[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

orion corrected Rabinovich article

The following is a corrected version of the article which appeared in the 
Jerusalem Post, courtesy of the author (permission to post on Orion granted).

Avital Pinnick
list moderator

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 ever growing ranks of
scholars, the initial mystery has not been resolved. It has, in fact,
	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 archaeological 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 convincingly 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 archaeological evidence for this scenario and it was, for
awhile, universally accepted.
	Over the years, however, new scenarios would be 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 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 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' mainstream scenario: "Manor house?
In such a god-forsaken place? Nothing grows there."
	Hirschfeld: Not so. There were date palms, expensive balsam,
asphalt from the Dead Sea.
	Joseph Patrich of the Univerity 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 millenia, 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
	"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.
	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 parchements, 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
(mikvot), 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: A sizeable 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.
	Rachel 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 thoe practiced by normative Judaism and
reflect a distinctive commuunity. 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
annointing 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.
	Yaakov Meshorer, numistmatist, 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 Massada 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 Massada
	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
besleged and that the scroll would presumably not have been taken out of
Jerusalem yet. Meshorer's new reading will permit tresure nunters to take
up their divining rods with renewed enthusiasm.
	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 still unheard.