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Qumran Question and Reading back from Rabbinic Lit (fwd)

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Mon, 4 Mar 1996 15:02:14 EST
From: Paul V. M. Flesher <PFlesher@uwyo.edu>
To: Multiple recipients of list <ioudaios-l@lehigh.edu>
Subject: Qumran Question and Reading back from Rabbinic Lit

I'd like to give a methodological response to both questions. (And I will
preface my remarks by saying that I have not yet read the new work by
Neusner and Chilton.)

The question about Schiffman and the identification of Qumran as Essene or
Sadducee dovetails quite nicely with the question about the use of rabbinic
literature (RL) to talk about pre-rabbinic Judaism because Schiffman's case
depends on the use of RL. Essentially there are three methodological
approaches to using RL to talk about C1 or earlier periods: (1) It is
anachronistic and cannot be done, (2) RL contains the written version of
oral traditions from earlier time periods, (3) it is possible to trace in
certain written texts a continuum from earlier material (such as Qumran)
into later material (such as RL).

The first position is the most defensible from the standpoint of historical
methodology. Unfortunately, that then excludes a large body of information
from use in a field (C1) where there is a dearth of data.  The second
position is frequently cited and used. This is where one finds
practitioners of comparative midrash and so on.  However, when you press
scholars like Vermes, you discover that they are quite difficult to pin
down on the question of the "logical" basis for their methodology.  Many
other scholars who use this approach simply are not trained in historical
methodology and therefore don't care about its canons of reliable evidence
and so on.  The third position argues that if you can find an
interpretation or a legal position in an earlier period--such as 4QMMT in
the C1 bce--and it can then be found in a later document--such as RL--then
you can assume that it existed over the intervening time period in a fairly
unmodified form.  Schiffman uses this approach to argue that the ORIGINS of
the Qumran group was Sadducee (who later evolved into something unique).
In MMT Schiffman bases his argument on the series of legal rulings in which
the writer opposes his legal positions against those of an opponent.
Schiffman compares the opponents' views with mishnaic reports of debates
between Pharisees (not rabbis) and Sadducees.  He finds that the opponents'
views are the same as those of the Sadducees.  This is the main basis, as I
understand it, for his conclusion that the Qumran group began as Sadducees.
Of course, it is possible to debate this on a methodological basis by
arguing that there is no reason to think, without evidence, that ideas and
beliefs will remain the same over several centuries.


P.S. By the way, I had the 13 students in my DSS course write a paper on
whether they thought Qumran was Essene or Sadducee (after giving them
fairly balanced readings).  11 decided it was Essene, 1 agreed with
Schiffman, and 1 thought neither position was correct.

Paul V. M. Flesher
Religious Studies
University of Wyoming
Laramie, WY  82071-3353