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John J. Collins (1) (1946–)

Author of Introduction to the Hebrew Bible

For other authors named John J. Collins, see the disambiguation page.

John J. Collins (1) has been aliased into John Joseph Collins.

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Works by John J. Collins

Works have been aliased into John Joseph Collins.

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This book makes the almost-impossible look easy.

"Almost impossible," as in, writing about the recent history of the Dead Sea Scrolls without landing in the middle of a huge swarm of controversies about slow publication, withholding of data, minor falsifications, lies of omission, and pure academic spite is about like trying to walk a tightrope while people at both ends try to saw through it. Author Collins of course has to address these issues, in his substantial final chapter "The Battle for the Scrolls," but he is fair to all sides, and although he offers admits his own opinion (that the scrolls should have been made available more readily and sooner, which is also my own opinion and that of most others), he assigns very little blame. It is a fine example of even-handedness.

Most of the other chapters are almost as good: An overview of the discovery, and several chapters on the interpretation of the scrolls and scholars' attempts to fit them into our other knowledge of the Maccabean and Roman eras of Jewish history.

There are a couple of places where I have problems. One is Collins's discussion in his second chapter of the Essene Hypotheses -- that is, the widespread but not universal belief that the owners of the Scrolls were the Jewish sect known as the Essenes. Collins correctly notes that the scrolls often match what is said of the Essenes in other sources, but in some ways clearly do not. Thus, if the Essenes are correctly described by Josephus and Philo, and if the Qumran community had to belong to one of the sects we know to have existed, then the Qumraners must have been Essenes, not Pharisees, Sadducees, or Zealots. But there are two points I don't think Collins gives enough attention: First, Josephus and Philo were not Essenes, although Josephus had some experience with them; their descriptions -- which certainly weren't intended for twentieth century scholars! -- may not have been accurate, and second, who is to say that we know all the Jewish sects of the period? I felt like I was getting a lot of technical arguments about Essene-dom (good arguments, to be sure) without other alternatives really being considered.

The other lack I felt was any sufficient attention to the Biblical manuscripts among the scrolls -- most of the discussion is of the various Rules, Commentaries, Hymnals, and such. But textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible is a complex task, and the Scrolls are very important for this. All later Hebrew manuscripts of the Bible agree very closely -- yet the Hebrew text sometimes doesn't make sense (e.g. the Book of Job looks as if the text is badly damaged), and in several books, the earliest translation into another language, the Greek Septuagint or LXX, implies an underlying Hebrew text very different from what has been preserved in Judaism. (The LXX of Jeremiah, for instance, is dramatically shorter than the Hebrew.) A substantial fraction of the Qumran texts -- especially, according to Collins, the later ones -- agree with the text that Judaism later used. But some do not.

Collins brushes this off with little more than a statement that different people used different texts. And it is true that it doesn't really matter within Judaism -- their Bible is the Hebrew text of the Middle Ages, even if it is defective or nonsensical, and they did an amazing job of preserving this texts from (roughly) the second century of our era until the present day. But I, for one, want to know what the Hebrew Bible originally said, not what some second century scribe decided it should say. In at least two books -- Samuel and Jeremiah -- the scrolls imply that the original Hebrew was very different: Several fragments of Jeremiah indicates that the short LXX text was translated from an earlier, better Hebrew text than the much-expanded Hebrrew version we have now, and the substantial manuscript 4QSam(a) has a text of Samuel which differs from both the Hebrew and the LXX, implying that, for Samuel at least, we need to do a complete reconstruction of the text based on the MT Hebrew, 4QSam(a), and the LXX; the MT Hebrew is simply too corrupt to stand. Collins doesn't even mention this task of reconstruction.

Also, Collins has a nice list of scholars involved in the publication of the Scrolls, but no catalog of the most important scrolls, such as the Damascus Document and "MMT." This would have been a very useful addition.

For these reasons, this is not a complete discussion of the Scrolls; you will need other works to get the whole picture. But it is a fair, highly readable, quite useful volume as long as you realize that there are a few more volumes still to be read.
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1 vote
waltzmn | 1 other review | Feb 23, 2023 |
Understanding Judaism is absolutely critical to grasping the New Testament. This was available on kindle for under 3 dollars.
JourneyPC | Sep 26, 2022 |
EFM Year One text. I felt the book was inconsistent and rather choppy. I wonder if the longer text is an improvement.
dooney | 1 other review | Mar 30, 2014 |
Both erudite and fair, this accessible text outlines some of the landmarks in the history and impact of the Dead Sea Scrolls. While I wouldn't recommend that it be the only book one read on the topic, it more than suffices as a jumping off point for more detailed investigations.
dono421846 | 1 other review | Feb 22, 2014 |



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