Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Shockwaves Blast Qumran Consensus

Anything related to the Dead Sea Scrolls seems to be an instant winner with the media. There is a high level of public interest in the topic coupled with an even higher level of public ignorance, perpetuated primarily by over-the-top media attention.
A brief sampling of quotes and headlines from the recent media explosion about Rachel Elior's theory on the Essenes illustrates the point.
London Times:
"Now a new theory challenging the broadly accepted history is sending shockwaves through the archaeological community"
Arutz Sheva:
"Scholar Blows Up Theory on Dead Sea Scrolls Authors."
Time Magazine:
Elior's claim "has shaken the bedrock of biblical scholarship"
Those very shockwaves, of course, have left all scholars interested in Qumran scrambling to reassess the evidence. Well, not really. Elior might be the first to claim the Essenes never really existed, but her argument about Sadducean origins for the scrolls has been around for a long long time. Solomon Schechter's publication of the Damascus Document from the Cairo Genizah was titled "Fragment of a Zadokite Work" in 1910, long before the rest of the sectarian scrolls were discovered.
John Hobbins has a short response to my earlier post, invoking the authority of Jodi Magness who consistently defends the consensus against all skeptics. The shockwaves will certainly leave her archaeological conclusions untouched. I have the utmost respect for her work. I have a copy of her book, The Archaeology of Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls. (I also had the pleasure of hearing her presentation at SBL in Boston in the panel reviewing Hanan Eshel's The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Hasmonean State.)
However, I'm uncertain of archaeology's ability to disprove certain arguments since the conclusions of archaeology seem similarly open to question. Nothing is certain. The fact that pottery from the site of Qumran and pottery in the caves are "the same types of pottery" is not prima facie evidence for a connection between the site, the place of composition of the scrolls, and the physical residence of the sect. Also, the claim that "the alternative theories create more problems than they solve" seems to involve special pleading - that is, an appeal to abandon the discussion because it makes things more complicated.
John has also pointed out that the "scriptorium" idea has only been "called into question . . . but not disproven." Of course, that depends on whether one accepts a couple of inkwells and no parchment as evidence that writing might have been carried on there. For my part, I can't get around the paleographic evidence that the scrolls represent hundreds of different hands with only a couple of duplicates. (That is, each hand wrote one scroll. I believe there are 1-2 examples of the same hand writing two scrolls.)
Another one of the problems with DSS scholarship is that it requires scholars to dabble in secondary fields - archaeologists shouldn't be handling text any more than text scholars should be handling archaeology. The Dead Sea Scrolls also attract scholars from a wide range of peripheral fields. Rachel Elior, for example, is an expert on Jewish mysticism (requiring expertise primarily in medieval and early modern texts). Norman Golb is primarily an expert in the medieval Jewish manuscripts of the Cairo Genizah (albeit one with a deep and abiding interest in the DSS).
So, we have a problem. The experts on Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls are too close to the consensus to question it. They assume it and can't imagine the world without it. Some of the skeptics who challenge the consensus are often hampered by credibility issues, so others who would challenge the prevailing wisdom must be careful to distance themselves from their sensationalized critiques.
Once again, I feel compelled to point out that I use DSS scholarship from both sides of the "aisle" (so to speak). I have books by Collins, Vanderkam, Magness, Wise, Golb, and others. I just enjoy poking at consensus positions to see if I can find a few holes.
HT: AHP, Paleojudaica


  1. Hi Doug,

    Your willingness to subject the consensus viewpoint to a rigid scrutiny is without a doubt a sign of intellectual seriousness. I commend you for it.

    It is however, worth pointing out that it is the opinion of a "consensus" scholar of the caliber of Emanuel Tov that "many of the biblical scrolls were apparently brought from other places in ancient Israel . . . it appears that Qumran was inhabited by Essenes (possibly identical with the Boethusians mentioned in rabbinic literature) whose halakhic practice may have derived from the that of the Sadducees, as suggested by an analysis of 4QMMT (see Sussmannn*). . . It is . . . very important to clarify the place of origin of the texts found in Qumran. Some were apparently written in Qumran, while others were brought there from the outside. (Emanuel Tov, Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible, 2nd ed., Minneapolis: Fortress, 2001) 102).

    In a series of articles, Tov has proposed "criteria for distinguishing between these two groups [Qumranic as opposed to extra-Qumranic provenance] referring to orthography, morphology, and scribal practice" (103; for details, see 107-111, op.cit.).

    If you are aware of a scholar who has challenged the results of Tov's careful research in the area of Qumran vs. non-Qumran scribal practice, please reference it.

    In my view, the main reason that the consensus viewpoint continues to stand the test of time is that, as research in the field metabolizes new information and subjects old data to renewed scrutiny, the consensus viewpoint is discovered to have more going for it than was previously known, rather than the other way around.

  2. John, thanks for reminding me of Tov's work. It's been a while since I was immersed in that source material (though a renewed deluge is coming soon with prelims looming).

    I knew that some holding to the consensus had adapted their views to incorporate some of that type of data. When Vanderkam and Eugene Ulrich were here at UW a couple of years ago, their versions of the consensus hypothesis were much more highly nuanced.

    But is the consensus really standing the test of time if it is simply broadened in scope to account for contrary evidence?

    At the end of the day, it still seems to me that we have to make a leap of logic, accept that juxtaposition and proximity create a connection, and assume the sectarian scrolls are linked in some way to the site of Qumran.

    I whole-heartedly agree with Tov's distinguishing between Qumranic and extra-Qumranic scrolls (or better Yachad/non-Yachad?). I've just found the a priori association with Essenes to be an unnecessary assumption that has possibly been a road block to finding better answers to the question of DSS origins.

    It just seems awfully convenient that a few Dominican monks excavated Qumran the first time and determined the site was a . . . monastery (!?). De Vaux didn't even think the site of Qumran was relevant for the Scrolls at first, but then they got stuck on the monastery idea.

    So to answer your question, I do not have any challenge to your data from Tov. I agree (by and large) with Tov's approach to DSS research and think that the field moved ahead by leaps and bounds once he was in charge of the official team.

    My assumptions about the consensus may also be based on older formulations of the hypothesis (from the stuff on our MA and PhD reading lists from the early '90s), so while I know that important scholars have nuanced their positions, I'm not as well versed on their current arguments.

    On the other hand, the quotes you've mentioned on your blog from the very recent New Interpreter's Bible Dictionary sounded very much like the same-old consensus.

    Thanks, though, for bringing the Tov quote to my attention. I need to re-read that book for my exams anyway.

    Too often Qumran research raises the red flags of logical fallacy and I can't help but spotlight that. I prefer arguments based on evidence (like what you've mentioned) rather than pre-suppositions and assumptions.

  3. Hi Doug,

    Once again, I think it's excellent that you question consensus viewpoints, especially those which for some reason are no longer considered working hypotheses, but have hardened into dogma. Some of what is treated as eternal verity in biblical studies is certainly wrong. We just don't know which "some." This is in the nature of the game. Furthermore, we are always working with far less data than we would like.

    No one should doubt that there were Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes in late Second Temple Judaism. But it is very hard to fit the scattered pieces of the puzzle in our possession into any kind of convincing pattern. We pretty much have to, nonetheless, in order to think through the conflicts of the period. As you say, leaps of logic are necessarily involved.

  4. John,

    After re-reading the introduction to Wise, Abegg, and Cook's DSS translation (2nd ed. 2005), it appears that the Essene hypothesis had "hardened into dogma" for many. I've pulled Jodi Magness's book from the shelf, too, and hope to look it over more soon.

    I agree that Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes were all around in the Second Temple Period, but I think dividing Second Temple Judaism into those 3 boxes minimizes the diversity of the time. Think of the wide variety today of Christian denominations, each with sub-categories, fringe movements, and hybrid movements sharing elements of one or more of the major groups (think Reformed Baptist for example).

    My point is just that using the label "Essene" at all with the Qumran sect begs the question.

    (And I'm pretty sure I'm using the phrase correctly - I hope so since it's one of Chris Heard's pet peeves.Higgaion)

    Thanks for your willingness to engage thoughtfully with controversial topics.

  5. Doug,

    You say:

    "I agree that Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes were all around in the Second Temple Period, but I think dividing Second Temple Judaism into those 3 boxes minimizes the diversity of the time."

    Absolutely! This a point I stress in my JQR article on 2 Baruch.

    For still another kind of Judaism, it's instructive to take a look at the Hellenistic Synagogal Prayers isolated a century ago and taken up again by Fiensy.

    Or just look at the Jewish traditions that 1 Peter, 2 Peter, and Jude depend on (including Enoch): this cannot be chalked up, sic et simpliciter, to Essene origins. It is far more likely that a variety of Judaism treasured Enochic literature (of whatever parameters), including those Jews who became Christians and were decisive in the formation of Ethiopian Christianity at origin (thus its wider canon).

    Or think for a moment about the kinds of Judaism 1-4 Maccabees, Tobit, Joseph and Asenath, Wisdom of Solomon, and the Psalms of Solomon reflect.

    The list goes on and on.

  6. Dear John Hobbins

    I have hard and concrete evidence can I draw your attention to Paleography of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Qumran itself.

    Do you know Frank M. Cross who is expert on Paleography of Dead Sea Scrolls.

    Do you know about different script of Text:

    Study of Second Temple Period

    Archaic 250-150 BCE
    Hasmonaean 150-50 BCE
    Herodian 50-70 CE

    I agree that were 3 groups of Jewish Groups but in Josephus mentioned there was 4 Groups in Jewish Groups the one that is missing is Boethusians the founder was Simon son of Boethus who married to Cleopatra 8th.

    Can you date the Book Ben Sirach Ch 50?

    In this blog up top said for a long long time. Solomon Schechter's publication of the Damascus Document from the Cairo Genizah was titled "Fragment of a Zadokite Work" in 1910, long before the rest of the sectarian scrolls were discovered. I disputed this date should be earlier than 1910 the real answer is 1896.

    Can you date the Book of The Damascus Document?

  7. John Stuart, your comment illustrates you've missed the subjectivity element in scholarly interpretation and have accepted interpretation as concrete and hard evidence. We are all well aware of Frank Moore Cross and his paleographic paradigm for dating the DSS. There are no hard facts - only disputed interpretations of archaeology, paleography, and texts. Also whether Schechter originally published in 1910 or 1896 is beside the point. The discoveries were made in 1896. The "Fragment of a Zadokite Work" was not published until 1910.

  8. Dear Doug

    Can i point out that the discoveries of Fragment of a Zadokite Work this document was a reform movement within the priesthood of Sadducean heritage after they had established their new covenant at Damascus this book was written in 18 and 8 BC during the rule of Herod the Great

    Pere Frey holds one vital piece in the history of Essene party that these reformers left Damascus in 176 BC because of the strong invectives against the Hasmonean priesthood and the Maccabean color given to new party's messianic hopes.

  9. Dear Doug

    I have heard Lawrence H Schiffman on lecture about Hebrew and Jewish Studies.

    It started with a find of manuscripts in 1897 when Solomon Shechter find a manuscript about " Fragment of a Zadokite Work known as Damascus Document was not published by 1911.

    In 1947 the shepherd boy was Muhammad ed Dib throw a stone in the cave when he come in there was pottery smashed and there was the scrolls.

  10. John Stuart, I don't quite understand why you continue to post elementary, well-known facts about the Dead Sea Scrolls as if it's new information to me or the readers of my blog. I have many books on the Scrolls. I have heard numerous lectures from scholars like Jodi Magness, Michael Wise, James Vanderkam, and Eugene Ulrich. I have read several of Schiffman's books. I have taken graduate level courses on the Scrolls. This post and ensuing discussion focused on whether or not Rachel Elior's novel hypothesis really changed anything in DSS scholarship. Every introduction to the Dead Sea Scrolls that I've read retells the story of the Bedouin shepherd boy who threw a stone into a cave and heard a crash. So you may safely assume that what you learned from Schiffman's lecture is NOT new information that you need to bring to my attention. If you have something more relevant to Rachel Elior's challenge to the Essene hypothesis, I'm open to hearing about it.

  11. Dear Doug

    I am against to Rachel Elior and challenge to the Essene Hypothesis this is the statement is false this is the New Interpretations.

    Can I start on Jodi Magness she said in the Archaeological Diggings Magazine where she concludes that the originally Qumran was called Secacah is mentioned in Joshua 15:61.

    In Roland devaux report on Qumran he belives that Essenes, an ascetic cult which i bring into debate.

    There are so many writers on this are

    Martin Larson
    Edmand Wilson
    John M Allegro
    Robert Eisenmann
    Lawrence Schiffman
    M Burrows
    Geza Vermes

    These men who research into Essene history as well as their religious doctrines.

    The Essenes were a separatist group, part of which formed an ascetic monastic community that retreated to the Zadokite Exile in Wildernees.

    The Chasids are the Essenes.

  12. Dear Doug

    I have the information on "sons of Zadok" is a family of Kohanim the family of King David chief priests Zadok the first Kohen Gadol is a title of High Priest.

    The connection with Sadducees is that disciples of Simeon the Just and Antigonus of Sokho was Zadok and Boethus

    the descendants and followers of the; Davidians, Zadokim (sons of Zadok, Sadducees), Hasmoneans (HaSimeon the Zadok/ Just) Maccabees, and Karaites.

    The sons of The High Priests of Zadok, known as Zadokim (Sadducees) stood before God for over 1000 years. Of which the Hasmonean Dynasty ruled for 450 years (from 371BCE, Simeon the Zadok/ Just), of which the Maccabees ruled for 245 years (from 153BCE, Simeon Maccabeus). And God continues to honor His covenant with Zadok today.

    Honoring King David and The House of Zadok
    Zadok, Hebrew, meaning; “righteous or just.” Zadokim are the sons of Zadok.

    Zadok was the first Anointed High Priest of The First Temple. The lineage of Zadok begins in King David’s era, when King David sins and The House of Zadok continues to honor God’s anointed, King David. Because of The High Priest Zadok obedience to King David, God commanded; “only the House of Zadok will stand before Me.”

    There was a lineage of Zadoki as High Priests from Zadok until the murder of Mattathias Ben Theophilus 66CE just before the fall of the second Temple in 70CE.