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orion Where were "they"?
I have been reading "Scripture and Other Artifacts, Essays on the Bible and
Archaeology in Honor of Philip J. King" which is edited by M. Coogan, J.C.
Exum, and L. Stager, Westminister John Knox Press (1994). This book has
several interesting essays one entitled "Khirbet Qumran Revisited" by Philip
R. Davies; "A New Climatic and Archaeological View of the Early Bible
Traditions" by James A. Sauer; and "The Eastern Border of the Kingdom of Judah
in Its Last Days" by Ephraim Stern. I am particularly interested in the
discussions of the area between Jericho and En Gedi at various periods.
In discussing Lawrence Stager's reexamination of material compiled by Cross
and Milik, Stern quotes Stager: " In the 7th century B.C. Judah incorporated
the 'desert province' (Josh 15:61-62) into its eastern frontier. This gave
Jerusalem access to minerals in an around the Dead Sea (salt, sulfur, and
bitumen being the most important) and control over date-palm plantations first
developed along the western littoral in the 7th century BCE. These
plantations extended from Khirbet Qumran in the north to En Gedi in the South.
"To secure these economic advantages, Judah had to keep the Buqeah route from
becoming the 'haunt of robbers.' For these reasons, a string of three
paramilitary outposts - Khirbet Abu Tabaq, Khirbet es-Samrah, and Khirbet el-
Maqari- with outliners and nearby desert farms was established in the Baqeah
wasteland in the 7th century B.C."
Stern concludes that the overall picutre is that the entire area "from Jericho
to En-gedi . . . [was] populated according to a careful plan with a dense
line of settlements, agricultural estates,and fortresses, in an area that had
been previously completely unihabited. All these new sites were presumably
based on the cultivation of perfume-producing plants, especially balsam. Date
palm plantations were probably also developed and minerals extratcted from the
Davies compares and contrasts five sites excavated along the western Dead Sea
shore that were occupied during the Roman period: Qumran, in Feshkha, Ain el
Ghuweir, En-gedi, and Ain Boqeq. Among other things, he concludes that all
these sites were occupied during the Roman period" and suggests there is a
pattern typical for this area of successive occupations. He posits that all,
including Qumran, show clear evidence of industrial use which was very
probably connected with perfume manufacture. Davies also concludes that there
are "sufficient similarities to justify our approaching the site of Khirbet
Qumran in the context of western Dead Sea shore settlements, and in particular
the economic basis of this region generally. . . ."
Considering these articles and other comments on Orion, is it reasonable to
assume that when Pliny was discussing Essenes along the west side of the Dead
Sea he was not intending to discuss a specific site such as Qumran but,
rather, an area extending generally from Jericho to En Gedi and including
Qumran? This would provide an area large enough to accommodate 4,000 or so
members of a sect and, perhaps, permit Qumran to serve as a sort of regional
meeting place where members could periodically visit - like visiting the
temple for others. If the Essenes enjoyed the general largess of Herod (which
seems probable to me) then their presence in the entire area from En Gedi to
Jericho would satisfy a political purpose for Herod. Stability along the
western shore of the Dead Sea would be a symbiotic matter for the sect and
Herod. This could also explain why it was reasonably "safe" for scrolls to be
stashed near Qumran but why the sect would not necessarily want the presence
of some scrolls - such as the Temple Scroll - at Qumran to be known to Herod.
The production of scrolls at Qumran would be an excellent "cover" for a
library of other scrolls.