Dr. Carmen Palmer has a new book out called Converts in the Dead Sea Scrolls: The Gēr and Mutable Ethnicity. She is a Hebrew Bible scholar specializing in the Dead Sea Scrolls (read more about her here). In this post Dr. Palmer tells Women Biblical Scholars about the importance of this new work.
Take us “behind the scenes” to the making of Converts in the Dead Sea Scrolls. What inspired you to write it?
This book is a revision of my dissertation project. What started off as an interest in the foreigner in the Hebrew Bible melded with a growing interest in the Dead Sea Scrolls, and emerged as the project it is. Along the way I had to devise my own method as a way of proceeding, by testing whether comparing Dead Sea Scrolls that used the gēr in scriptural rewriting against scriptural predecessors could highlight sociohistorical change. To round it out and further confirm the test I added a chapter comparing some of the findings against Greco-Roman associations, which then became another interest.
Who do you hope will read this book and why?
The book is very specialized toward the Dead Sea Scrolls, and yet also very broad in terms of areas addressed. I hope anyone interested in Dead Sea Scrolls, identity and ethnicity theory, Hebrew Bible, Rewritten Scripture, conversions in ancient Judaism, the foreigner in the Bible, and Greco-Roman associations may find something of use in it. I try to explain and introduce topics in a way that is accessible to both specialists and also to those wanting to gain a general understanding of the topics covered. The topic of conversions in ancient Judaism is still widely debated and I look forward to ongoing discussions with readers, whether they agree or disagree with the book’s findings.
What practical suggestions do you have for teachers or others who might want to use this for the classroom or discussions?
The book can be used in whole or in part fairly readily. I introduce the topic of identity and ethnicity theory in ancient Judaism, as well as in Greek and Roman traditions, in both the introduction and Greco-Roman comparison chapters (Chapters 1 and 5), so I would suggest taking a look at the opening sections of both these chapters if that is your interest. The book also goes over general history of scholarship regarding the various traditions evident in the scrolls, and reassesses that evidence over the course of the book. If you are interested in just a few select passages, you can also distill those in Chapters 2 and 3. Chapter 4 is a good synopsis of what I consider to be key components of ethnicity within the sectarian movement affiliated with the Dead Sea Scrolls, based on the combined findings from Chapters 2 and 3 (shared kinship, connection to land, and common culture in the practice of circumcision).