I am impressed by Magness's book. I am contemplating using it (in conjunction with some anthology of primary documents) as a basic text for a class in Intertestamental Judaism.
A publisher's note states that the book is meant to introduce general readers to the field of Qumran Studies. It fulfils this purpose well. Magness is scrupulous at parenthetically explaining terms that the general reader/beginning student may not be familiar with—e.g., Mishnah, miqveh, halakhah. The sixty-six figures and illustrations are informative. It is "user-friendly" in these features, as well as in the four indices. Bibliographic notes at the end of each chapter allow expansion of studies and are less cumbersome than footnotes.
Magness, who teaches Early Judaism in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is primarily an archaeologist. The artifacts of Qumran provide the backbone of the book, with the Dead Sea Scrolls cited mostly for the purpose of illuminating the artifacts. Her explanations of archaeological methods and interpreting archaeological evidence struck me as "outstanding," and her introduction to the Scrolls as "more-than-adequate."
Other matters of "style" (as distinct from "substance," treated below) are: judiciousness in presenting both sides on disputed issues, but taking clear stands; and care in the use of negative evidence, the "argument from silence."
Substantive matters emphasized include chronology, the presence/absence of women and children at Qumran, sectarianism around the time of Jesus, Qumranite emphasis on ritual purity/impurity, opposition to Hellenizing tendencies on the part of Palestinian Jews, and Qumranite emphasis on "Biblical Hebrew simplicity."
Magness revises the standard DeVaux chronology for Qumran and the nearby site of Ein Feshka; I am not enough of an archaeologist to prove or disprove her approach, and I await a scholarly consensus. For similar reasons I cannot evaluate her revision of Pesach Bar-Adon's chronology for the site at Ein El-Ghuweir. Feminist scholarship as well as archaeology informs the discussion of women and children at Qumran.
Magness concludes that the sectarians at Qumran were Essenes, but is careful to usually refer to them as "the sectarians." She presents a great deal of evidence from ancient literary sources on Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, Therapeutae, and Boethusians; and her analyses of that evidence are illuminating and convincing.
Some Christians may be disappointed that Magness finds no references at Qumran to such early Christian figures as Jesus, James and John, or the Baptist—but the evidence is clear. Yet the Qumran sectarians provide important background for the followers of Jesus—another group of Palestinian Jewish sectarians in the Herodian age. I agree with Magness and James VanderKam that it is not especially strange that the three books—Deuteronomy, Isaiah, and the Psalms—that appear on the largest number of copies in the caves are the ones most cited in the New Testament.
Purity/Impurity—ritual categories which the Qumran sectarians joined to moral categories—explain, in Magness's judgment, a great many features of Qumran: the large number (and some design features) of the miqva'ot, or ritual baths; the clothing as described in the Scrolls and other ancient sources; the placement of toilets.
Magness's examination of the archaeological evidence and literary sources for the Anti-Hellenizing attitude of the sectarians, and the accompanying grasping after "Hebraic simplicity" as represented primarily in the Hebrew Scriptures, is quite thought-provoking.
Perhaps the Twentieth/Twenty-First Centuries' "Culture Wars" between Fundamentalism and "Liberalism," between "Let's Preserve It" Conservatism and "Let's Go for It" Progressivism, are repeating ancient patterns.
I recommend this book highly, both for classroom use in appropriate courses and also for private study by those interested in the Dead Sea Scrolls, religious sectarianism, and the background of Christianity.