RECLAIMING THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS

The most thorough and authoritative of the flood of new books occasioned by the full release of the Dead Sea Scrolls between 1991 and 1993. Schiffman (Near Eastern Studies/New York Univ.), a Hebrew and Judaic studies expert who now serves on the editorial team that is publishing the scrolls, clearly presents what scholars know and, equally important, what they don't know about the documents that many would agree constitute the greatest archaeological find of the century. He describes in considerable detail the contents and the political and religious historical context of the scrolls, produced between 150 bce and 70 ce during the Greek and Roman conquests of Palestine. But Schiffman also makes the case for a paradigm shift in the manner in which the scrolls should be viewed and interpreted. As he notes: ``The first generation of scroll scholars, primarily Christians interested in either the Hebrew Bible or the New Testament, did not understand the scrolls for what they were: documents illuminating the history of Second Temple Judaism...What resulted therefore, was a Christianized version of the scrolls.'' Schiffman, in contrast, views the scrolls as Jewish texts. He rejects earlier theories, such as that the scrolls were written by the ascetic sect of Essenes, and makes the case for many of the scrolls being of Sadducee origin (the Sadducees were an anti-Rabbinic group that had links to the priestly class). An updated tale of the discovery, acquisition, and deciphering of the Dead Sea Scrolls would make a great narrative. But this is not Schiffman's aim. For now, Edmund Wilson's 1954 The Dead Sea Scrolls, based on his New Yorker reportage, remains the classic page-turner about the scrolls. Schiffman's scholarly presentation is plodding, but his arguments and conclusions are well reasoned and reliable. (For more on the Dead Sea Scrolls, see Neil Asher Silberman, The Hidden Scrolls, p. TK.) Scholars in religious studies, seasoned scroll amateurs, and newcomers to this fascinating subject can all benefit from immersion in this welcome volume. (40 photos) (Author tour)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-8276-0530-7

Page Count: 520

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1994

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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A very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.

THE ART OF SOLITUDE

A teacher and scholar of Buddhism offers a formally varied account of the available rewards of solitude.

“As Mother Ayahuasca takes me in her arms, I realize that last night I vomited up my attachment to Buddhism. In passing out, I died. In coming to, I was, so to speak, reborn. I no longer have to fight these battles, I repeat to myself. I am no longer a combatant in the dharma wars. It feels as if the course of my life has shifted onto another vector, like a train shunted off its familiar track onto a new trajectory.” Readers of Batchelor’s previous books (Secular Buddhism: Imagining the Dharma in an Uncertain World, 2017, etc.) will recognize in this passage the culmination of his decadeslong shift away from the religious commitments of Buddhism toward an ecumenical and homegrown philosophy of life. Writing in a variety of modes—memoir, history, collage, essay, biography, and meditation instruction—the author doesn’t argue for his approach to solitude as much as offer it for contemplation. Essentially, Batchelor implies that if you read what Buddha said here and what Montaigne said there, and if you consider something the author has noticed, and if you reflect on your own experience, you have the possibility to improve the quality of your life. For introspective readers, it’s easy to hear in this approach a direct response to Pascal’s claim that “all of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” Batchelor wants to relieve us of this inability by offering his example of how to do just that. “Solitude is an art. Mental training is needed to refine and stabilize it,” he writes. “When you practice solitude, you dedicate yourself to the care of the soul.” Whatever a soul is, the author goes a long way toward soothing it.

A very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-25093-0

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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