Introduction: The Dead Sea Scrolls in the Popular Imagination

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Popular interest in the Dead Sea Scrolls is a phenomenon that many readers of this journal will have experienced first-hand. In settings ranging from public lectures to casual conversation, mention of the scrolls meets with a surprising level of enthusiasm. But popular scrolls enthusiasts-like fans of the Shroud of Turin, kabbalah, or Mary Magdalene-often bring problematic preconceptions to their interest in the scrolls.

Engaging with the interested public therefore involves something more than the usual presentation of nuanced academic arguments. An immediate challenge is the problem of translation, which requires con veying scholarly debates, with all their layers, in a way that popular audiences will find comprehensible and compelling. Just as translators are sensitive to the subtleties of modern language in order to translate scrolls into the vernacular, so too should scholars understand popular culture in order to render academic discourse intelligible to a wider audience. A second challenge comes from the opposite direction: out landish theories that capture the popular imagination must be con tested by responsible readings of the evidence. At the same time, scholars should learn to do this without belittling the enthusiasm of audiences whose initial introduction to the scrolls might have come precisely through those popular forms. This also is a question of translation, however in this case the "text" is not dense academic argument but rather popular discourse itself. Scholars who learn about popular culture in its own right will be better able to understand how the wider audience renders the scrolls intelligible to itself.