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Date of Deposit of the DSS
Ian Hutchesson's post of Jan 9, 1997 presenting
an argument for a 63 BCE date for deposit of
the texts at Qumran is extremely important, and on
the issue of the date, I think correct. 4QMishC with
its several referents all datable within a
several-year period up to 64 BCE, and the absence of
texts one might expect to find in a post-64 BCE
deposit (such as any reference to Pompey's conquest
or Roman rule), gives a powerful _prima facie_
internal argument for a 63 BCE terminus, which is
also the end of the dominance of the Sadducees,
whose texts, at the late end, by an implication of
this argument, these were.
Instead of the Qumran texts representing continuous
scribal activity over some 200 years or so, I believe
we would more fruitfully think in terms of an analogy
with an archaeological destruction layer: the greatest
bulk of pottery clusters at the late end, with a few
from earlier. By this analogy, one might think of
perhaps 80 to 90 percent of the Qumran texts coming
from the late end, i.e. the last generation up to
63 BCE, with a few texts from earlier from points in
the 2nd BCE. The radiocarbon evidence that now exists
may represent scatter reflecting effectively a single
date (in archaeological terms), with a few dates of
texts from earlier.
Radiocarbon tests are like shotgun blasts. Some are
going to hit and some are going to miss by a little.
The correct method is to fire many shotgun blasts,
look for patterns, and throw out uncorroborated
The question of the 68 CE date as too late was
on my mind when I arranged for linen wrapping from
Cave 4 to be carbon-tested at Tucson in the recent
battery of AMS tests done there. The Tucson lab
reported a date of 160-41 BCE for this linen wrapping.
I believe this may be one of the shotgun blasts
that correctly reflects the deposit date.
Ian's proposal is a simple argument and a powerful one,
and it has come to the Qumran field (as seems only fitting
in the cosmic scheme of things) from a non-insider.
The details of how a 63 BCE date happened or worked out
can be argued. But there is now a more heuristically
powerful interpretive proposal than the 68 CE date.
What is at issue is an overthrow of the perception
of these texts as marginalized instead of the
literature of an earlier mainstream . . . before
there was a canon . . . before there were Philo's
Essenes . . . before many things.
I think Ian Hutchesson has indeed hit upon the date:
it was not c. 68 CE, but over a century earlier:
c. 63 BCE. Now let's get many more texts into the
accelerators and see what can be learned on the basis
of sufficient, real, evidence.