Out of the Cave: The Possibility of a New Scriptural Past


Frederick Burkhardt Residential Fellowships for Recently Tenured Scholars


Religious Studies


For residence at the Huntington Library during academic year 2019-2020


“Out of the Cave” is a history of the very idea of textual discovery. The famous story about the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls by a Bedouin shepherd in a desert cave is not isolated. Its contours are basically true, but it stands in a tradition that dates to antiquity, spanning the boundary between premodern religious mythmaking and modern scholarship. Identifying the discovery narrative as a durable genre of historical and theological discourse—both in and about Jewish and Christian texts—this project illustrates how such stories are sites where basic problems of the historical and religious imagination are worked out. It reveals that tales of textual loss and recovery lie at the heart of how ancient and modern people understand the survival of the past and its incursions into the present, and asks what happens to tradition in light of belated discoveries of hidden knowledge—unknown scriptural pasts.