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orion A Reasonable Picture

The discussion over the last week or so (capped by Sigrid Peterson''s
translation) is developing a picture of the area along the shore of the Dead
Sea from En Gedi to at least Qumran that seems much more realistic than the
idea of a monastic sect isolated at Qumran.  The picture gives vitality to the
area.  It implies political utility - separaton from the Roman influences and
a special relationship with Herod.  It includes economic viability which seems
to imply a complex economic system with artisans engaged in the production of
glass slabs, sale of slabs to glass blowers to make into bottles, cultivation
of balsam trees, reduction of balsam sap to ointments and purfumes, sale of
bottled products, cultivation of date palms and probable sale throughout the
area, collection and distilation of minerals from the Dead Sea and the related
means of transport including roads, boats, and animals to carry products - and
many others that I'm sure I have overlooked.  I seem to recall that
glassmaking was practiced well before the Romans and even had some religious
significance.  Moreover, the picture being filled out reasonably includes
Qumran as the possible site of a central synagogue facilitating or
coordinating religious, political and economic activity along the western
shore  of the Dead Sea, doesn't it?

Qumran could serve as a place for ritual bathing, reading scripture,
discussion, prayer, communal meeting on holy days, a treasury, an archive
(library?), and perhaps a place of refuge.  It could play a part similar to
the one described by David Suter in his recent post.  In this scenario, Qumran
need not be looked at as a place where a single sect was in total control.
Perhaps, it was more like the temple where several sects with similar - but
not identical - views could come together.  It might also account for a large
number of burials?  It could also explain why the Romans would feel compelled
to destroy the site in about 68 C.E. - i.e., we are not going to have any more
temples or quasi temples!  Maybe those tables that are the wrong height were
stacked with scrolls or scroll jars.

One thing about this which is interesting to me is that it does not seem to
have much to do with some early Christian motifs.  Where John baptised in the
Jordon (i.e., no structure here - no cisterns, aqueducts, or ritual baths),
those at Qumran had all sorts or manufactured structure.  Where the multitude
was fed in the open, those had Qumran arguably ate communally in a dining
"hall" etc.  I'm not sure what that adds except that it seems interesting.

Mark Dunn