This volume, although titled as though it focuses on the connections between the Dead Sea Scrolls and Christian origins, is in fact a collection of some of Fr. Fitzmyer's essays which relate to a wide range of scrolls-related topics. Indeed, some of the essays are not at all related to questions of Christian origins as some might expect or hope from the title. For instance, a paper on the language of Aramaic Levi, a work preserved in Aramaic at Qumran and in an early medieval manuscript from a Cairo synagogue, can hardly be said to deal with questions of Christian origins. Likewise, essays on the text of Tobit at Qumran, the question of the community's identity, and the fate of the Teacher revered by the community are difficult to connect, at least at first sight, with issues in Christian origins.
The slightly misleading title of the book, however, should not discourage readers from devoting careful attention to it. Apart from one article first published in 1987 and another authored for inclusion in this volume, the essays reflect Fitzmyer's work on the scrolls during the last decade, and thus provide substantial insight into his thinking on the scrolls as it has come to be through nearly a half-century of work with them. Because of his long involvement with the scrolls Fitzmyer is rightly revered among fellow critics for his sage insight, even if he fails at times to persuade his audience. It is a mark of his gravity that his proposals regarding early Jewish messianism in general, and with regard to the scrolls in particular, have evoked sustained replies from John J. Collins, another prominent scrolls scholar, and someone considered by most to be the leading authority on early Jewish messianism. Indeed, Fitzmyer surfaces some elements of that longstanding debate especially in the essay titled, "Qumran Messianism" (the paper to have been newly authored for this volume). And even if Collins may have the better argument in the debate, Fitzmyer's proposals are worth considering, especially as an aspect of the scrolls' relationships to early Christian origins. This volume offers plenty of opportunity for such an encounter, since four of the essays deal to varying degrees with issues and texts related to Qumran messianism.
Along with the other essays already alluded to, the rest of the collection offers a well-rounded glimpse into the thought of this important Catholic Dead Sea Scrolls scholar. However, two words of caution for the readers of this review are in order. First, some of the essays are rather technical in nature and may not be as interesting to the general reader as others. For example, in one of the essays Fitzmyer reproduces his edition of the Tobit manuscripts from Qumran, complete with justifications for the readings he offers of the manuscripts (for which no photographic plates are included in this volume!) and textual notes comparing the text of Tobit at Qumran with other ancient witnesses to the book; for most readers such arcane details will hold little attraction. And second, if readers come to this book expecting to find testimony to direct connections between the Dead Sea Scrolls and early Christianity, they will be disappointed. If someone wishes for visions of early Christians arising from the mists of Qumran, Fitzmyer rightly frustrates them, offering instead the widely-held view that whatever tenuous connections the two movements did share were only in the realm of a partially-shared sociohistorical horizon and a common pool of biblical traditions from which both drew. Even with these two caveats, however, readers should not be deterred from using this as an opportunity to make Fr. Fitzmyer's acquaintance through his essays on the Dead Sea Scrolls. His work on the manuscripts from Qumran will stimulate generations of scholars to come as the task of synthesizing the now almost fully-published scrolls moves forward.