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orion-list 63 BCE deposit date theory
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If I were a gambler, I would bet that a quarter century from now one
of the single most important breakthrough ideas in this decade in
Qumran studies will be identified as having first been expressed in
a post from Ian Hutchesson to Orion of c. January 9, 1997.
In that post Ian argued for a c. 63 BCE deposit date of all of the
Scrolls at Qumran (instead of the c. 68 CE virtually unanimous
current view). Hutchesson cited me for having proposed a deposit
date in the 1st century BCE, but I had not seriously considered
earlier than the start of the Herodian period prior to Hutchesson's post.
Obviously, the dating of the Qumran cave deposits with precision is
extraordinarily difficult. (There is, e.g. no external literary or ancient
historian's testimony of the deposit process or its date, nor do the
Qumran texts themselves describe and date their own deposits in the
caves. Therefore it is analysis of a number of key indirect, and
imprecise, indicators that is at issue.)
Hutchesson's post was a flash of brilliance that struck me with
a pang when I read it summarized by the thought: it is such a good
idea--why hadn't I thought of that myself? As longtime readers of Orion
might recall, I endorsed the theory on Orion as being a good one which I
personally thought was likely to be correct. However I subsequently
backed off, noting on Orion a key perceived objection to a deposit date
as early as c. 63 BCE: five radiocarbon Qumran text dates (out of 19
total Qumran texts dated) appear to require on radiocarbon grounds
dates no earlier than about 50-45 BCE. I noted that although there was
a known possibility of a slight regional offset in Scrolls radiocarbon dates
between the calibration curve (measured in Seattle
and Belfast) and the Middle East, that the best scientific estimate of
the magnitude of such a systematic offset in the northern hemisphere
was c. 10 years, less that what would conceivably close the gap
between the radiocarbon dates and the 63 BCE proposal. Therefore,
I stated in so many words (paraphrased): interesting idea on other
grounds, but looks like its falsified on radiocarbon grounds.
At the end of my radiocarbon article in the Flint/Vanderkam volume
(vol. I, Brill 1998), I raised the issue of evidence for the existence of
any 1st century CE Qumran text copies in the caves at Qumran,
and proposed that the late end of all Qumran texts was somewhere
in the 1st century BCE. But I did not propose a date for the late
end within the 1st century BCE more precisely than that.
Those who may have some interest in this issue might be interested
in learning that in the Intcal 98 Calibration issue of _Radiocarbon_
(vol. 40, 1998, pp. 1045-1046) is new data relevant to this issue.
Whereas the former published estimate of magnitude
of possible regional offset was based on theoretical model predictions
(of atmospheric circulation) the issue was of great interest
to researchers and a number of studies were done in the interim. Now,
the estimate of possible regional offset has hard empirical data from
at least half a dozen studies (reported in _Radiocarbon_). The
possible magnitude of systematic regional offset in the northern
hemisphere appears to be somewhat greater than formerly estimated.
The various studies gave these results for attested systematic northern
hemisphere regional variation (plus and minus is relative to Seattle):
Seattle-Santa Catalina Mountains, Arizona . . . c. -21 years
Seattle-Mackenzie River Valley, Canada . . . . . c. +22
Seattle-England . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . c. +16
Seattle-Russia (high latitude) . . . . . . . . . . . . . c. -26
Seattle-Russia (high latitude) . . . . . . . . . . . . . c. +2
Seattle-Kodiac Island, Alaska . . . . . . . . . . . . . c. +14
Based on these studies the authors of the article conclude that the former
estimate of c. 10 years maximum regional offset variation (for the northern
hemisphere) was underestimated. As I see it, the extent of possible
regional offset in the northern hemisphere is sufficient to remove what I
regarded as a radiocarbon falsification of the 63 BCE deposit date.
However, there is no known study or reliable data on regional offset for the
Middle East yet. If data
in the future were to show either no offset or an offset in the opposite
direction, then I believe 63 BCE would be falsified on radiocarbon grounds.
The question is answerable, but at present unanswered. If and when a
study does seriously address the issue of regional offset in the Middle
will the data falsify--or show agreement with--the predicted direction of
offset required by a 63 BCE theory? We won't know until we know . . .
Another item that was raised in those discussions long ago was the
attestation of the name Aemilius Scaurus in 4QMishC, the name of
the Roman governor of Syria of 62 BCE. But this does not attest
a text after 63 BCE since Aemilius Scaurus is attested as present
and active in Judea prior to 63 BCE, and even though unattested,
highly likely to have been involved in Pompey's sweep south prior
to Pompey's final assault on the temple in Jerusalem. Since Scaurus
is on both sides of the 63 BCE Pompey divide, the Qumran textual
attestation is therefore unclear as to pre- or post-63 BCE. And there
are no other Qumran texts which securely establish any post-63 BCE
historical references or allusions. The known references in Qumran
texts seem to go up _to_ 63 BCE, then turn off (in terms of known,
secure dateable attestations) like a water spigot.
It will be interesting in the years ahead to see how the issues and
evidence resolve on this matter of the deposit date.
U. of Copenhagen
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