THE QUMRAN (DEAD SEA) SCROLLS

By   Professor Alan D. Crown, University of Sydney

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What are the Scrolls?


SCROLLS, or rather we should say written documents and fragments of documents, have been turning up in a wide area in the drier parts of the lower Jordan valley in Israel across a span of some eighty miles.

Sites where finds have been made include not only the caves at the place called Qumran where the original finds were made in 1947 (the caves are numbered 1-11 when scrolls are being described) but also the adjacent Wadi Murabaat and the Nahal (stream) Hever.

These latter places were explored in I95l and 1952 after the spread of rumours of extensive new finds of manuscripts. Yigal Yadin and a group of Hebrew University scholars surveyed the caves which had already been looted by Bedouin and made some surprising finds. The survivors of Bar Cochba's army had hidden in these caves when fleeing the Romans 135 CE and in what became known as the Cave of the Letters a number of letters of the survivors were found and even some letters of Bar Cochba himself.

In clearing the caves in the Nahal Hever a fragment of the book of Psalms was found, and it was clear that it had recently been torn from its parent document by the Bedouin looters. The parent text has never turned up and is one of the reasons why scholars argue that there are yet many new documents to turn up, apart from what is known but unpublished.

In a second season in the Cave of the Letters Hebrew University scholars found more fragments and among these a fragment of the Book of Numbers, recently torn. Its parent scroll has also never turned up. At the back of the Cave was a pile of collapsed boulders and a brief investigation showed a skeleton under the boulders wearing a robe and girdle of first century type. The boulders have never been moved and scholars have argued recently that there is probably a more extensive cave behind that should be opened and investigated now that facilities are available for a more extensive probe than was possible in the fifties.

Even recent expeditions have turned up new finds of written materials. Other finds sometimes classified as Dead Sea Scrolls are the scrolls found during the excavation of Massada, the Papyrii found at the Wadi Daliyeh north of Jericho and left there in about 330 BC when the troops of Alexander the Great smoked out some rebellious Samaritans.

Thus the so-called Dead Sea Scrolls are drawn from a fairly large area of territory and span about a millennium in time because the Wadi Murabaat materials date into the Moslem period, that is to the seventh century of the Christian era.

The name Qumran scrolls is preferred by some scholars but it is a misnomer when applied to all of this material. The name Qumran scrolls should be strictly reserved for the finds in caves near the place known today as Khirbet (Ruin of) Qumran on the western shore of the Dead Sea.

In Biblical days, this was the fortress town called "the City of Salt' or 'Ir Hamelah' but it fell into ruin. The place was re-occupied from c.108 BC to 68 AD, the period to which the Qumran scrolls properly so-called, belong. What the place was known as then, is a matter of speculation.

The volume of material found in caves all over this area is not a phenomenon peculiar to the twentieth century. The cache found in 1947 was only the latest in a long series of similar discoveries. The third century Church father, Origen reported that he used ancient bible scrolls found in caves near Jericho (hence, the Dead Sea) for his famous Biblical edition, the Hexapla. A Nestorian chronicler recorded that scrolls had been taken from the same vicinity in the ninth century.

In the nineteenth century the well-known German forger of antiquities, Herman Shapira, produced a scroll of Deuteronomy, written in the old Palaeo-Hebrew script (which virtually went out of use in the sixth century BC and was reintroduced in the fourth century BC) which he claimed came from a cave near the eastern shore of the Dead Sea. At that time it was pronounced a forgery and was lost or burned, but our contemporary scholars would like to recover it in the light of the survival of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Certainly surviving photographs of the Shapira scroll) which has a romantic, if tragic relationship with the University of Sydney) make it look remarkably like the palaeo-Hebrew material from Qumran which has just been published in DJD ix, (Discoveries in the Judaean Desert, volume IX, Oxford University Press, 1993) the most recent volumes in the official DJD series.

The finds have spawned a vast literature ranging from the truly scholarly to the wildly visionary, almost lunatic, millenarian studies. Especially important for Bible studies have been the theories that have been built up on the transmission of the Hebrew text of the Old Testament on the basis of the variant texts found at Qumran.


Who Lived at Qumran?


We are talking now about the Qumran scrolls per se, for we know who wrote the Daliyeh scrolls and we known who wrote the letters from the Cave of the letters. The Dominican friars of the Ecole Biblique in Jerusalem, who excavated the ruins near the caves, declared, (and in this they were under the influence of Professor Sukenik of the Hebrew University who must share the responsibility for the conclusion) that the scrolls were Essene documents.

They went on to claim that members of the sect (who describe themselves in the documents as the yahad or unified community), had lived in the "monastery" of Qumran and these Essene sectaries wrote the scrolls while in residence in their "monastery'.

Artefacts excavated from the ruins were identified (wrongly) as writing tables, although ancient scribes did not write at writing tables and these particular items have now been identified as benches.

Water tanks and cisterns were claimed to be ritual bathing tanks, in which the "monks" bathed several times each day as well as using them as water sources.

The belief of Sukenik and the excavators that the Essenes lived in an isolated community near the Dead Sea was one of the reasons for the identification of Qumran as an Essene foundation. This information was drawn from Pliny, whereas Philo and Josephus stated that the Essenes lived in villages scattered throughout Judaea. This latter information coincides with the suggestion in the Damascus Document that whoever wrote it lived in camps.

Admittedly, Pliny spoke of Essenes as living on the western shores of the Dead Sea and Qumran indeed, is on the Western shore; but that information was accompanied by the detail that the Essenes lived above Engeddi away from the coastline of the sea. Discussion has ranged over whether the word 'above' should be taken to mean 'north of', and whether it is probable that two sectarian groups could live within a twenty mile distance of each other. The consensus of opinion is that two different groups could not live in close proximity when they were seeking the solitude of a semi desert situation as a refuge from the bustle of urban life.

[This conclusion quite ignores the fact that in the Holy land it was quite common for differing groups to share one location where but a few miles separated them.]

This view is the conceit of a generation which relies on the petrol engine as its motive power. If a car or coach cannot reach a place, it is isolated. In the period when Qumran was in its heyday, that is in the first century BC, - lst century AD, it was not isolated. There was a Roman road past the site and it was the wharf region for trade across the Dead Sea. Admittedly the mosaic map of Madaba is three centuries younger than Qumran but it shows boats on the Dead Sea and recent finds have confirmed that Roman boats sailed that sea.

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LOSS OF SWEET REASON

A PROUD people acquire a habit of resistance to foreign oppression and by the time they have driven out their oppressors they have forgotten that agreement is a pleasure and that a society which has attained tranquility will be able to pursue many delightful ends. There they continue to wrangle, finding abundant material in the odds and ends of injustices that are left over from the period of tyranny and need to be tidied up in one way or another' Such politics are a leak in the community' Generous passion' pure art' abstract thought, run through it and are lost' There remain only the obstinate solids which cannot be dissolved by argument or love' the rubble of hate and prejudice and malice, which are of no price' The process is never absolute, since in all lands some people are born with the inherent sweetness which closes that leak' but it can exist to a degree that alarms by the threat of privation affecting all the most essential goods of life.

- Rebecca West, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon

Fifteen miles away was the priestly haven of Jericho and all along this part of the Jordan Valley there was substantial industrial and agricultural activity in perfume manufacture, salt refining in salt pans, salt mining of rock salt and of course the hospitality industry for traders from the south who used the Dead Sea shipment route in their trading. The place was alive with travellers. Even in the nineteenth century it was still easily accessible by horse or donkey and was visited by many scholarly pilgrims who identified Qumran or Goumran as it was then known, with the Biblical town of Gemorrah of ill fame.

The search for the proper name of the site known today as Qumran is not just a matter of scholarly curiosity for names can convey historical or other information. There is a well-known situation in the Middle East of old place names persisting to the present day despite the changing times, if there was some natural or geographical or industrial feature connected with the site.

This happens because the Semitic languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, Arabic and then Hebrew again) which succeeded each other, allowed names to be transmitted in an almost unchanged form. Since the name Ir Hamelach or City of Salt is not known after the close of the Tanach (i.e. the Old Testament) we have to find an alternative name. Some scholars identify it with the town called Sekhakha in the Copper Scroll which, if correct would tie the site directly to one of the scrolls, but the evidence is thin to say the least.

In some of the contemporary atlases of Israel the place is known by the name Mesad Hahasidim, i.e. the fortress of the Hasidim, taking up a name which appears in letter 45 from the Bar Kochba material.

Mesad Hahasidim, is the way the site is now identified in the most recent editions of the map of Roman Palestine by Avi-Yonah and in the work of the current crop of Israel historical geographers.

If the identification is correct and could be proved, it would be of considerable significance for it would indicate that Qumran was occupied by Hasidim at least during the Bar Kochba rebellion, and that the site was a stronghold at this time.

The Hassidim were a group that has sometimes been confused with the Essenes, and about which a considerable amount is known in Rabbinic literature (whereas nothing is known about the Essenes from this source).

It would make considerable sense and harmonise with ancient sources if some of the literature that is regarded as Essene literature were in fact from the Pen of the Hassidim.

It may also be that the name Qumran preserves an ancient form, like Qmr or gmr which could have the meaning of 'to perfume'. This would imply that Qumran was an ancient perfume manufactory preparing fragrances for the womenfolk of Jerusalem and perhaps oils (of the type found in one of the caves) for the temple in Jerusalem.

In fairness one should add that the word, gamar also means to ruin and the name Qumran could be a name attached to a ruined site just as the place name Ai (which also had the meaning of ruin) was attached to a ruined site in earlier centuries.


Are there any problems with the view that
the Essenes lived at Qumran and wrote the scrolls?


The theory of the Essene origins of these texts has been and remains, the prevailing hypothesis.

At the beginning of the study of the scrolls only a few voices were raised in caution - the most conservative view, that the cache was a mediaeval forgery, was disproved and the rest of the cautions were set aside as being equally erroneous. There have been few challengers of the view that these are Essene writings and they have not been taken seriously until the last few years.

The textual finds seemed to support the view that these were Essenes. They were mostly of known works in Hebrew and Aramaic - copies and portions of copies of sacred scriptures (only Esther is not found there), some a little deviant from what we regard as the norm, but there were a good few works hitherto unknown.

In Josephus' discussion of the Essenes and in the Panarium of the Church Father, Hegesipus, we are told that the Essenes had many books of their own (though in truth Hegesipus said that the Essenes were a sect of the Samaritans) and the finds seemed to substantiate some of the views about the Essenes expressed by the early historians and Church Fathers.

To support the hypothesis of Essene origins of the scrolls scholars have drawn certain conclusions which they use to bolster their arguments. When we re-examine some conclusions in the light of current information they look to be shonky and almost fraudulent.

It is often stated as a categorical fact that the people who occupied Qumran were a celibate sect, matching the information of the early historian, Pliny. Yet according to the work published by Yadin, known as the Temple Scroll the Qumranis did not admit anyone to prayer who had just had sexual intercourse. What sort of celibacy is it that allows sexual activity?

Even the key Qumran document, the Manual of Discipline, speaks of marriage. In none of the Qumran literature is there any mention of celibacy and the lack of such a mention must cast doubt on the identification of the sect as Essenian.

In the graveyard at Qumran there were several female skeletons, so the place could hardly have been the main home of a celibate sect. The archaeologists did not complete the excavation of the cemetery, possibly because the finds were at variance with their notions of what Qumran represented.

It is worth noting what one of the principal translators of the scrolls, Geza Vermes, says, about this particular matter:

'There has been much speculation as to whether the sectaries were married or celibate. On the face of it, it would seem that marriage was the general custom (our italics) since the Damascus Rule, the Messianic Rule and the War Rule make open reference to married members and none of the Qumran writings allude to celibacy (our italics) as such. In addition archaeologists working in the large cemetery at Qumran have uncovered on the fringes of the graveyard (ed. comment, which is about all that was dug of the cemetery) a few female and child skeletons."

We do not know if the Qumranians were a single sect, the yahad of their documents, or whether their number included a group of priests, or soldiers guarding an important gateway to Jerusalem.

Even if it could be established that they were one group there are arguments for and against the identification with the Essenes. The best arguments are that Essene practices as relayed to us in the descriptions of Josephus and Philo do not accord with what we can see in the record at Qumran, both written and archaeological. There are too many differences in points of detail and even of generality for the Qumranians to be the same people described in Josephus as Essenes. When speaking of Qumran and the people of Qumran I am inclined to adopt the approach of Talmon who uses the Qumranians self description, the Yahad, thus steering clear of the prevailing identification with the Essenes.

In general it should be said that the cautions uttered by G.R. Driver, a quarter of a century ago in his seminal The Judaean Scrolls, have to be remembered. The Essenes and the Yahad clearly have a relationship with each other. But that relationship is shared in one way or another with just about every other Jewish group of the day and to some extent with early Christianity.

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BRANDY, LEMONADE AND ICE-BUTTER

While the Italians were the first to use the term liquoi to describe the brandies being drunk at table, when that beverage ceased only being drunk as a medicine, it was really the French who popularised liqueurs especially after the marriage of Henry II when Duke of Orleans, to Catherine de Medici in 1531. This brought large numbers of Italians to France in the entourage of the Italian queen, and French cuisine was born from Italian cucina. The Italians also taught the French how to prepare liqueurs. Sometime between 1630 and 1633 Lemonade was invented as a liqueur of which the juice of lemons or oranges was the principle component. This liqueur soon became popular, not just as a cool drink in summer but as a medicine recommended by physicians. Around 1660, an Italian Limonadier, Procope Couteaux, from Florence, got the idea of converting the liqueur into ice. His example was followed by Le Feve and Foi, and the three monopolised the now fashionable glaces or ice. By 1676 it was mainly the glace that was sold by the Limonadier. In 1774 iced butter appears, taking its name from the taste which was similar to butter. Does any reader know whether iced cream (the ancestor of our ice-cream) appeared on the scene around this same time?

The Jewish sects were not alien to each other. All evolved from a common heritage and they were bound by a belief in the Law, that is the Torah, and the practices that depended from that belief.

Numerous small points of similarity between sects cannot be counted as proof of identity if there are also points of difference. The differences must outweigh the similarities for that is all that divided one Jewish 'opinion' - heresy - from another. Pharisees, Sadducees, Samaritans, Hassidim, Zadokites, Therapeuts, Dositheans and Ascetics all had some traditions and practices in common.

Because of their common heritage, it was not these that were truly significant but the factors that mattered were the differences that gave them their identity.

In this context there are so many small differences between the Essenes and the Yahad that we cannot dismiss them as insignificant and focus on the parallels, but consider them to be of the greatest significance as pointing to separate identities.

Scholars are gradually becoming much more cautious about what we can say about Qumran.

First, there is no doubt that the archaeology of the site was botched. The excavators were too anxious to make the finds fit their preconceived conclusions but have now acknowledged their basic mistakes - the date the site was occupied has been lowered to match the coin finds, to between about 1O6 BC-75 BC, that is during the reign of the Hasmonaean Jewish king, Alexander Yannai. The capture of Qumran by the Romans has been dated to 68 AD, two years before the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of its temple.

Second, conclusions about the size of the water system being related to Essene purity must now be regarded as unsure. Qumran is in a region of low rainfall reliability and a good deal of effort was expended on securing and storing water to the maximum capacity.

An aqueduct was built to funnel the scarce rainfall down to Qumran from the plateau behind. It was a very long aqueduct which must have taken considerable knowledge to design and a large labour force to build. Its existence raises questions about the ownership of the land that it crossed and the right to harness water resources, hardly a role for a 'private' group like a sect.

Storage tanks often had steps leading down to them for cleaning and access as the water level fell, and runoff cisterns had sedimentation tanks in which settlement of silt took place so a large system is called for just for drinking and irrigation.

The water system should not be seen as an elaborate series of baths from which one hundred or so persons both drank and in which they also bathed several times a day but a storage system which did have a couple of ritual baths attached for the normal Jewish ritual bathing of the time.

Third, there is considerable doubt as to whether the scrolls were directly connected with the site and whether they were written there. The close chronological correspondence between the archaeology of the site and the age of the youngest of the scrolls was taken to indicate a link between settlement occupants and scrolls.

Yet this link has been challenged with increasing frequency for the reasons stated here. Scholars are considerably more reticent about whether the inhabitants were Essenes or whether they were Sadducean priests, some sort of specialised farmers of even soldiers.

Some archaeologists view Qumran as one defensive fortress in a chain built to protect Jerusalem. The evidence shows that when it fell to the Romans it was strongly defended. despite statements in the sources that the Essenes tried never to handle weapons. As a result it is no longer so clear that one can rely on data from all the scrolls to describe the life of the occupants of Qumran.

The "Rules of Conduct" (Megillat Haserakhim) which are claimed to be the rules of the Essene sect are not uniform. There are several contradictory 'manuals', namely the Rule of the Community or the Manual of Discipline, the Rule of the Congregation and the Rule of Benedictions. The three separate components have been joined by an editor or a scribe into one manuscript, but it is clear that the material they contain is neither a unity or harmonious. There are inner contradictions in the information they provide. It is as if the rules of conduct of different sects or societies have come together in one place, and scholars, assuming that the sect is one, are trying the impossible task of rationalising the differences. As L.H. Schiffman put it in his "Messianic Figures and Ideas in the Qumran Scrolls" [1992] ... "this study should again caution us against seeing the materials found in the Qumran Caves as a monolithic corpus, the elements of which may be harmonised with one another at will."

It is interesting to look at some of the discussions of the version of the Damascus Document that was discovered in the Cairo Geniza (the storehouse of Jewish documents from Mediaeval Cairo).

In attempting to identify the authorship of this document the full gamut of ancient sectaries was considered and it was agreed that one sect that could not have been responsible for its composition was the Essene sect.

On the other hand exactly the opposite conclusion was reached on the same evidence when identifying the scroll version found at the Dead Sea.

One can only suggest that for two diametrically opposite results to develop from the same sources there must be a high degree of subjectivity, hence, unreliability, in any conclusions able to be drawn from the evidence.

Norman Golb, the American opponent of the Essene/Qumran hypothesis is beginning to attract a considerable following. He argues that the scrolls were so widely scattered that they could hardly have been written in the one place. He also notes that where we have caches of documents stored locally for safekeeping they generally include title deeds to property - there are several such caches but not in the Qumran caves.

Golb argues that the documents were placed in caves at Qumran because the place was a Geniza. Documents which contained God's name could not be destroyed when they were worn out or no longer needed, and had to be buried or stored away in a Genizah (= hiding place). Golb argues that the dry caves were filled with scrolls that had been brought from nearby Jerusalem for storage, both when they were taken out of circulation, or for safekeeping, when the Roman armies drew near to Jerusalem,

He notes that none of the Qumran scrolls show signs of being the archetype, i.e. first written copy of a document, but all show signs of being second or later copies. This supports his view that they were not written at Qumran.

The copper scroll which listed large caches of treasure, seems to have been hidden away to guide survivors from the impending onslaught to where the temple treasures had been hidden from the Romans. If that is so then the temple authorities would scarcely have put this key to their sacred temple treasures into the hands of a dissident group which wanted to see the temple purged of priestly influence.

Not all the scrolls are of the same age. Some seem to be significantly older than others. Some are works that the Rabbis declared unfit to read. Since the recent discoveries of very early Bible material in an excavation in Jerusalem scholars have tended to be more conservative about the date of the Pentateuch. Many are coming to accept that texts of the scriptures written in the discarded Palaeo-Hebrew script would have been withdrawn and put away in a Genizah. Thus, the palaeo-Hebrew scrolls from Qumran may well have been taken out of circulation for quite a while.


Can we actually date the Scrolls


The normal way to date a document is by comparing its writing (palaeography) and materials (codicology) with other documents, until writing styles and material structures current at any given time can be matched up.

Palaeography is not of much help in dating the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The problem is not the nature of the script - all scripts, including cursive scripts respond to palaeographical treatment - the problem is that palaeography depends on an adequate supply of dated or dateable scripts for comparison. There are not enough comparable dated or dateable documents to work with, and all former palaeographic conclusions have to be set aside.

Scholars tended to make assumptions based on what they believed about the Essene origins of the scrolls not on the basis of the evidence before them.

Thus, the palaeographer, David Dringer argued that on the evidence of the script of the palaeo-Hebrew scrolls he would have to date them to the third century BC but because of the Essene connection he brought their age down by at least a century and a half. He would not trust his own judgement and experience.

Now that dated deeds are available from nearby sites such as Massada it will be possible !o put a more precise date on the scrolls than hitherto. However, we know enough to support the idea that they were not written in the brief time that Qumran was occupied. Many have the appearance of being very old at the time that the Qumran settlement was (re)born. We cannot use the artefacts found at Qumran to date the writing of the scrolls: they indicate only when some items were deposited there.


From "ANNALS AUSTRALASIA"   October 1993

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