The Dead Sea Scrolls

Stern College, Yeshiva University

Spring 2018, JHIS 1235

Rabbi Dr. Richard Hidary

email the class

Welcome to the exciting world of the Dead Sea Scrolls. This archeological treasure has given us a window into the critical junction between the Bible and the Mishnah. Some of these texts may seem strange and surprising but hopefully you will also find them fascinating and relevant to your own understanding of Judaism and Second Temple politics and polemics.


You will need to buy two books:

James VanderKam, The Dead Sea Scrolls Today. Grand Rapids: Eedermans, 2010 (Second Edition).

Geza Vermes, The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English. New York: Penguin, 2012.


Other readings are available on the links below. The readings are not very long but I do expect you to read carefully. I may quiz you orally, and in writing if necessary, at the beginning of each class to make sure you understood them. The selections from Vermes are primary readings of scrolls. These can sometimes be difficult but I want you to try to understand them as best as you can. We will usually read a piece of the selected Scroll in Hebrew (I’ll bring handouts) so the more you prepare beforehand the better you’ll be able to handle the original Hebrew.


There will be a few assignments due over the semester that will focus on skills working with primary and secondary sources. You can hand them in earlier but not later. The most important component of your grade will be a midterm and final that will help you review and put together all the pieces of information and texts that we gather from class to class.


The Yahad imposed very strict rules and penalties on its members. We will try to recreate that atmosphere in this class. You are allowed two absences and three lates. Further lateness and absence will cause your grade to be adversely effected and will also incur penance for sixty days and exclusion from the pure Meal of the Congregation CafCard. Final grades will be calculated as follows: midterm 40%,, final 40%,, assignments 15%,, class participation 5%.


Office hours: You may meet with the Teacher of Righteousness in his scriptorium (room 523) on Tuesdays and Thursdays 1:15-2:30PM and or by appointment. You can also contact me by email anytime with any concerns at rhidary


Unit I - History and Discovery

1.         Tuesday, January 23

Discovery & Significance


Magen Broshi, A Day in the Life of Hananiah Nothos: A Story”


2.         Thursday, January 25

Historical Background I

Read VanderKam 1-33



Assignment One: Discovering the Scrolls

Due Tuesday, January 30


Set aside a couple of hours to discover the scrolls for yourself. Write down anything you find intereseting or confusing during your tour. Browse anyting on the web about the scrolls, but especially and

Then take a walk to the reference library (that's the one in the basement) and browse the books at BM487 A1. These large green tomes are the official publication of the scrolls is a series called Discoveries in the Judean Desert. Pick one at random and see if you can find anything interesting.


Write down your observations and questions and come to class prepared with a few comments to share.


3.         Tuesday, January 30

Historical Background II

Vermes, 50-53, chronology on pp. xvii-xix. Lookup any people or events that you are not familiar with in Wikipedia.


4.         Thursday, February 1

Secrets of the Scrolls

VanderKam, 33-46

Movie – The Secrets of the Dead Sea Scrolls


Unit II – Sectarian Scrolls

 5.         Tuesday, February 6

Sectarianism    Powerpoint       

Read VanderKam, 97-119

Josephus and Philo on Second Temple sects (handout)


6.         Thursday, February 8

The Community Rule (Hebrew text)

Vermes, 97-117

VanderKam, 77-80


7.         Tuesday, February 13

Read VanderKam, 127-156.

Movie - Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple


Assignment Two: Thinking about the identity of the sectarians.

Due February 20

Write a 2-3 page essay comparing and contrasting the Yahad with Jonestown. Cite relevant sources. What makes a group into a sect? Can you identify any modern sect-like groups?


8.         Thursday, February 15

The Damascus Document     Powerpoint    Handout

Vermes, 125-143.

VanderKam, 76-77. until 2:30


9.         Tuesday, February 20

Miqsat Ma`ase ha-Torah (MMT)     Powerpoint    Handout

Vermes, 220-228.

VanderKam, 81-83, 119-126.

Identifying the sect, MMT and Mishnah parallels (handout)


10.       Thursday, February 22

The War Scroll        Powerpoint    Handout

Vermes, 161-183

The New Jerusalem Scroll

Vermes, 568-570.

VanderKam, 88-90


11.       Tuesday, February 27

Purim Special - Powerpoint Why Didn't Esther Pray?

Esther Additions (handout)


Homework over the Purim weekend: Watch lecture by Professor Lawrence Schiffman on youtube - (or just search schiffman and dead sea scrolls in youtube). Email me before the next class with the most interesting thing he said and your favorite joke or tangent in the lecture.


12.       Tuesday, March 6

Pesher       Powerpoint    Handout

Vermes, 473-485.

VanderKam, 62-75.

13.       Thursday, March 8

Temple Scroll

Vermes, 190-219.


Liturgical Texts

Vermes 243-300 (skim). Thanksgiving Hymns poweroint

VanderKam, 83-87.


Midterm Review Sheet (from 2014, I'll send an updated sheet one week before the midterm)

14.       Tuesday, March 13 – Midterm


Unit III – The Bible and Its Interpretation


Assignment Three: Working with Primary Documents

Due March 15

Download and print out a copy of this original scroll. You are the archaeologist who first found it and your job is to transcribe and identify it. On a separate sheet of paper transcribe as much as you can of the scroll. Give it a name that identifies it. Write a paragraph or two describing its contents, significance, and what it may have been used for.


15.       Thursday, March 15

11QPsalms Scroll - powerpoint

VanderKam, 47-51 and 157-178

Vermes, 301-307.


Acrostic Psalms - see under Tehillim.

Samaritans and Ketav Ivri    Ezra

Psalms 9-10

Psalm 37 

16.       Tuesday, March 20

Isaiah Scroll. Isaiah 38

VanderKam, 178-196.

powerpoint - Aleppo Codex, handout

17.       Thursday, March 22

Reworked Pentateuch


Sidnie White Crawford, "The 'Rewritten' Bible at Qumran: A Look at Three Texts," Eretz-Israel 26 (1999), pp. 1-8.

Vermes, 442-445

Genesis Apocryphon


18.       Monday, March 26

Septuagint (handout)

Daniel Additions (handout)


19.       Tuesday, March 27


20.     Tuesday, April 10

Book of Jubilees

Vermes, 507-510. Jubilees (handout)

VanderKam, 54-61.

Did Avot Perform the Commandments? (handout) (book review)

What's Divine about Divine Law? (handout)

Nominalism vs Realism (handout)



21.       Thursday, April 12

Book of Enoch - Fallen Angels (handout)

Astrology - powerpoint

Vermes, 321-330. Songs for the Sabbath Sacrifice.(handout)

Tobit (handout)

Vermes, 558-565.

VanderKam, 52-54.

Ben Sira (handout)


Unit IV – The Legacy of the Scrolls

22.     Tuesday, April 17

Qumran Law and Rabbinic Halakhah

Reading: Richard Hidary, "A Tale of Two or Three Witnesses." (handout)


23.       Tuesday, April 24

Qumran Halakhah and Rabbinic Halakha

Playing Music on Shabbat and other Shevut Laws (handout, powerpoint)

Suggested: Vered Noam, “Traces of Sectarian Halakhah in the Rabbinic World” In Rabbinic Perspectives: Rabbinic Literature and the Dead Sea Scrolls, ed. Steven D. Fraade, Aharon Shemesh and Ruth A. Clements, 67-85. Leiden: Brill, 2006.


Assignment Four – Working with Secondary Literature

Due April 26

Write a 5 page essay on one of the following two topics. Both topics involve important scholarly controversies about the Scrolls. Your job is to summarize all sides of the controversies, cite their sources, explain how they differ in their choice and interpretation of the sources, and provide your own analysis of the topic and your educated and reasoned opinion.


Topic A – Who was the Dead Sea Sect?

Can we identify the inhabitants at the Qumran site, and the people who wrote the scrolls, with the Essenes?


Lawrence Schiffman, The Sadducean Origins of the Dead Sea Scroll Sect,” in Understanding the Dead Sea Scrolls: A Reader from the Biblical Archaeology Review, ed. Hershel Shanks (1992), pp. 35-49.

James VanderKam, “The People of the Dead Sea Scrolls: Essenes or Sadducees,” in Understanding the Dead Sea Scrolls, pp. 50-62.

Ian Hutchesson, “The Essene Hypothesis after Fifty Year: An Assessment,” The Qumran Chronicle 9, 1 (2000), pp. 17-34.


Topic B – Women at Qumran

Were there women living at Qumran? Did the Sect and/or the Essenses marry? What was the Sect’s view of women and their role?


Jodi Magnes, The Archaeology of Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls (Eedermans, 2002), pp. 163-187.

Lawrence Schiffman, Reclaiming the Dead Sea Scrolls (Doubleday, 2005), 127-143.

Aharon, Shemesh, “Qumran” in Jewish Women: A Comparative Historical Encyclopedia. 1 March 2009. Jewish Women’s Archive. <>.


If needed, you can find additional material in the library (search around BM487), and bibliography at, and RAMBI (search it in google).



24.       Thursday, April 26

Qumran Halakhah and Rabbinic Halakha

Laws of Shabbat (handout)

Reading Scripture on Shabbat

Fire on Shabbat

Hidary, "Revisiting the Sabbath Laws in 4Q264a and Their Contribution to Early Halakha"


25.       Tuesday, May 1

The Scrolls and Christianity

Powerpoint and handout

Vermes, 576-577. Aramaic Apocalypse

VanderKam, 197-226.


26.       Thursday, May 3

Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Copper Scroll


Vermes, 583-589.

VanderKam, 92-93.

From Priests to Rabbis (handout)

VanderKam, 227-241.


Final Review Sheet (from 2018)


Final Exam – Sunday, May 13 at 1PM




Students with disabilities who are enrolled in this course and who will be requesting documented disability-related accommodations are encouraged to make an appointment with the Office of Disability Services, (917-326-4828) during the first week of class. After approval for accommodations is granted, please submit your accommodations letter to me as soon as possible to ensure the successful implementation of those accommodations.