Andrew, thanks for taking to the time to chat with us about your new book, The Dynamics of Dream-Vision Revelation in the Aramaic Dead Sea Scrolls (V&R, 2015). Andrew B. Perrin (PhD, McMaster University) is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies and Co-Director of the Dead Sea Scrolls Institute at Trinity Western University in Langley, British Columbia, Canada (Twitter: @twudssi; Facebook: www.facebook.com/twudssi)
Nearly 70 years after their discovery, it is still common to hear mention of the Dead Sea Scrolls in popular media. In the late 1940’s William Fox Albright deemed the scrolls the greatest manuscript discovery of modern times, and it seems they have lived up to the hype. The Scrolls continue to kindle an uncommonly wide-ranging interest and curiosity among the those inside and outside academia.
Why do you think those inside and especially those outside Dead Sea Scrolls studies should be interested in the group of texts you focus on in this book?
For most of us, the first point of contact with the Dead Sea Scrolls is made using the Bible as a departure point. This is for good reason, since the scrolls relate to both the words and worlds of the Bible. The anthology of books that we call the “Bible” gives the impression of being a continuous story. However, this is not the case. Major geopolitical, social, cultural, and religious shifts occurred in the Second Temple period (ca. 5th century BCE to 1st century CE), which greatly impacted the literature and outlook of both Christianity and Judaism—yet we hear little to nothing about these tumultuous events in the biblical texts themselves. Fortunately, this is the era where the Qumran community was alive and well, just off the northwest shores of the Dead Sea.
The library of texts penned or preserved by this ancient Jewish group includes our oldest biblical manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament as well as a diverse suite of ancient Jewish literary texts penned in the mid to late Second Temple period. Among the collection we find writings like early biblical commentaries, liturgical and prayer works, wisdom literature, texts outlining the ideals and structures of communal life, and imaginative re-tellings of familiar biblical stories. While some of the texts were written for internal consumption by this group, many, or even most, are writings that did not originate with this group. These texts, therefore, are part of the wider literary heritage of ancient Judaism and provide us with a window into patterns of thought, practice, and the history of ancient Judaism. This is most certainly the case with the Aramaic texts that I deal with in the book. On the one hand they provide fresh perspective and context for the few Aramaic writings that we already knew about from this world (e.g., Daniel 2–7 or the book of Tobit). On the other hand, previously unknown texts give us a wider view of how some ancient Jewish scribes extended the reach of their scriptural traditions by creatively re-presenting them in the common language of the ancient Near East (e.g., Genesis Apocryphon or Visions of Amram). In these ways, I think the Aramaic texts stand to make a dual contribution to fields of study beyond the Qumran guild: they at once give us insight into what we might call the late biblical period of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament and illumine the conceptual world of early Christianity and pre-rabbinic Judaism.
Has this group of texts been studied before?
Yes and no. While the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered almost seventy-five years ago, their critical publication in the Discoveries in the Judaean Desert series was not completed until 2010. The Aramaic texts are found at the bookends of this publication saga. While a text like Genesis Apocryphon was made available, at least in part, promptly after its 1947 discovery in cave one, most of the Aramaic texts among the trove of cave four discovered in 1955 are among the last volumes to see the light of full, critical publication. This means that there is much uncharted territory in this corner of the Qumran library.
Despite this situation, there is a growing bibliography of studies on individual and clusters of the Aramaic texts. For example, Loren Stuckenbruck’s commentary on Book of Giants, Daniel Machiela’s edition and topical study on Genesis Apocryphon, or J.T. Milik’s now classic The Books of Enoch are among the must-reads for research on these materials. In my mind, Florentino García Martínez, author of the 1992 monograph Qumran and Apocalyptic  and foreword to my book, pioneered research on the ADSS at a time when they were known only in patches. The conversation he started, however, in some ways lied fallow until 2008 when a conference was held in Aix-en-Provence, France that centred on the Aramaic texts. This was complemented recently by a thematic issue on the ADSS in the journal Dead Sea Discoveries. All this to say, the Qumran Aramaic texts took some time to come onto the radar but I am encouraged to see that more and more scholars are taking note of their value.
How would you describe the group of texts that are the foundation of this study? Are these texts a distinct genre or group?
It is difficult to give a concise and adequate descriptor of all the qualities of the texts without overlooking one aspect or overemphasizing another. Having said that, when I look at this group of texts in panoramic perspective I think there are a few things that stand out. The scribes who crafted these materials clearly had a firm grasp on the Hebrew Scriptures and were innovative interpreters of them. They at once affirmed the authority of their inherited scriptural traditions as well as ensured that these were relevant and engaging for readers of their contemporary world. The choice of Aramaic as the compositional language I think was both clever and strategic: these materials were intended to, or had the potential of becoming, mobile for audiences from Judaea to various locations in the Diaspora. However, beyond these first impressions, I think that my book confirms that there is a discernable apocalyptic current that runs through almost every composition among the Qumran Aramaic texts. Revelatory dream-visions, like those found in the familiar Aramaic section of Daniel, is just one of the main ways that this comes through in the collection.
The question of the (dis)unity of the ADSS is my guiding question throughout the study. A central item of debate in current research on these materials is whether they are best described as a “collection” (a disparate group of texts, sharing only their compositional language) or a “corpus” (a coherent group of writings, evidencing shared literary topoi or ideological patterns). Since dream-vision episodes, allusions, or interpretations are found in at least twenty of the thirty Aramaic compositions identified at Qumran, this feature can serve as a gauge for working towards an answer to this question.
Is this the primary thrust of your argument in the book, or are you arguing something more broad? How does your study contribute to current discussions in Scrolls scholarship?
Highlighting the centrality of dream-visions to the thought world of the Aramaic texts was simply a departure point that lead to a host of new questions and implications. What interested me most was not just the arresting concentration of “new” revelation in the Aramaic texts, but how dream-visions were composed and what purposes they served. What we see happening in the Aramaic Dead Sea Scrolls is that dream-visions are structured and presented using what appears to be a common stock of literary features and linguistic idioms. That is, there are close similarities in form across the collection.
In tandem with this, the writers of the Aramaic texts utilized the dream-vision as a vehicle to advance or address a rather limited set of concerns: exegesis of the Hebrew Scriptures, endorsing priestly practices or theology, and as a historiographical tool for claiming that history is predetermined and directed by the God of Israel. That is, there are analogies in function across the collection. In view of these parallel findings, I conclude that the Aramaic Dead Sea Scrolls do hang together as a group, making the term “corpus” an adequate descriptor for these materials.
So why should this matter to anyone other than myself and a few other scholars around the world toying with the Aramaic texts? I have always been interested in studying ancient manuscripts as artifacts of human culture. From that perspective, explaining similarities between ancient literary texts as “borrowing” from one text to another or as “intertextuality”is a less than thrilling conclusion. It abstracts artifacts from the individuals and communities that created and used them. But if we try to account for the human factor of scribal culture behind the texts, then similarities among texts may reveal hints at social location and provenance. In the end, I make the case the similarities in compositional patterns and the common concerns addressed by dream-visions indicates that these texts originated in closely associated scribal circles in the 4th-2nd centuries BCE. I take this a step further by theorizing that, since divination and priests go hand-in-hand in the ancient world, the accentuated interest in dream-visions in the Aramaic texts may link them to a group within, or at one point associated with, the Jerusalem temple. The payoff of this is significant: in the Aramaic texts we have potentially recovered a glimpse of the literary heritage of another group in ancient Judaism, whose writings apparently served the interests and needs of communities with varying social, religious, and political stances, the settlement at Qumran being one of them. To revisit your earlier question, this is an example of how the Dead Sea Scrolls help us fill in the gap in that critical era that is largely glossed over in the biblical canons.
Can you be more specific about how you think these texts should impact the way we read Daniel and Revelation?
Arguably it is books like Daniel and Revelation that benefit most from a little homework in the Aramaic texts among the Qumran library. Scholars, myself included, see Daniel as a writing that came together in the form that we know it in the mid 2nd century BCE. During this time, Judaea was frequently in a state of civil unrest, political power shifts, and religious persecution. That is, while the narrative of Daniel is couched as a story from an earlier time in the exilic period, its tales are coyly and subtly critiquing the dramatic events of the 2nd century. If this late dating were not enough to make Daniel a peculiar volume in the collection of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, the composition of its first seven chapters in Aramaic certainly does. What we find in the Aramaic Dead Sea Scrolls, however, is a suite of at least thirty literary texts that share the very features that make Daniel so distinct (i.e., they are all writings from the mid Second Temple period, composed in Aramaic). This is a huge advantage for research on the book of Daniel. Now we can pursue comparative and contextual studies to understand how the book of Daniel fits within the larger corpus of known ancient Jewish literature of the period. Re-reading the dream-visions of the book of Daniel in light of those across the Qumran Aramaic texts is just one of the questions that could be explored in this new partnership. For these and other reasons I underscore that the booklet of Daniel 2–7 must be studied as a part of the Qumran Aramaic corpus, not apart from it.
While the ADSS make a direct impact on the book of Daniel, when it comes to the book of Revelation, I think that the relevance of these materials is of a more general nature. This final book of the New Testament famously begins with the phrase, “The revelation (apocalypsis) of Jesus Christ” (Rev 1:1). This is the earliest identifiable ancient writing to lay claim to the genre label of an “apocalypse.” This, however, does not mean that Revelation is the first apocalypse or the only ancient text to embrace an apocalyptic outlook. There is an ongoing scholarly dialogue about when to pinpoint the inception of the apocalypse and where to track its evolution through ancient Jewish and Christian writings. A number of researchers are revisiting the idea that the dream-vision form perhaps provided the soil out of which apocalyptic writings grew. The rich symbolism, boundless imaginative potential, and openness to new revelation that this form embraces could have provided the early apocalyptic writers the ideal space to craft works with an overt interest in otherworldly disclosures about about time and space, outlooks of hope for the future, and angelic revealers at every turn. Along with this, most scholars today recognize that of those ancient Jewish writings that have come down to us, Hebrew apocalypses are few and far between. Aramaic seems to have been the idiom of choice for ancient Jewish apocalyptic writers. If this is the case, then the Aramaic Dead Sea Scrolls need to be more intentionally integrated into the collaborative effort of mapping the growth of the apocalyptic tradition.
Simply put, the Qumran library contains our earliest and most expansive collection of ancient Jewish dream-vision literature written in Aramaic. So we’re back to “filling the gap.” The writer of the book of Revelation is assuming that his audience will know what he means to when he tells them they are reading an “apocalypse.” We, however, do not share that assumed cultural knowledge. The new discoveries of Aramaic writings among the Dead Sea Scrolls enable us to recover at least part of the apocalypse’s backstory, and thereby gain fresh perspective on a work that was received as Christian scripture and read (and misread!) for generations.
Is the Aramaic language of Dead Sea Scrolls similar to that found in Ezra and Daniel?
One of the problems with some linguistic studies on these materials is that they define “biblical Aramaic” as something entirely different from “Qumran Aramaic.” Granted, this is probably a fair determination for the book of Ezra, since the Aramaic letters included there are probably coming from an earlier period of the language’s development (ca. 700 BCE–200 BC). Their genre and presentation as official correspondence also gives them a distinct feel. For these reasons, I think that research on Ezra has more to gain from comparison with the Aramaic documentary texts of ancient Bactria than the Qumran finds. However, when it comes to the book of Daniel and the Qumran Aramaic texts, we more or less find ourselves in a later and narrower phase of linguistic development, dubbed “middle Aramaic (ca. 200 BCE and 200 CE) in one commonly accepted linguistic scheme of the Aramaic language. 
Perhaps not surprising given my conclusions about Daniel 2–7 being a natural fit with the literary and ideological world of the Qumran Aramaic texts, I also push back against bracketing the linguistic study of Daniel out from that of the wider collection of ancient Jewish Aramaic writings from this period. For example, while Takamitsu Muraoka’s recently published grammar is quickly becoming one of the more well-worn volumes on my bookshelf, references to materials from Daniel 2–7 are scarce and “Qumran Aramaic” is seemingly understood as a category that can be at times compared with “biblical Aramaic,” statistically comprised mostly of the Danielic tradition.  To me, segmentations such as this do not reflect any intrinsic linguistic issue but a canonical presupposition. We are used to studying Daniel in the context of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. This has been a fruitful, and remains a valid, enterprise. Yet now is the time to move beyond first impressions. We need to be aware of how recent discoveries, such as those at Qumran, provide not only new texts but new contexts for studying the select few ancient writings that found a place between the covers of the biblical anthologies.
What resources would you recommend to those who want to read through the Aramaic Dead Sea Scrolls?
Even if your Aramaic is rusty (or non-existent) read through some of the materials in translation. Works like Genesis Apocryphon, Aramaic Levi Document, or Words of Michael are sure to entertain a modern reader as well as orient them to some of the main features, genres, and interests of the Aramaic texts. To make the move from the Aramaic writings of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament to those among the Qumran collection, Andreas Schuele’s recent grammar of biblical Aramaic includes a short appendix of a cross-section of texts from the Aramaic Dead Sea Scrolls.  Ursula Schattner-Rieser has also formulated a reader of the Qumran Aramaic texts, wherein she attempts to aid beginners by including Masoretic-type pointing in the unvocalized Qumran materials.  I highly recommend Edward Cook’s new dictionary and Muraokoa’s grammar, both of which are tailor made for these materials.  If you are not quite ready to commit to the expense of a full grammar, I still find Cook’s essay “The Aramaic of the Dead Sea Scrolls” a great rough-and-ready guide. 
High quality and reliable tagged transcriptions are available in the Qumran module of Accordance Bible Software. I almost always have a browser open alongside these to the recently launched Leon Levy Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library, which is the perfect complement since it puts you in touch with high-resolution images of almost the entire Aramaic corpus. Of course, when you need the feel of print pages, the Discoveries in the Judaean Desert editions do an exceptional job of opening the door to the texts, language, and topics of the these materials. Just look for the university library shelf in the BM.487 range that is lined with large green hardcover books and you’re in the right place.
Interviewer Brian W. Davidson is an Old Testament PhD student at Southern Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. His research interests primarily have to do with Hebrew, Aramaic, & Greek grammar, textual criticism, and the textual history of the Old Testament. @brianwdavidson http://brianwdavidson.com
 Nahman Avigad and Yigael Yadin, A Genesis Apocryphon: A Scroll from the Wilderness of Judaea (Jerusalem: Magness, 1956).
 Émile Puech, Qumrân Grotte 4.XXII: Textes araméens, première partie: 4Q529–549 (DJD XXXI; Oxford: Clarendon, 2001); idem, Qumrân Grotte 4.XXVII: Textes araméens, deuxième partie: 4Q550–4Q575a, 4Q580–4Q587 (DJD XXXVII; Oxford: Clarendon, 2009).
 Loren T. Stuckenbruck, The Book of Giants from Qumran: Texts, Translation, and Commentary (TSAJ 63; Tübingen: Mohr [Siebeck], 1997); Daniel A. Machiela, The Dead Sea Genesis Apocryphon: A New Text and Translation with Introduction and Special Treatment of Columns 13–17 (STDJ 79; Leiden: Brill, 2009); J. T. Milik, The Books of Enoch: Aramaic Fragments from Qumrân Cave 4 (Oxford: Clarendon, 1976).
 Florentino García Martínez, Qumran and Apocalyptic: Studies on the Aramaic Texts from Qumran (STDJ 9; Leiden: Brill, 1992).
 Katell Berthelot and Daniel Stökl Ben Ezra, eds., Aramaica Qumranica: Proceedings of the Conference on the Aramaic Texts from Qumran in Aix-en-Provence 30 June–2 July, 2008 (STDJ 94; Leiden: Brill, 2010).
 Joseph A. Fitzmyer, “The Phases of the Aramaic Language,” in The Semitic Background of the New Testament: A Wandering Aramean: Collected Aramaic Essays (2 vols.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), 2:57–84.
 Takamitsu Muraoka, A Grammar of Qumran Aramaic (ANESSup 38; Leuven: Peeters, 2011).
 Andreas Schuele, An Introduction to Biblical Aramaic (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2012).
 Ursula Schattner-Rieser, Textes aramêens de la Mer morte. Édition bilingue, vocalisée et commentée (Eangues et cultures anciennes, 5; Éditions Safran: Bruxelles, 2005).
 and Edward Cook, A Dictionary of Qumran Aramaic (Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 2015).; Muraoka, A Grammar of Qumran Aramaic.
 Edward M. Cook, “The Aramaic of the Dead Sea Scrolls,” in The Dead Sea Scrolls after Fifty Years: A Comprehensive Assessment (eds. Peter W. Flint and James C. VanderKam with the assistance of Andrea E. Alvarez; 2 vols.; Leiden: Brill, 1998–1999), 1:359–78.