The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible: A review

IN this review I recommend The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible which is a result of a lot of Modern research on the ancient texts found at Qumran, Egypt. The scrolls were found in caves tucked away for centuries by pious people who lived around 200-100 AD who obviuosly cared for their preservation. Today these scrolls or pieces of fragments consists of some 981 different manuscripts. All of them were discovered by local herdsmen in caves near Qumran between 1946-1947 and in 2017 in 12 caves from a Hellenistic-Jewish Settlement at Khirbet Qumran in eastern Judean Desert (West bank) was unearthed. The caves are loctaed some two kilometres from The Dead Sea and this explains their given name today. The Qumran texts dates back to the Second Century BC and the first century AD. Bronze coins found at the place also helps us date this period. The texts has been analyzed with radiocarbon and paleographic dating.

And the contents of these scrolls? The texts tells us a lot about historical events going around in the area at that time, such as Culture and Religion of course. The Dead Sea scrolls include the second oldest known surviving manuscripts included in the Hebew Bible Canon. Considering the time and context the texts were produced they tells us a lot about second Temple Judaism. Most of the scrolls are in Hebrew with some Aramaic and a very small number in Greek, And what about the material? Most texts are derived from parchments, some are from papyrus and some texts exists on copper. Traditionally the texts thought to have been written down by a Jewish sect known as the Essenes but some scholars now think they have been written by priests from Jerusalem, the Zadokites or other unknown Jewish groups. 40% are copies of texts we can find in the Hebrew Scriptures today. Some 30% are tetxs from the Second Temple era with texts not making it into the traditional Canon. Some wellknown non-canocial works are: Enoch, Book of the Jubilees, Book of Tobit, Wisdom of Sirach, Psalms 150-155). The rest 30% are the so called sectarian manuscripts compiled by groups of people we still don’t know that much about.

The Introduction to this work is valuable and presents the basics to anyone familiar or not with Scripture and dating of Scripture. It’s good to know that the term ”Bible” today means different to different people and cultures. The term ”canon” is also briefly explained. The Jewish Bible (the correct term or Acronym is TaNaKh) contains 24 books divided into three sections: Torah (5 Books), Neviim (Prophets) and Kethuviim (Writings). The Protestant Old Testament follows a similiar pattern but in different order: 39 books alltogheter, the 5 Books of Moses, Historical Books, Poetical Books and the Prophets. The order of the Catholic Church follows a similar pattern like the Protestant Churches but includes several deutero-canonical books which are not recognized as Canon by either Jews or protestants. These books are also known as Apocrypha.

The book goes on to describe the Essenses as the main group living at Qumran around 150 BCE to 68 CE. They are considered to be a very strict group of Essenses. Together with the pharisees and Sadducees the Essenses became the dominante streams within Hellenistic Judaism some 2000 years ago. The authors continue their Introduction with a brief sketch of the most important Bible mansuscripts we have today. It’s important to know a little about them because it shows how the Bible developed into a book. These three are known as [1.] The Masoretic Text (MT); [2.] Septuaginta (LXX); [3.] Samaritan Pentateuch (SP). I recommend this book to people already familiar with Bible Criticism and people just curious. The Introduction is excellent and may prompt you to learn more!

Learn more about the Dead Sea Scrolls at Biblical Archeaology Society which also has many free e-books for you to read.

“Shakespeare Bites Back”: A free e-book from The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

As the weekend is approaching I would like to recommend a free e-book if you are interested in the life and works of William Shakespeare. The e-book “Shakespeare Bites Back” (2011) is written by Dr. Paul Edmondson and Prof. Stanley Wells. It’s available to the public for free thanks to The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. The aim of the Foundation “is to connect Shakespeare professionals, lovers and enthusiasts all over the world and to lead the world in democratizing Shakespeare in the digital age.” The main task of “Shakespeare Bites Back” relates to the controversy of authorship which has been much debated in this century. Therefore it’s a bit polemical too. The authors in this book do argue there are masses of evidence concluding Shakespeare was the author of all works attributed to him. They also conclude that “The nature of evidence is rich and varied”. Sadly, Edmondson & Wells states that “Until recently, Shakespeare scholars and the academic community at large have either opposed the conspiracy theory or stood alof from it.” They will introduce you to the Academic controversy and mere Conspiracy “theories”. The Shakespeare Authorship Conspiracy Theory has a history which can be dated back to Romanticism and the Gothic influenses some two hundred years ago.

I think it’s an important little book considering how we use Shakespeare today in movies for an example. The movie Anonymous (2011) gave extra fuel to the debate of authorship and I guess case isn’t closed when it comes to modern artistic interpretations of his life. I don’t mind artistic interpretations; but scholars should be in place to question; and help us see things with objectivity when presented “facts” are dubious or wrong no matter which field they emerge from. Here are some more important conclusions fighting Anti-Shakespearians:

Anti-Shakespearians may claim that they are ‘looking objectively’ at the evidence, but they never are. Their anti-Shakespearian bias prevents them from ever doing so. Instead, anti-Shakespearianism seeks first to deny the evidence for Shakespeare and then to position an alternative nominee in the gap Shakespeare has left behind. Anti-Shakespearianism is therefore synonymous with a denial of history, rather than with a revisionist and scholarly interpretation of the past.

You may take an extra look at the Pro-Shakespeare manifesto which also lists some of the important evidence:

Shakespeare puns on his own first name, William, in Sonnets 134, 135, 136 and 143. Sonnet 136 ends with ‘for my name is Will.’ We are in favour of a cautionary approach to making links between the works and their author’s life.

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Review : ‘A History of Scotland’ by Neil Oliver (2009)

IN THIS review I recommend Neil Oliver’s book A History of Scotland (2009) by Neil Oliver. Many of you readers may be familiar with Oliver since he’s hosted numerous BBC shows related to Scotland, Scottish history and landscape! Just open your YouTube and type a search! I’ve been to Edinburgh once and Aberdeen. Most of my travels in Scotland has been related to the Orkney Islands. Oliver touches briefly upon the history and nature of these islands.

THE Book consists of 14 chapters staring from the very beginning. He puts much effort to describe the natural environments of Scotland. Anyone interested in natural history would appreciate this.  Then, proceeding into the earliest history, the settlers, wanderers and then the Roman impact. He continues to write about the entire history of Scotland through the ages. And he is committed into telling it.

THE langauge is simple and makes it a smooth reading from start to finish! It’s not academic reading but still manage to produce sources to make it a credible reading. I appreciate that very much since I like details.  Next time I plan a trip to Scotland I will read this book once again.

Review: ‘Constance: The Tragic and Scandalous Life of Mrs. Oscar Wilde’ by Franny Moyle

WHILE WE continue to lament the downfall of Oscar Wilde it is easy to forget there were other victims in this Victorian tragedy. Wilde was in fact a married man with two children when he was sent to prison in Reading. As the scandal became fact his wife Constance Lloyd Wilde quickly got herself and their two sons out of England. She was equally exiled and she did change her family name back to Holland. As wife she remained loyal and never applied for a divorce. She even visited him occasionally while he was in prison. She also came and delivered the news his mother had passed away.

OSCAR WILDE was one of my favourite writers in my teenage years and later I got know most of his life thanks to Richard Ellman’s biography. His wife was less famous so it was really refreshing reading this biography on Mrs. Wilde by Franny Moyle. In this “review” I will slightly refer to other books and papers. As I took notice while reading about Oscar Wilde’s life over the years one do get the sense he wasn’t always a very nice husband. From one interview with his adventurous love Lord Alfred Douglas’, or Bosie the ageing lord spoke frankly about Wilde’s relation with Constance Wilde and remarked that he often saw him impatience with her. This was at least a reported fact in Ellman’s biography and repeated by Moyle as well. Despite this Lord Douglas choose not to honour lady Wilde and blamed Wilde’s downfall on her.

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Constance Lloyd prior her engagement to Oscar Wilde.

Constance Wilde (2 January 1859 – 7 April 1898), born Constance Mary Lloyd she did not have a happy childhood since her mother abused her verbally and physically. Her father died early and the negative experiences with her mother made her shy and a bit withdrawn. The Wildes and the Lloyds knew each other since the irish years so when Constance met Oscar they weren’t strangers. Moyle uses a lot of previous unpublished letters as she draws the story of Mrs Wilde. It’s a well-researched biography.

Despite her brother Otho’s warnings (he had heard “something” about Oscar) she got married to him in May 1884 and idolized him from the start. It seem to have been a love-match and they seemed happy together. They quickly started a family and she bore him two sons. Wilde seem to have been sexually uninterested in her after the birth of their second son. He often complained she had gained weight and the boy-girlish persona she possessed before the marriage was all gone.

Life with Oscar Wilde

WE don’t know when Constance found out her husband was gay but he lived a double-life with her and the family. Most of his time was spent at various hotels in the city and he would sometimes live with her and the children at Tite Street, Chelsea although this was not very common. SHE seemed to have accepted her husband’s busy lifestyle leavening her to take care of their home and children. Despite being an absent father she shared his interests in literature and fashion. Both were involved in the Victorian Dress Reform Movement.

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Constance looking at Oscar.

She must have known about his sexuality by 1895 when Wilde was tried and imprisoned for “gross indecency”, or homosexual acts. After Wilde’s imprisonment, Constance changed her and her sons’ last name to Holland to dissociate themselves from Wilde’s scandal. According to Ellman’s biography on Oscar Wilde this happened after Constance was denied to stay at a hotel because of the Wilde family name. The couple never divorced and though Constance visited Oscar in prison so she could tell him the news of his mother’s death, she also forced him to give up his parental rights and later, after he had been released from prison, refused to send him any money unless he no longer associated with Douglas.

The Final years and illnesses of Constance Wilde

A mysterious ill health—headaches, joint pains, weakness and trembling in the limbs, partial facial paralysis and exhaustion continued to plague her in the exile. According to The Guardian, “speculative theories [about her death] have ranged from spinal damage following a fall down stairs to syphilis caught from her husband.” However, again according to The Guardian, Merlin Holland, grandson of Oscar Wilde, “unearthed medical evidence within private family letters, which has enabled a doctor to determine the likely cause of Constance’s demise. The letters reveal symptoms nowadays associated with multiple sclerosis but apparently wrongly diagnosed by her two doctors”.

mrswildeConstance sought help from two doctors. One of them was a “nerve doctor” from Heidelberg, Germany who resorted to dubious remedies. The second doctor was a high-society surgeon named Luigi Maria Bossi and he conducted two operations (for uterine fibroid) in 1895 and 1898, the latter of which ultimately led to her death. According to The Lancet, “the surgery Bossi performed in December 1895 was probably an anterior vaginal wall repair to correct urinary difficulties from a presumed bladder prolapse. In retrospect, the actual problem was probably neurogenic and not structural in origin.”(Alberge 2015) Bossi was also a professor of gynaecology at Genoa University and a fellow of the British Gynecological Society. Bossi fell out with his colleagues for championing surgery to fix now-discredited “pelvic madness.”

During the second surgery in April 1898 Bossi probably “did not attempt a hysterectomy but merely excised the tumour in a myomectomy” (Robins 1995). However, shortly after the surgery Constance developed uncontrollable vomiting, which led to dehydration and death. The immediate cause of death was likely severe paralytic ileus, which developed either as a result of the surgery itself or of intra-abdominal sepsis (blood poisoning). “Ultimately, both Bossi and the hapless Constance met their ends tragically: he by the bullet of an assassin and she by the knife of an irresponsible surgeon.” (Robins 1995). Bossi was killed by a jealous husband of one of his patients.

Resources

Dalya Alberge (1 January 2015).”Letters unravel mystery of the death of Oscar Wilde’s wife”.

Robins, Ashley; Holland, Merlin (3 January 2015). “The enigmatic illness and death of Constance, wife of Oscar Wilde“. The Lancet.

Review: ‘The Zohar -Pritzker ed. vol I.’

THE ZOHAR is the most prominent work of Rabbinic literature within the kabbalistic tradition. The title “Splendor/Radiance”relates to several verses in Ezekiel 1:28; :2 and Daniel 2:31; 12:3 (Those who manifest wisdom will shine like the brightness of the expanse of heaven, and those who turn many to righteousness will shine like the stars for ever and ever – Dan. 12:3). It follows the path of classical Midrash and is indeed a commentary on the Chumash (5 books of Moses).

THE ZOHAR deals with the mystical theories concerning creation, cosmogony and psychology of man in relation to the divine in this world and the coming world. There are many themes and endless discussions and homily on various topics such as the nature of G-d, creation, what the souls is and the cause and consequences of man’s actions (ethics). It contains numerous volumes and is written in an obscure Aramaic. The Ortodox or religious view of authorship states that Shimon bar Yohai (2nd century sage) was the true author while modern scholarship claims it has a much later autorship. Gerschom Scholem’s research proves that the Zohar was compiled and written down by a man called Moses De Leon in 1270.

THE ZOHAR – PRITZKER EDITION is a work of modern scholarship and pays attention to scientific methods concerning its history, origins and translation. The first volume was released in 2003. The final volume n:o 12 was released in 2017 so now you know how vast the entire text of the Zohar is in reality. Daniel C. Matt, one of the world’s foremost authorities on Jewish mysticism, has done the translation and commentary on the text. I only own the First volume which is enough for me since Genesis is sort of my favourite book when it comes to religious literature. Now we have a complete translation of all volumes available to anyone who which to learn more about the core text of Jewish mysticism. So how did it happen?

BACK IN 1995 Daniel C. Matt was contacted by Margot Pritzker who previously had studied the Zohar with her rabbi. She used a translation from the 1930’s and there was  a desatisfaction with the many available, but rather outdated, translations. Thoughts of a new translation of Zohar into English emerged. Matt warned it would take about 12-15 years to complete the task. But he agreed to carry out the project with the help of the Pritzker family who funded the entire project. Each volume was printed by the Stanford University Press.

THE FIRST VOLUME contains Margot Pritzker’s short foreword followed by translator’s introduction by Matt; acknowledgements, a foreword by Arthur Green on the contents of Zohar, theology of Zohar (10 sefiroth and so forth) and Zohar as text. The ingress consist of a longer text Haqadamat Sefer ha-Zohar. First lines: Rabbi Hizkiyah opened, “Like a rose among thorns, so is my beloved among the maidens (Song of Songs 2:2) Who is a rose? Assembly of Israel. For there is a rose, and then there is a rose! Just as a rose among thorns is colored red and white, so Assembly of Israel  includes judgement and compassion (Matt 2004, p. 1). To understand the context of these lines one needs to be familiar with the ten sefiroth, the divine emanations which connects the divine world with the earthly. These are core values within the Kabbalah and shows how G-d works within the divine and earthly worlds. In Kabbalah the functional structure of the sephirot in channeling Divine creative life force, and revealing the unknowable Divine essence to Creation is described. From the top of the Tree of Life resides keter (“crown”) which is the most divine, remote sefirah and it’s too difficult for any human to grasp. Only through kavannah, intense prayer a connection with the divine source can be established. The first sephirah describes the Divine Will above intellect.

img_0802The next sephirot describe conscious Divine Intellect, and the latter sephirot describe the primary and secondary conscious Divine Emotions. Two sephirot (Binah and Malchut) are feminine, as the female principle in Kabbalah describes a vessel that receives the outward male light, then inwardly nurtures and gives birth to lower sephirot. Corresponding to this is the Female Divine Presence, שְׁכִינָה‎‎, Shekhinah. Kabbalah sees the human soul as mirroring the Divine (after Genesis 1:27, “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him, male and female He created them”), and more widely, all creations as reflections of their life source in the sephirah. Every sefirah belongs to either a masculine or feminine quality. Duality in the verse above is clearly visible through the words judgement and compassion. The sefirah din (“judgement”) is associated with the feminine while rahamin (“compassion”) is a masculine quality. The verse which is about the Assembly of Israel, i.e the Jewish people, but also represent the shekinah, the tenth and final sefirah. The ingress is followed by Parashat Be-Reshit (Genesis 1:1-6:8) and Parashat Noah (Genesis 6:9-11:32).

The Zohar is not easy as a text. It’s full of symbolism, metaphors and allusions. Therefore, the commentary with explanations is greatly appreciated. And believe me, one needs them. Curious about the translator? Read more about Daniel C. Matt here (Questions & Answers).

Sources:

Matt, Daniel C. 2004. The Zohar Vol. 1. Vol. 1. The Zohar. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Zohar, Cover Comp