People of the Dead Sea Scrolls, 1958

The People of the Dead Sea Scrolls came out in 1958 from Doubleday & Company in New York and in 1959 from Routledge & Kegan Paul in London. It tells the story of the Qumram community in words and pictures. The style was popular rather than academic: John aimed to keep the scrolls in the public eye and reward public interest.

John had hopes of the scrolls as a tangible, though tenuous, link between people seeking peace, maybe even a bridge to reconciliation between the three religions of the area – Islam, Judaism, and Christianity.

The People of the Dead Sea Scrolls outlines the events that led to the establishment of Qumran at the beginning of the second century B.C. and later to its overthrow during the Jewish Revolt of A.D. 68-70. It sets the Essenes’ flight to the desert under persecutionin the framework of Old Testament tradition. In seeking the wilderness, the sect followed the prophetic tradition of Elijah, the same tradition that John the Baptist and Jesus later pursued. Through extreme asceticism, they sought utmost purity.

There is something in the uncompromising harshness of the desert that brings a man face to face with spiritual realities. It is a life of extremes….Moral issues are as sharply defined as the pattern of light and shade on the bare rocks: light and darkness, good and evil, God and Satan. (The People of the Dead Sea Scrolls, p. 24)

The People of the Dead Sea Scrolls briefly describes the scrolls themselves and the insights they bring into the sectarians’ philosophy. It shows how archeologists gain a picture of the life of the monastery: the cisterns for water supply and ritual bathing, the dining room for communal meals, the scriptorium where some of the scrolls were probably written, evidence of crop cultivation around the springs a couple of miles away at Ain Feshka. Although a good deal of the sect’s home was destroyed and then overlaid by Roman occupation after A.D. 68, many of the buildings remained in outline, such as a smithy, grain-mill, and kilns where the cooking pots and scroll jars were made.

John wrote The People of the Dead Sea Scrolls in association with Professor David Noel Freedman of Pittsburgh. They planned it as a companion volume to The Treasure of the Copper Scroll, which they were still holding back in anticipation of Milik’s official translation of the scroll. Freedman helped decide the structure of the book and helped steer it through the publishers.

The People of the Dead Sea Scrolls was published by:

Doubleday & Company, Garden City, 1958 – 1st Edition
Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1959 – 1st U.K. Edition