurrections, and domestic usurpations of power by rulers. It is against sound policy for a free people to keep up large military establishments and standing armies in time of peace, both from the enormous expenses, with which they are attended, and the facile means, which they afford to ambitious and unprincipled rulers, to subvert the government, or trample upon the right of the people. The right of the citizens to keep and bear arms had justly been considered, as the palladium of the liberties of a republic; since it offers a strong moral check against the usurpations and arbitrary powers of rulers; and it will generally, even if these are successful in the first instance, enable the people to resist and triumph over them.”
A Familiar Exposition of the
Constitution of the United States
p. 319 (italics added)
History is so filled with examples illustrating the truth of what Justice Story writes--particularly about governments disarming their own populace so that they can render them powerless to resist the tyranny imposed on them by their rulers--as to make any formal proof unnecessary. The mere mention of the disarmed peoples of Nazi Germany, Tsarist Russia, the Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc of nations, and North Korea and Cuba today, are sufficient evidence for all but the most willfully blind. Is their any example in history of a well-armed people being ruled by tyrants?
Even so, it was a most telling display in 2001 when now-Attorney General of the United States John Ashcroft appeared before a Senate committee for confirmation hearings. When Ashcroft expressed an opinion that the potentially greatest threat to the freedoms and rights of the people of the United States was our own government, a dumb-founded Senator Ted Kennedy expressed absolute disbelief that Ashcroft could hold such a view. That Big Government could ever be a threat to its own citizens is a thought that Kennedy, a zealous advocate of ever bigger, ever more powerful, ever more intrusive government simply could not imagine. And the reason for his incredulity is his abject ignorance of--or complete disregard for--history.
The fact is that throughout history, the consistently greatest threat to the life, liberty and property of the citizens of the various nations has always been their own governments, not some foreign power. In spite of the fact that the 20th century saw more and larger foreign wars than any other century--some 20 million dead in World War I, some 54 million dead in World War II, plus the millions more killed in Korea, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Africa and more--far more people died at the hands of their own governments--in Russia, Germany, China, Cambodia, Uganda, Cuba, Romania, Iraq, and others--than died at hands of foreign invading armies. And this is the pattern throughout history.
And did we not have our own revolution because of the tyranny of King George III, a revolution that would have been impossible without the general arming of the people of the American colonies? An armed citizenry is no threat to just rulers, but only to tyrants or tyrant wanna-bes.
Yes, the potentially greatest threat to the freedoms of the American populace is our own government; the incidents at Waco and Ruby Ridge in the 1990s are on a small scale what could and would happen commonly if the right to bear arms were infringed and the American people disarmed by the government. The framers of the Constitution, knowing well the lust for power that lurks in the human heart, wrote the Second Amendment to enable the citizenry to protect itself against the potential tyranny of their own government.
“Socialists: that dreary tribe of high-minded women and sandal-wearing and bearded fruit-juice drinkers who come flocking toward the smell of ‘progress’ like bluebottles to a dead cat.”
George Orwell, a.k.a. Eric Blair
Quoted in Politicians, Partisans and Parasites,
by Tucker Carlson, p. 85
Variant Readings and the Virgin Birth
One of the “givens” of adherents of the “King James Only” view of Bible translations is that among the chief reasons--likely THE chief reason--for the differences between the KJV (and the “textus receptus” Greek) on the one hand and modern Bible versions (based on the “critical text”) on the other is a concerted attempt--indeed a conspiracy--to de-fang and de-claw the Bible by robbing it of its fundamental doctrines. ‘The enemies of truth are at work here,’ they allege.
One case in point, they affirm, with what to their mind constitutes undeniable proof that the conspiracy is afoot, is the manifest differences evident at Luke 2:33 (and 2:43) between the KJV and modern Bible versions. In 2:33, the KJV reads “Joseph and his mother” while the NIV and NASB read “the child’s father and mother” and “his father and mother,” respectively; other translations read similarly, reading “father” instead of “Joseph.” At Luke 2:43, the KJV likewise has “Joseph and his mother” while the NIV and NASB read “his parents.” It is charged that the critical text and those versions which follow it assert that Joseph is the actual father of Jesus in a blatant, shameless attempt to subvert the doctrine of the virgin birth of Jesus.
There is no denying that the doctrine of the virgin birth of Christ is a fundamental Bible doctrine, as has indeed been recognized since the earliest Christian times. And there were in fact heretics, called Ebionites, as early as the 2nd century who denied the virgin birth (see A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs, ed. by David W. Bercot. Hendrickson, 1998, pp. 670-1 for pertinent quotations from church fathers of the 2nd and 3rd centuries). Without the miracle of the virgin birth, Jesus would have had a merely human father and thereby be possessed of a sin nature like all the other sons of Adam. And having a sin nature would make him a sinner like all the rest of us--and a liar to boot (since He expressly claimed to be sinless),--and consequently unable to be our sin-bearer, the lamb of God to take away the sin of the world. No sin-bearer, no sacrifice for sin; and no sacrifice, no salvation, no forgiveness, no hope. Yes, the doctrine is fundamental.
However, I expressly deny that this doctrine is under assault in texts and translations which read “his father and his mother,” at Luke 2:33 and “his parents” at 2:43, but assert that something else accounts for the differences here.
First, the evidence for the various readings (and it is essential that we consider the evidence before rendering a verdict!). The “critical” readings are not arbitrary, unsupported changes. Rather, at Luke 2:33, the reading “his father” is found in manuscript Aleph and the first corrector of Aleph (contemporary with the copying of the text; mid-4th century A.D.), manuscript B (4th century), D (5th), W (5th), L (8th), family 1 (a group of 4 related manuscripts, 12th-14th, one of which was used by Erasmus), 700 (11th), 1241 (12th); lectionary 2211 and a few others; Old Latin manuscript “d” (5th); the original Latin Vulgate (385 A.D.; some Vulgate manuscripts read “his parents” instead of “his father and mother”); the Sinaitic manuscript of the Old Syriac version (4th?; pre-Peshitta); the Sahidic and part of the Boharic Coptic versions (3rd); the Georgian version (5th); the Old Church Slavonic (9th); plus quotations from Origen (3rd), Jerome (4th), Augustine (5th), and Cyril (5th). Reading similarly is the Harclean Syriac margin (7th), “his father” (not followed by “mother”). Greek manuscript 157 (12th) and the Ethiopic version (most editions; 6th) have “Joseph his father,” clearly a conflation of the two readings, but attesting to the existence of the reading “his father.”
Reading “Joseph” (instead of “his father”) are Greek uncial manuscripts A (5th century), N (6th), E (8th), G (9th), H (9th), K (9th), X (10th), Delta (9th), Theta (9th), Pi (9th), Psi (8th/9th), 053 (9th), plus the strong majority of minuscules (medieval Greek manuscripts dating from the 10th century on), the Greek lectionaries generally, nearly all the Old Latin manuscripts (dating from the 4th century on); some medieval vulgate manuscripts; the Peshitta (5th), Palestinian (6th) and Harclean (7th) Syriac, some Boharic Coptic manuscripts, one edition of the Ethiopic, and the Gothic (4th); and fathers Hilary (4th) and Hesychius (maybe; 5th), and medieval translations of the Diatessaron. (This information is taken from the 3rd and 4th editions of the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament and the 26th and 27th editions of the Nestle-Aland Novum Testamentum Graece, with at least 4 additional 19th/early 20th century printed Greek texts also consulted. There are additional minor text variants in some witnesses which we will ignore here. Inexplicably, the UBS and N-A editions did not mention the reading of the Gothic version, though it was reported in the Greek texts of Tregelles, Tischendorf, Alford and Souter. The UBS editions give the evidence only at 2:33 but not at 2:43, while Nestle-Aland presents the evidence at both).
The evidence supporting the respective variants at Luke 2:43 is quite similar to that at 2:33, except that manuscript C (5th; not cited and evidently not extant at 2:33) is listed as reading “Joseph” while manuscripts Theta and minuscule 33 (9th) have switched sides, reading “parents” instead of “Joseph.” A few other Greek manuscripts not supporting the critical reading at 2:33 are also noted as supporting the critical text reading here. No fathers are cited on either side at 2:43
To summarize the above information for the readings followed by the critical texts--“his father” and “his parents”: they are found in such diverse and widely scattered witnesses as the oldest manuscripts in Greek (with additional manuscripts extending to the late Middle Ages), the earliest Greek father to cite the passage, the two most important Latin fathers; the earliest Syriac plus the Georgian and Armenian versions in the east, two Coptic versions and the Ethiopic in the south, the Latin Vulgate and one Old Latin witness in the West, the Old Church Slavonic in the north; plus numerous other witnesses in between. And while the reading is not supported by as many Greek or versional witnesses numerically as “Joseph,” those that do have it are generally considered witnesses of the first importance, and are more geographically widespread. The readings “his father”/”his parents” are clearly the earlier readings in most places where they are attested, and incidentally, through the Vulgate, the readings most widely known in Western Europe during the entire medieval period (more on this below). In other words, the critical text reading has excellent, widespread and early support.
Of the whole stock of possible explanations for the existence of variations in manuscripts in these places (dittography, haplography, substitution, mis-reading or mis-hearing in copying, etc.), the only one that readily fits here is that these were deliberate alterations of the original reading; the change was not inadvertent nor accidental. But which is the original reading and which the change? And what was the motive for making the change?
The only potential explanation for changing “Joseph and his mother” to “his father and mother” (2:33) or “his parents” would be an attempt to subvert the doctrine of the virgin birth. But if that were truly the case, why was nothing done to alter the whole narrative in Luke chapter 1, as well as in Matthew 1 and at Luke 3:23, which in all texts and versions--including those which read “father” or “parents” (with the exception of part of the Old Syriac in Matthew 1, which we will discuss below)--clearly teach the miraculous virginal conception of Jesus in the womb of Mary his mother.
On the other hand, the motive for deliberately altering a presumedly original “his father and mother” to “Joseph and his mother” is not far to seek, and is supported by other evidence in this same context. That motive: to safeguard the doctrine of the virgin birth from attacks by the likes of the Ebionites by eliminating readings which might be mis-construed or mis-understood to teach that Joseph was in fact the biological father of Jesus. In other words, doctrinally orthodox scribes altered the readings to enhance orthodoxy (rather than heterodox scribes altering the reading to subvert orthodoxy). That such deliberate changes were made by scribes and translators with regard to the doctrine of the virgin birth can be demonstrated from this very narrative.
At Luke 2:41, the KJV and its underlying Greek text as well as the critical texts and translations from the same read “his parents,” precisely the critical text reading at 2:43. That “his parents” is the original Greek reading at 2:41 is not in doubt. But, interestingly enough, in some few witnesses--Greek manuscript 1012 and a few others, plus a number of Old Latin manuscripts (Tregelles lists six such)-- the admittedly original “his parents” is altered to read “Joseph and Mary” which seems assuredly to be a deliberate scribal correction aimed at enhancing or protecting orthodox doctrine from the least hint of doubt. Likewise at 2:48, the KJV and its Greek exemplar along with the critical texts and related versions quote Mary as saying “Your father and I.” Fear that this might be misunderstood as a de facto denial of the virgin birth seems to have motivated the translator of the Curetonian Syriac version (4th century) to change this to “we” while the offending words “your father and I” are omitted altogether by several Old Latin manuscripts (a, b, ff, l--all of which made the change noted previously at 2:41), thereby effectively resolving the “problem” apparent in the original Greek reading.
If certain scribes felt motivated to build a hedge (so to speak) around this orthodox doctrine by altering the original readings “his parents” and “your father and I” to “Joseph and Mary” or “we” or eliminating them altogether, is not this same motive with the same outcome the immediately obvious explanation for the variants at 2:33 and 2:43? The critical text readings have beside wide and early testimony from manuscripts, versions and fathers the added support of explaining the rise of the later traditional reading as found in the KJV, following known scribal practices in passages relating to the virgin birth.
Among Reformation era translations, it is notable that the critical reading “his father and his mother” at Luke 2:33 is found in the English versions of Wycliffe, Tyndale (1525 & 1534), Cranmer (also know as the Great Bible, 1539), the Geneva (1557 but not 1560), Bishops’ (1568) and the Rheims (1582), as well as the German of Luther (1545) and the Spanish of Reina (1569). At Luke 2:43, a supposedly “anti-orthodox” reading is found in the English versions of Wycliffe, Tyndale, Cranmer (these three reading “his father and mother” instead of “his parents”), and Rheims (“his parents”), while Luther’s German also reads “his parents.” The translators of all these were thoroughly orthodox in their belief in the virgin birth and saw no conflict between the text they followed in Luke 2:33, 43 and this fundamental doctrine. I could add that the standard Bible version used by Baptists in Romania has the critical reading in both places, and I have never heard of anyone doubting the virgin birth because of these readings.
As an aside, let it be mentioned that Luke 2:33 and 2:43 are showcase examples where the Byzantine/majority text reading is shown to be a secondary reading arising from a deliberate scribal alteration of the original. This, of course, discredits the “majority rules” method of NT textual criticism. Witnesses must still be weighed, and arguments considered. Thus far Luke 2.
As noted above, there are variants in Matthew 1 (at vv. 16, 21, and 24a-25b) that must be addressed. The KJV and its Greek text (and similarly the NASB and NIV and their Greek texts) read in part at 1:16, “. . . Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus who is called the Christ.” While this is a bit ambiguous in English (what is the antecedent of “whom”?--Mary, the nearer, or Joseph, the more remote antecedent?), there is no such ambiguity in the Greek, the relative pronoun being feminine. This reading is nearly universally attested in Greek manuscripts, and the great majority of ancient translations.
Another reading in this verse, having no legitimate claim to originality, is found in a very few Greek manuscripts and some Old Latin manuscripts and reads literally: “. . . Joseph to whom being engaged, the virgin Mary gave birth to Jesus who is called the Christ,” or to put it into more natural English word order: “the virgin Mary, who was engaged to Joseph, gave birth to Jesus who is called the Christ.” One Old Syriac manuscript, the Curetonian, reads similarly though not quite identically. This reading seems to be a clarifying and strengthening of the usual--and original--reading (another example of alteration of the text to enhance orthodoxy).
Finally, one manuscript of the Old Syriac version (the Sinaitic) reads “. . . Joseph, to whom was engaged Mary the virgin, fathered Jesus who is called the Christ.” Joseph is unquestionably identified as the “begetter” of Jesus in this manuscript of this translation.
In Matthew 1:21, to the usual reading, “she will bear a son,” both Old Syriac manuscripts (Sinaitic and Curetonian) add “to you,” again making Joseph the biological father of Jesus. Furthermore, in vv. 24b-25a, the otherwise unattested reading of the Sinaitic (but not Curetonian) Syriac is: ”. . . he took his wife and she bare him a son, . . . .” While it is possible that the reading of v. 16, considered alone, was a mere scribal blunder, either in copying or in translating, however in conjunction with the alteration of the text in vv. 21, 24-5, the evidence supports the conclusion that the change, made by an Ebionite scribe/translator or at least under Ebionite influence, was deliberate, with the intention of removing the doctrine of the virgin birth from the Matthew text (though it is still present in the full narrative, especially in v. 23; for a more detailed discussion of the variants in Matthew 1 relative to the virgin birth, see A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, by Bruce M. Metzger, 2nd edition 1994, pp 2-6, 8).
It is evident that in these readings, in this one version, there was a deliberate and concerted effort by enemies of the truth to undermine the doctrine of the virgin birth. Such an attack on this fundamental doctrine is the likely cause of the orthodox reaction which led to well-intended but mis-guided deliberate changes in the text of Luke 2:33, 43, changes in the opposite direction, that is, to enhance and protect orthodoxy from the least hint or suspicion of doubt.
It can be said further, with complete confidence, that the readings of the Sinaitic Syriac at Matthew 1:16, 21, 24-5, unsupported as they are by any Greek manuscript, any other version including several versions in Syriac (except as noted at 1:21), or any quotation from a church father, have absolutely no claim to being original, and are rejected by almost everybody. Only the most radical of critics give them the least credence: Moffat follows the Sinaitic Syriac reading in 1:16--but not vv. 21, 24-5--and has it in the text of his English translation without note; the Revised Standard Version has the 1:16 reading in its margin, inaccurately referring to authorities, plural, which supposedly support it; the New English Bible corrects this in its margin to “one witness.” By adopting this reading, such critics only succeed in exposing to public view the unsoundness of their judgment in such matters.
In summary--the doctrine of the virgin birth is not undermined by variant readings found in Luke 2:33 and 2:43 in standard modern printed editions of the Greek NT, nor in conservative English translations based on them. The readings of, e.g., the KJV, while appearing at first blush more orthodox than the readings in, e.g., the NIV, are nevertheless shown to be deliberate scribal alterations of the original text, designed to enhance orthodoxy. The original readings, as followed in the NIV and others, are orthodox as they stand. The doctrine of verbal inspiration and respect for the Scriptures as the very words of God forbids even the most well-intentioned alteration of the text from its original reading, however “problematic” that reading may at first appear.
Reading about the Dead Sea Scrolls
Recently, a correspondent inquired, ”Is there a particular book that you would recommend on the Dead Sea Scrolls?“
In response, let it be noted that this is a subject in which the sheer volume of information and published literature is intimidating, even overwhelming, and one would have to specialize in the subject (which I am not) to have a real handle on all that has been published. Nevertheless, I will hazard to tell what I know.
The term Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) is applied collectively, and most broadly, to the ancient documents dating from the 3rd century B.C. to the 2nd century A.D. which were found (in caves and ancient ruins) in the general vicinity of the Dead Sea in the land of Israel. The great majority of these were found in caves in close proximity to the ruins today called Qumran, a site near the northwest extremity of the sea and apparently occupied for two centuries by an ancient Jewish sect called the Essenes (a restricted use of the term “Dead Sea Scrolls” applies only to these Qumran-associated documents). These DSS, written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek, include ancient Bible manuscripts (some 500 manuscripts including all Biblical books except Esther--and perhaps Nehemiah--and among these is the oldest complete manuscript of any Biblical book, the famous Isaiah scroll), “commentaries” on Biblical books, Aramaic paraphrases and translations of parts of the Old Testament, some of the apocryphal and pseudepigraphal books, sectarian documents relating to the Essene community, secular letters, and even a listed of buried treasure.
The DSS are important for numerous reasons. First, they are of great importance in the area of the textual criticism of the OT, providing as they do the oldest manuscripts by far of any part of the OT in Hebrew. Second, the non-Biblical texts are important for linguistic studies since they greatly expand our knowledge of Aramaic and Hebrew as used in the NT era. They also provide much additional light on the religious, theological and sociological world in which Jesus lived.
The first discovery of the scrolls in modern times was in 1947 (there are hints of earlier discoveries in the third century A.D. and later in the Middle Ages), when a young Bedouin shepherd searching for a lost goat discovered some ancient leather scrolls in a cave near the Dead Sea. These scrolls soon made their way into the antiquities black market and were published in the early 1950s. Extended searches of Judean caves yielded many thousands of scroll fragments. The 1950s saw a rush to publish the scrolls, and most of the major scrolls were published then. Responsibility for publication of the remaining fragmentary documents was parceled out among a small core of scholars, who took increasingly more and more time to publish until by the 1970s and 80s, publication had almost completely ceased, with a large amount of material yet unpublished, and with small prospects for any timely publication of what remained. (Territorialism and scholarly jealousy were the primary causes of publication delays).
In the early 90s, it became known that detailed photographs of all unpublished documents and fragments were stored in several libraries for safe-keeping, and with an explicit agreement to not release them to any unauthorized persons. By a series of events, the photos from the Huntington Library in Southern California were released and published, breaking the log-jam of publication, and finally--after almost 40 years, and inexcusably long delay--completing the publication of all the DSS.
Consequently, books on the DSS are divisible into two groups: 1) those published in the 1950s and 60s, which had access to the scrolls published then (books from the 70s and 80s largely reworked the earlier material), and written during the first flush of interest in these documents; and 2) those published in the 1990s and beyond whose authors had access to the entire body of material. My knowledge of the literature relating to the DSS is that of an interested generalist, not of a specialist, and so I readily admit my limitations. That being said, I have found the following works to be informative:
From the first period--
F. F. Bruce, Second Thoughts on the Dead Sea Scrolls. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1961. Second edition. A general overview
Millar Burrows, The Dead Sea Scrolls. London: Secker and Warburg, 1956. By one of the key players in the original publication of the DSS.
Frank Moore Cross, The Ancient Library of Qumran and Modern Biblical Studies. Grand Rapids: Baker, reprint of revised, 1961 edition.
William S. LaSor, Dead Sea Scrolls and the Christian Faith. Chicago: Moody Press, 1956.
Geza Vermes, The Dead Sea Scrolls in English. London: Penguin, 1962. Fourth edition, 1995. This work, which gives in English all the non-Biblical texts from the DSS, has been up-dated in a series of revisions and expansions keeping current with the publication of new materials.
From the second period--
James C. VanderKam, The Dead Sea Scrolls Today. Eerdmans, 1994. A general survey, given a mixed review in AISI 5:5
Robert H. Eisenman and Michael Wise, The Dead Sea Scrolls Uncovered: The First Complete Translation and Interpretation of 50 Key Documents Withheld for Over 35 Years. New York: Barnes and Noble, 1992. An attempt to be first in print with English versions of the non-Biblical scrolls newly-published in 1991. Gives the Hebrew or Aramaic text along with the translation. Marred by higher critical assumptions throughout and displays of remarkable ignorance by the authors of the contents of the NT. Claimed parallels between the scrolls and the NT are often highly strained.
Michael Wise, Martin Abegg, Jr., and Edward Cook, The Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Translation. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1996. Along the same lines as Vermes, and Eisenman and Wise. Does not give the text in the original languages.
Martin Abegg, Jr., Peter Flint, and Eugene Ulrich, The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1999. Gives in English a complete translation of all Biblical texts from the DSS, along with footnotes indicating variants from the Masoretic text. A valuable tool for showing precisely what parts of the OT are preserved in the DSS, and for making a quick check of the light the DSS shed on the text of the OT. In the introductory and commentary parts, the book is badly marred by all the usual (and unfounded) destructive higher critical assumptions about the canon of the OT the book of Daniel, etc.
A couple of good survey articles, both written before the complete publication of all the DSS, are--
O. Betz, “Dead Sea Scrolls,” in The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, ed. by George Arthur Buttrick. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1962; vol. I, pp. 790-802.
William S. LaSor, “The Dead Sea Scrolls,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. by Frank E. Gaebelein. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1979; vol. I, pp. 395-408
For those who want to go further in their study, each of the above-mentioned books and articles has bibliography for additional reading. Beyond this, one work not listed above but devoted entirely to the bibliography of the DSS is Joseph A. Fitzmyer, The Dead Sea Scrolls: Major Publications and Tools for Study. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1990. 246 pp.
And then there is the scholarly journal, Revue de Qumran, which has as its continuing raison d’etre to record exhaustively all publications regarding the DSS.
I trust this answers the request for information.