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Summary Schiffman lecture

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To all Orion readers:

A number of subscribers to the discussion group have requested that we post a
summary of Prof. Schiffman's lecture at the Israel Museum.  I am happy to
comply now with this request.

Dr. Esther Chazon
Orion Center
Hebrew University

Professor Lawrence H. Schiffman, New York University
Who Wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls and Why? [in Hebrew]
Lecture at the Israel Museum, Dec. 26, 1995
Sponsored by the Orion Center and the Israel Museum

Schiffman's lecture was the first in a series of lectures open to the general
public and was, therefore, broad in scope and content.  He discussed the
history of the Judean desert discoveries, the caves and the site (library and
communal quarters), the life style of the community and the question of the
group's identity.  The slides were most helpful in illustrating these issues.

Schiffman nuanced the question of "Who Wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls?" by
reminding the audience that only about one third of the scrolls were actually
authored by this sect while the rest (biblical and apocryphal works) were
brought to Qumran by the sect but actually composed by different authors in
different periods.  New insights as well as salient points on the identity of
the sect are summarized below.  (A full Hebrew text of the lecture will be
published first on the Orion web site and later in a Hebrew book of studies
on the Dead Sea Scrolls.)

Regarding the archaeological excavations and their recent interpretations,
Schiffman dispelled the fortress theory while admitting that the earliest
main area may have been standing when the sect arrived (and perhaps was
originally a villa).  The question of a scriptorium or benched room remains
open.  Schiffman reiterated the figure of 400 people living on the site
(based on the size of the assembly hall and number of dishes in the pantry).
The ritual baths indicate the sect observed purity laws.Schiffman argued that
the skeletons of women and children in the excavated graves as well as the
halachic (legal) material argue against celibacy (and Essene identity unless
there were different kinds of Essenes as Josephus suggested).  The two
types of tefillin suggest members came from more than one stream of Judaism.

Schiffman emphasized again the Sadducean basis of the halachic system
reflected in the scrolls (especially the halachic letter MMT).  Any serious
proposal for the identity of the sect must take account of this Sadducean
halacha as well as the similarity between the communal life of the Qumran
sect and that of the Essenes.  Schiffman refined the issue further by asking:
How similar is this sect to the Essenes,on the one hand, and to what
extent was there Sadducean influence, on the other hand? He suggested two
plausible theories of origin and identity - a Sadducean splinter group, or
perhaps an Essene group witha Sadducean roots. Schiffman ruled out Christian
origin but rather argued that the scrolls further illuminate the Jewish roots
of Christianity.