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orion-list "Scroll jars": inappropriate term
I would like to offer minor corrections to a post of Joe Zias
on "scroll jars". From Zias on 15 Dec: "Once again I have to
set the record straight :-) Cave 1 contained 8 jars, three of
which held manuscripts."
Those numbers may have been in the first excited newspaper
reports in 1947, but the numbers proved quite elastic as the
reporting continued. Cave 1 was estimated by excavators to
have the remains of over fifty jars (as reported in DJD 1).
And in the end Muhammed ed-Dhib, one of the two Bedouin
discoverers of Cave 1, claimed to have seen only one jar in
Cave 1 with scrolls inside it (quoted, RQ 3 : 488);
this jar, said ed-Dhib, was markedly shorter than all the others.
(The excavators did discover a piece of decomposed scroll
stuck to a broken neck of a jar. This was widely interpreted as
confirming that more scrolls were deposited inside jars. While
this is plausible, is this a certain conclusion? Are there truly
no other reasonable, conceivable explanations for how a
decomposed piece of parchment might be found in modern
times stuck to a potsherd?) Zias:
"Therefore, for the record there is a direct association
between some of the caves and the scrolls."
Presumably what is meant is "jars and scrolls". The total
number of jars around Qumran containing scrolls found by
archaeologists is: none. The total number of jars in caves
around Qumran which have been asserted from testimony
of non-archaeologists--testimony probably no less reliable
than any other testimony of two non-archaeologists with
something to sell--to have been found containing scrolls
Zias: "can we not assume that these are scroll jars and not
The opinion of de Vaux was that most of the huge number of jars
of the kind commonly called "scroll jars" held food of some kind,
not water or scrolls (DJD III , p. 35 ["ces jarres . . . ont servi
normalement, a garder des provisions"]; this is de Vaux's
correction of his earlier opinion that most of the jars had held
scrolls.) Muhammed ed-Dhib himself reported seeing "reddish"
seeds in numerous otherwise-empty, non-scroll-bearing, intact
(before he smashed them) jars in Cave 1 (ed-Dhib, quoted at
RQ 3 : 488). A storage jar of the same type (i.e. a "scroll"
jar [sic]) with food in it was reported found at the site of Qumran,
in a Revue de Biblique notice around 1966 [I do not have the
exact RB reference] (that jar was never published).
It is not clear why the term "scroll jars" (a term never used by
de Vaux himself) has retained such staying power. There may
indeed have been multiple jars holding Qumran scrolls, but there
is no hard evidence undergirding this widespread assumption--
however reasonable this assumption may be as a conjecture.
And if multiple jars in Qumran-area caves did hold scrolls, it
would be only a fraction of the use of these jars, which were
found in numerous caves around Qumran without any trace
of scrolls (full report in DJD 3). These jars' "normal" function
was food storage, pure and simple; or so de Vaux concluded,
on what prima facie seem to be good grounds. Minimally, the
term "scroll jar" should be limited to types of jars securely
identified, through findings in controlled excavations, as having
been used for scroll deposits--which is to say, the term "scroll
jar" as a term of archaeological description seems inappropriate
and probably should be abandoned. In this way the Qumran
field might catch up to de Vaux 1962.
P.O. Box 132
Safety Harbor, FL 34695
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