Fifty years have passed since a young scholar named Geza Vermes published the first Dead Sea Scrolls translation of the texts available at the time. Geza Vermes has played an essential role in scroll research from the beginning. Following their discovery in 1947, Vermes published his first article on the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1949, completed a doctoral dissertation on their historical framework in 1952, and published his first book on the subject the following year. Dead Sea Scrolls research was still in its infancy in 1962, but Geza Vermes was already an established expert in the field.
Geza Vermes’ original Dead Sea Scrolls translation was a slim 255-page volume from Penguin Books simply titled The Dead Sea Scrolls in English. This insightful but accessible translation quickly attracted both general readers and scholars. As the field of Dead Sea Scrolls study burgeoned, so has the volume by Geza Vermes. Celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, the book (now in its seventh edition) has grown into a 720-page tome. An estimated 500,000 copies have been sold.
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The seventh edition of the book, now titled The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English, includes every sufficiently preserved and available Qumran text. (Some fragments and possibly larger texts are still out there somewhere!) The Dead Sea Scrolls translation remains a standard in scroll study for its literary quality and interpretations. Marking the 50th anniversary since the first edition, Geza Vermes, now 87 years old, told BAR “Few books last that long. Few authors last that long. The combination of the two is even more uncommon.”
Based on “Fifty Years of Dead Sea Scroll Translation,” Biblical Archaeology Review, May/June 2012.
Read Geza Vermes and Lawrence Schiffman’s “The Dead Sea Scrolls: How They Changed My Life” as it appeared in Biblical Archaeology Review, Jul/Aug 2007.