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orion JP article on DSS Congress

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Through the kindness of Ms. Heather Chait (editor, Foreign Service) of
the Jerusalem Post, I am able to post the following article which
appeared in the Fri. July 25, 1997, edition. We hope to put it on the
Orion site (http://orion.mscc.huji.ac.il) in the near future.

Avital Pinnick 
list moderator


> Putting the pieces together
> By Abraham Rabinovich
> --------------------------------------------------------
>     They were such a delicious mystery, those scrolls that
> emerged from the caves of Qumran 50 years ago with Hebrew
> and Aramaic script legible enough after 2,000 years to be
> read by a schoolboy. After half a century of research by an
> ever-growing rank of scholars, the initial mystery has not
> been resolved. It has, in fact, deepened.
>     In Jerusalem this week, the largest congress on the
> Dead Sea Scrolls ever held confirmed that we have learned
> much from those intriguing documents about the development
> of Judaism and the shaping of Christianity, but know less
> today about who wrote the scrolls and what went on at
> Qumran than we thought we knew when the scrolls first came
> to light. There was no uncertainty among the scholars
> themselves; it was the sharply conflicting nature of their
> certainties  the inability to come to anything approaching
> a consensus  that left the layman more puzzled than ever.
>     Like an archeological Barbie doll, the ruins of Qumran
> were dressed by successive speakers as an isolated
> religious retreat, a busy trading post and port, a desert
> fortress, a wealthy manor house, a quarantine station. Some
> believed that many or most of the scrolls had been composed
> or copied at Qumran. Others maintained that all were
> brought from elsewhere. Estimates of Qumran's population
> ranged from 50 or less to 150 or more. Some maintained that
> most of Qumran's inhabitants lived in tents and caves.
> Others, on the same evidence, dismissed that notion out of
> hand. One estimate placed the founding of the Qumran
> community 50 years earlier than the accepted date. Another
> placed it 100 years later. For the first time, the year of
> Qumran's demise, heretofore a rare point of agreement, was
> challenged.
>     It had all seemed so clear at the beginning. The
> thesis set forth by the excavator of Qumran, Roland de
> Vaux, was that the building complex was a monastery of the
> Essenes, an ascetic Jewish sect, who wrote the scrolls over
> the course of some 200 years and hid them in the
> surrounding caves at the approach of the Roman army in 68
> CE. There was convincing historical and archeological
> evidence for this scenario and it was, for a while,
> universally accepted.
>     Over the years, however, new scenarios have been
> advanced by other scholars. What follows, in quasi-dialogue
> form, are some of the contending views offered during the
> week-long congress: Yizhar Hirschfeld of the Hebrew
> University: "It seems likely that Qumran was a fortified
> manor house from which the lord or his representative
> oversaw the adjacent lands." King Herod had distributed
> estates to relatives and friends and a number of manor
> houses strikingly similar to Qumran have been excavated in
> Judea. He himself has excavated one near Caesarea. The
> Essenes? They may have lived on the fringe of the manor
> house and provided cheap labor.
>     Magen Broshi, former curator of the Dead Sea Scrolls
> at the Israel Museum and a supporter of Pere de Vaux's
> mainstream scenario:  "Manor house? In such a godforsaken
> place? Nothing grows there." Hirschfeld: "Not so. There
> were date palms, expensive balsam, asphalt from the Dead
> Sea."
>     Joseph Patrich of the University of Haifa, who has
> surveyed the caves of the Judean Desert: "The suggestion by
> Broshi and Hanan Eshel, who excavated outside the Qumran
> ruins in 1996, that most of the population lived around a
> motherhouse in tents and caves is unsubstantiated by their
> finds. Permanent tent encampments in the desert leave clear
> signs detectable even after millennia, like cleared areas
> and circles of stones to hold the tents.
>     "There are no such signs at Qumran. The potsherds they
> found were probably left by shepherds. As for the caves,
> there is no sign they were used as permanent habitations.
> Their walls were not plastered to reduce dust or furnished
> with cisterns and other amenities as were the cave
> hermitages inhabited by Byzantine monks elsewhere in the
> Judean Desert.
>     Why should a community with a well-built center let
> most of its members live for more than a century in humble
> huts and fragile tents that befit nomadic societies, rather
> than in solid dwellings?"
>     However, while agreeing with Hirschfeld that the
> residents of Qumran all lived inside the walled structure 
> both reckoned that they numbered no more than 50  Patrich
> agreed with Broshi and Eshel on the central point that
> Qumran housed a religious sect.
>     According to Broshi, the caves, cool in summer and
> warm in winter, were the ideal solution to the cruel
> climate at Qumran. Within the compound, there were only 80
> square meters of living space (after storage facilities,
> industrial installations and other features are
> discounted). This would leave room for no more than 12
> people at best. What would we be able to make of Qumran if
> only a dozen people lived there? Devorah Dimant of the
> University of Haifa: "There are few today who will contest
> the conclusion that the [scrolls] belonged to the
> inhabitants of the Qumran settlement. Firm factual evidence
> ties the caves to the site, namely similar jars in both
> places and the physical proximity of the caves to the
> building. Like most scholars, I subscribe to the view that
> the Qumran site was settled by a community of Essenes, or a
> similar group."
>     Norman Golb, University of Chicago, leading advocate
> of the school which denies any connection between Qumran
> and the Essenes or between the building and the scrolls in
> the nearby caves: "No hard evidence has ever been
> discovered [in the Qumran building complex] which might
> organically link the activities of its inhabitants with the
> scrolls found in the caves. No parchments, no bona-fide
> tables, no writing instruments of scribes have ever been
> found." Hirschfeld: "The similarity between the distinctive
> jars found at Qumran and those housing scrolls in the caves
> can be attributed to the owner of the manor making jars
> available to the outsiders who placed the scrolls in the
> caves."
>     Jodi Magness of Tufts University: "It is false to
> deduce that the absence of scrolls in the building means
> that it was unconnected to the scrolls in the caves. There
> were two large fires in the Qumran complex which would have
> destroyed any scrolls there, one at the time of its
> abandonment. The presence of ritual baths attests to
> Qumran's sectarian [that is, associated with a religious
> sect] nature."
>     Ronnie Reich of the Israel Antiquities Authority: "The
> unusually large number of water facilities at Qumran were
> indeed ritual baths [mikvaot], at least 10 of them, and not
> cisterns or ordinary baths as many have contended."
>     Golb: "At least 500 different handwritings are
> detectable in the 800 texts at Qumran." This large number
> of scribes supports his contention that the scrolls' origin
> was in the libraries of Jerusalem, including the Temple
> library, rather than in this small desert outpost. "The
> Jews of the capital would have gone to considerable lengths
> to hide away the treasures of the city, including the
> scrolls kept in its libraries, prior to the tightening of
> the Roman siege." Prof. Emanuel Tov, editor-in-chief of the
> Dead Sea Scrolls publication, states that a sizable
> minority of the Qumran scrolls, at least 130, are from a
> distinct scribal school which can be ascribed to Qumran.
>     Golb: "The site was a military fortress on a strategic
> position overlooking the northern half of the Dead Sea. The
> defenders succumbed to the Roman invaders. Arrowheads were
> found and other signs of battle. The bodies in the adjacent
> graveyard, with it 1,100 graves, are neatly buried in rows
> as in a military cemetery."
>     Rahel Hachlili of Haifa University: "Dead warriors
> would have been buried in a mass grave, not individually as
> at Qumran. The carefully dug and thoughtfully arranged
> graves would seem to rule out Golb's argument that there
> was a mass burial after a battle. The burial customs at
> Qumran are fundamentally different from those practiced by
> normative Judaism and reflect a distinctive community.
> Instead of burying the dead in family tombs as in Jerusalem
> and elsewhere, individual burial was carried out. The
> remains of women and children were found in fringe burial
> areas but the 53 bodies exhumed in the main cemetery were
> all of males. [Some Essene groups lived as celibates.] The
> finds at the cemetery reinforce the thesis that the Qumran
> community was a separate Jewish sect."
>     Prof. Alan Crown, University of Sydney, Australia:
> "The identification of Qumran as an Essene center stems in
> large part from Pliny the Elder, the first-century CE
> historian who wrote that the town of Ein Gedi was situated
> 'below' where the Essenes lived. This has been interpreted
> as meaning 'to the south of' and Ein Gedi is south of
> Qumran. But in Pliny's writings he uses cardinal points
> like north and south to indicate direction, not 'below.' In
> using that word, Pliny meant that the Essene settlement was
> at a higher altitude than Ein Gedi, not north of it.
>     "Qumran was not an isolated retreat for a religious
> sect but a busy trading node. The level of the Dead Sea was
> higher then and there was probably a wharf at Qumran to
> serve trading craft known to have plied the waters. "Wheat
> and sheep from the rich estates of Moab and Edom to the
> east would have been shipped across the waters as well as
> frankincense and myrrh required in the Qumran region for
> blending with balsam, herbs and anointing oil in the
> production of the cosmetics and medicaments for which the
> region was famous."
>     The site would also have served as a quarantine
> station for those travelers suspected of having come down
> with plague. The large cemetery was filled by those who did
> not recover."
>     Ya'acov Meshorer, numismatist, of the Israel Museum:
> "The dating of Qumran's demise to 68 CE because of the
> absence there of coins from the Jewish revolt after that
> date is misleading. Two coins struck in 72/3 were found at
> the site, presumably left by Roman troops who had conquered
> Jerusalem in 70. But the coins found on Masada are from
> exactly the same years as at Qumran and we know that Masada
> fell only in 73 CE. We are under the impression that Qumran
> reached its end at the same time Masada did."
>     If Meshorer's interpretation is accepted, it would
> place a new light on the Copper Scroll which gives the
> locations  never yet determined  of hidden treasure,
> presumed by some to be the treasures of the temple. Many
> scholars have dismissed this scroll as fantasy, in part
> because it was believed that Qumran fell two years before
> Jerusalem was besieged and that the scroll would presumably
> not have been taken out of Jerusalem yet.
>     Meshorer's new reading will permit treasure hunters to
> take up their divining rods with renewed enthusiasm. Other
> scholars, however, express serious doubt that the Romans
> would not have taken Qumran on their way to Jerusalem.
>     Apart from the debate on the Qumran site, more than
> 100 lectures were delivered on the scroll contents which
> continue to offer up brilliant light on the formative
> centuries of rabbinic Judaism and early Christianity even
> as their authors remain hidden in the shadows whispering
> secrets as yet unheard.
> (c) Jerusalem Post 1997