Those Pottery Makers at Qumran

As is often the case, the publication of a book is accompanied by an article in a popular magazine and a summary in a newspaper article. Unfortunately, the New York Times doesn’t seek out mainstream scholars to get their take, and so from reading their article, you might conclude that scholars no longer believe that Essenes live at Qumran. That is just not so.

The book The Site of the Dead Sea Scrolls: Archaeological Interpretations and Debates, edited by Katharina Galor, Jean-baptiste Humbert, and Jurgen Zangenberg includes a chapter on which the articles are based.

The magazine article, Qumran – The Pottery Factory , is in the Sept/Oct edition of the Biblical Archaeology Review ($50 subscription to read online; much less to subscribe to the print edition).

That Qumran was not home to the Essenes has been suggested before, with theories that identify the site as everything from a Roman villa, military fortress, fortified farm, and now a pottery factory. To be sure, Magen and Peled are respected scholars who have excavated at Qumran. But their view is clearly in the minority. When you read a statement like this, “There is not an iota of evidence that it was a monastery,” red flags should be flying. That the majority of scholars would hold to a certain interpretation without one iota of evidence tells us more about the speaker than the theory. That the only outside scholar that the NYT quotes is Norman Golb should cause all the bells to be sounding. Anyone who has spent time in the area has to just bust out laughing when reading Magen’s idea that these caves are “the last spot they could hide the scrolls before descending to the shore” of the Dead Sea. I can just picture these guys running away from the Romans and just stopping by Cave 1 to drop off some scrolls! Oh wait, we need some jars for these – quick, run to the pottery factory and bring some back here! Those who have been to Cave 1 will understand the humor more; it’s not exactly “on the way” (Cave 2 even less so). The proximity of Caves 4, 5, 7, 8, 9, and 10 to the site is telling as well. They are all less than 50 meters from the inhabitation. The attempts to separate the scrolls from the site are an utter failure.

I certainly wouldn’t discourage anyone from reading the articles or the book about this theory. But here’s the problem: too often these minority theories get the sensational coverage and people read about them and, lacking any other knowledge, are taken in. Instead, they should be first directed to the theories which have long been held and tested. After reviewing the mountain of evidence that Qumran was an Essene settlement, then go and weigh it against the latest view.

There are a lot of good books on the subject, but one of the best is Jodi Magness, The Archaeology of Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls. Another advantage to this route: this book will cost you $13 instead of $147 for the one above.

There’s a video to go along with the NYT article here.

Side point: if scholars can’t agree on the function of a site in a relatively late period where there is lots of archaeological and historical evidence, how is it that they can be so certain about events much earlier in history for which almost no evidence has been preserved? The less evidence we have, the more certainty that scholars have.


44 thoughts on “Those Pottery Makers at Qumran

  1. I read the BAR article this morning. Magen asserts that ALL of the work done (besides his) at Qumran was done with a pre-determined decision about the use of the site. There are quite a few holes in his theory.
    1. If the scrolls were “dropped off” by fleeing Jerusalemites, as you point out, how were they so carefully placed and preserved in the caves? Magen asserts they may have been placed in the caves because that is where the refugees “camped.” Hmmm…some of those caves would take a fair ammount of planning and equipment to get to. Perhaps the refugees brought this equipment with them, as well as the jars and jar-sealing materials.
    2. As you say Todd, the caves, if I remember, are not on a road to Jerusalem.
    3. The editor points out that Magen doesn’t even address the large number of inkwells and writing utensils. Why would a “pottery factory” have so much of these?
    4. It seems his most important evidence of the clay collection system and the large ammount of coins found there is adequately explained as the way the Essenes supported themselves, not as the purpose of the site. Obviously whoever was there made lots of pottery, but the “mountain of evidence” that supports the Essene theory outweighs the argument for pottery being the main purpose of the site.

  2. I know this is off topic, but what is your view about the tunnel exploration at Hyrcania? The BAR article left me wishing I could come and help out! Very interesting they found an IBEX skeleton from 600-400 B.C., when they are dating the tunnel to Herod’s time…hmmm….
    I have to say this issue has been 1,000 times better than the previous 2. I still don’t understand the “Bible in the News” section. Are they choosing a phrase from the Bible, then searching news headlines that match? Why? Great articles on Qumran, Hyrcania and Ramat Rahel though!

  3. Psychobob – I haven’t seen the issue yet and probably won’t have time to read it for a week at least. I’m excited to see the Ramat Rahel article though, having been with Barkay on a tour of the site earlier this year.

  4. Sorry, but this is all nonsense. The BAR article you refer to was, of course, not written by Magen, but by Shanks, who is an amateur archaeology fan. If you want to do serious research on the topic, you would have to read Magen’s article in the Brown conference book. With respect to Magness’ book, which you recommend, see the review of it by Hutchesson, appropriately entitled “Fifty years of going nowhere”, and which states, inter alia: “there are… so many problems brought about by Magness’s apology for the Essenes [that] it prevents her… from giving a reasoned presentation of Qumran archaeology.” At any rate, the questions you raise have been dealt with at length by Golb and others. No, the caves are not on a “road to Jerusalem”, but neither are all of the hiding places listed in the Copper Scroll, which lists massive treasures that are in part identical with ones known from rabbinical sources to have belonged to the Temple — and which is therefore systematically ignored by all of the traditional “Essene” people, because their theory cannot be rationally reconciled with the presence of this fundamental historical document along with the other scrolls in one of these caves. All of these Essene claims are in fact based on shoddy research and misconceptions, but you cannot face up to the fact that the Copper Scroll is decisive and that there is no longer any consensus. Scientific theories do not rise or fall on the basis of votes or on how many people are willing to speak out, but on which of them best fits all of the available evidence.

  5. Charles – if your view is convincing, scholars will accept it. The reason they haven’t is that it is not. You can call it “nonsense” and “shoddy research” all that you want, but it is academic research that turns the tide, not antagonistic labels.

  6. Forgive my language, but I use the word “nonsense” quite literally: these objections to Magen (I mean his scholarly study in the book, not Shanks’ version of it) do not make sense. One has to seriously weigh the preponderance of the evidence, including above all the Copper Scroll, which is the single historical document found in the caves; the fact that the literary texts were copied by over 500 different scribes; and the lack of any archaeological or textual evidence linking the Scrolls with Qumran or with any single sect.
    More broadly, what you seem not to wish to recognize is that scholars (including, now, the officially appointed Israel Antiquities Authority team led by Magen and Peleg) HAVE accepted the Jerusalem theory. Another example is Rachel Elior, who chairs the Hebrew University’s Department of Jewish Thought. She gave a lecture on the topic at the Jewish Museum here in New York last year, and (on the basis of her own textual research as well as Magen, Hirschfeld and others) explained point-blank that the Scrolls came from Jerusalem. She recommended a single book, the one by Golb.
    Human nature being what it is, I don’t see how one can have any expectation whatsoever that traditional Qumranologists will do a volte-face and abandon the theory they have been basing their careers on. In this regard I am reminded of Rousseau’s famous statement: “There is not a single one of them who, if he came to know the true and the false, would not prefer the lie he has found to the truth discovered by another. Where is the philosopher who would not gladly deceive mankind for his own glory? Where is the one who in the secrecy of his heart sets himself any other goal than that of distinguishing himself?” Naturally, one can turn the statement against anyone depending on one’s point of view, but that is precisely the point.
    At any rate, a younger generation of scholars is in the process of turning the page. Scrolls scholarship is today deeply divided, the very questions being asked about them have radically changed because of Golb’s critique and the archaeological work of the past decade, and the ongoing efforts to defend the old theory by manipulating power structures and sources of information (biased museum exhibits, press campaigns containing false information such as the shoddy, yes, shoddy, claims that statements said to exist in, but in fact absent from, ancient apocalyptic texts somehow confirm the finding of an “Essene latrine”, etc.) will simply not work.
    Unless both groups of Scrolls scholars can get together and engage in open scientific discussion of the fascinating and creative work being done by Magen, Golb and others (instead of excluding them from conferences, systematically misrepresenting their views, and failing to confront the basic points they have raised, e.g. the Copper Scroll, 500 scribes, etc.), the current controversy will simply continue for years to come, and the old theory will eventually be abandoned as a blunder of science.
    Best, Charles

  7. Those who argue against an Essene association with Qumran seem to assume that Qumran is posited as the only site where Essenes lived. What about Jericho, and Jerusalem itself? And if the Essenes didn’t live at these places, where did they live? Was Josephus just making stuff up?

    As for the Copper Scroll, it could have been deposited separately. But even if it was deposited by the same people who deposited the other scrolls, why couldn’t they have been Essenes? If the whole world of Judaism was under seige by the Romans, why wouldn’t the Essenes side with the Pharisees rather than the Romans? War DOES change alliances.

    Come on, you scholars are supposed to be smart, so start asking more probing questions. As for the Golb camp, I have read enough to know that they ask some good question, but I have also read enough to know that they also refuse to answer some good questions. And the tone of their rhetoric is well designed to stifle good, honest debate. Ugly, so please stop it.

  8. Peter Kirkup apparently believes in what Golb has aptly termed the “pan-Essene” hypothesis: despite the detailed information about the Essenes transmitted in Josephus and elsewhere (the Essenes were a small, celibate, wealth-eschewing sect), coping with the grave flaws in the traditional sectarian theory of Scrolls origins means redefining this sect as absolutely enormous–stretching all over ancient Palestine, having huge manuscript libraries and probably a manuscript FACTORY, etc. (this without one shred of evidence of any sort that such a sect existed). The official Israel Antiquities team that investigated Qumran for ten seasons has concluded that–despite such castle-spinning–no sect of any sort lived there and the scrolls come from collections in Jerusalem. In other words, Golb has been right all along. As a Germany-based ancient historian, I would encourage you to do a rethink: the old paradigm has collapsed and non-“Qumranologists” in ancient history and classics have known it for years. Eventually, historians of science will define the discipline of “Qumranology” as a pseudo-discipline–their blunder about the Scrolls and subsequent efforts to cover it up through arguments such as the above, contorted and indeed sometimes mendacious readings of individual scrolls and so forth actually ranks as one of the great scholarly scandals of recent times. Actually read Golb’s book –or else just one of his articles in the “Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society,” the French historical journal “Le Monde,” the Cambridge History of Judaism, and so forth. Compare the quality of the reasoning in that material with the rubbish being churned out by Qumranology. Ask yourself if there are any coherent, rational responses to even ONE of the grave problems Golb has raised with the old theory, and whether there are any compelling refutations to his new one (now supported by the official team. Then just do a rethink.

  9. Wow! What an exercise in either/or thinking Morris engages in: either the Essenes were puny, or they were enormous. Although I am not a scholar in this field, I am an interested lay person who can use basic reasoning, and I expect “experts” to do the same. What little I know leads me to believe at this point that the Essenes, while not a large group, did require assistance from outside Qumran to subsist. For instance, a Jerusalem-made pottery shard was found at Qumran with an inscription identifying its contents as oil. Add to this the fact that one of the Qumran-like documents that came to light before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls was from Jerico, and we start to get the picture that Qumran may have had patrons from Jerusalem and Jerico.
    I find it telling that instead of addressing the points I made, Morris accuses me of making a ridiculous assumption that is totally unnecessary to my argument. So Morris, I respectfully request that you respond to my points and cut the unnecessary condesension because quite frankly it reflects badly on you.

  10. Contrary to what is often asserted or assumed, Golb is quite clear that a portion of the scrolls were indeed undoubtedly written by sectarians (or “brethren groups”), perhaps even by Essenes. He points out, however, that there is no reason to believe such groups did not live in Jerusalem (where there was, for example, a “Gate of the Essenes”). The basic reasons for rejecting the Qumran-Essene theory are (1) the “evidence” of sectarian inhabitation or production of scrolls at Qumran is unconvincing, and (2) there are over 500 scribal hands and all kinds of conflicting doctrines in the texts, the “sectarian” ones being outnumbered by the “mainstream” ones (Elior has identified a corpus of around 100 scrolls that she believes were clearly written by the Temple priests); all of this would appear to point towards a major urban center as the origin of the scrolls.

    The “scroll from Jericho” mentioned by Peter seems to be a mix-up on his part. As far as I known (correct me if I’m wrong) there is no “Jericho scroll”; rather, two medieval chronicles describe two separate discoveries of large quantities of scrolls in caves near Jericho. For Golb, this is another piece in the puzzle indicating that the scrolls found near Qumran were part of the larger process of hiding of books and precious artifacts described in the Copper Scroll; and he believes that this entire process is best explained in light of the siege and sacking of Jerusalem. There is of course no “hard-core” proof of this, but that’s often the way it is with the interpretation of scattered pieces of evidence from antiquity.

  11. I want to thank the last respondent for returning the debate to a rational and respectful basis. To continue:

    Just because the Essenes were opposed to the corruption of the Temple system does not mean that they did not consider themselves authentic Jews. As such they would be interested in all the books of the Bible (as it then existed). The revolutionary thing about the Dead Sea Scrolls is their association with the Septuagint, originally written in Greek, which includes books such as Jubilees and Enoch, which are not included in the Masoretic text (written in Hebrew) that survived in the tradition of Rabbinic Judaism after the destruction of the Temple. Before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls we knew little of the Septuagint, but now we know a lot, including the apparent association with the development of the Gospel of John (formerly considered the most “gnostic” or hellenistic of the gospels, but now considered the gospel most associated with the Essenes). On the other end of the Golb camp are those who interpret Jesus as an Essene. While this is a stretch, since Jesus’ beliefs were often different from the Essenes, there was likely an association between John the Baptist and the Essenes (probably broken since John the Baptist had his own followers)and there was obviously an association between John the Baptist and Jesus.

    My problem with the Golb camp is that they don’t take this research into consideration. What I liked about his book when I read it was his focus on the kinds of things that happen during war, and how things might have developed with the Roman seige and occupation of Jerusalem. But all scholars should be careful to avoid readings that are too narrow — people and groups change over time, and there are often differences within groups. Paul the Pharisee became a follower of Jesus’ message, Jesus the follower of John the Baptist shifted from John’s emphasis on repentance to an emphasis on forgiveness. And all people and groups have to deal with the limits of human nature, whether they practice purity or debauchery, or believe in immortality in one form or other. History also teaches us that war makes strange bedfellows.

    So again, I want to thank the last respondent, but I would look forward to the Golb camp answering some of my original points: If the Essenes did not settle at Qumran, where were they? Who provided assistance to the Qumran settlement, since it was agriculturally impossible for a settlement that size to subsist independently? If the Dead Sea Scrolls are a cache from a mainstream Jerusalem library, why are they so uniquely informative about the Septuagint when mainstream Judaism relied on the Masoretic text? Go to it!

  12. First, I think we need to be clear about what Golb says and does not say. He does not say that the scrolls are “a cache from a mainstream Jerusalem library.” Rather, he says they are the remains of multiple libraries. He also does not say they represent all of the Jewish literature of that period. He says the texts found in the caves near Qumran are only part of the much larger process described in the Copper Scroll. They give us a partial, but already richly variegated, view of the literature of the Jews of that time. This takes care of masoretic etc.; see also Golb’s recent review of the San Diego exhibit catalog, bottom of page 6 where he corrects the museum’s misrepresentation concerning the term masoretic–the link is http://oi.uchicago.edu/pdf/dss_review_sandiego_catalogue_2007.pdf

    No doubt partly because of these misrepresentations of Golb’s view, which I have seen in many places (even in books by scholars like Schiffman), proponents of the two theories or “camps” always seem to be speaking past one another. This is a sad comment on the effects of the policy of hostility and exclusion implemented by defenders of the Qumran-Essene theory in international conferences and museum exhibits where proponents of the Jerusalem theory are simply not invited. It has resulted in a situation where people cannot have a clear, scientific discussion of the issues, because the claims are presented in a second-hand, and hence necessarily distorted manner.

    There is another way in which we are speaking past one another. Golb does not ignore the research you refer to, but he believes it is based on faulty assumptions. The scrolls are virtually the only literature we have from that period. Depending on how one interprets the evidence pertaining to their origins, one’s view of their implications will change. Golb’s reasons for rejecting the Qumran-Essene theory are largely material. Pliny description of a group of Essenes near the Dead Sea specifically states that they are refugees from the war; he mentions that they are above Ein Gedi, which like Jerusalem is “now a heap of ashes.” He also says they are celibate. None of this fits with the archaeological evidence that Qumran was constructed as a military fortress and then also used as a commercial entrepot (see Hirschfeld’s book and the published scholarly reports by Magen and Peleg, not the BAR article which was written by Hershel Shanks). Qumran was part of a network of such sites in the Judaean wilderness, built in concentric circles around Jerusalem.

    The reason I insist on this, is because the two “camps” are really starting from different methodological positions. (For example, one of the principles at work in the “Golb” camp is that the theory which takes account of more of the evidence is the better one; for example, if one theory explains the Copper Scroll together with the other scrolls while the other theory has to weed out the Copper Scroll and create a special explanation for it, then the first theory will be preferred.) That is why it is urgent to bring them together in conferences, rather than continuing with this policy of hatred–the horrifying results of which, incidentally, can be seen in this article:


    Anyway, I’m in a rush right now, so I’m sorry if my response was not adequate to your interesting points.

  13. OK, not to quibble, libraries not library. But if the theory is that the scrolls came from many libraries, why should we expect that they all were from Jerusalem? Certainly anywhere wealth or resistance existed was in danger of Roman attack, so if there are scrolls from more than one source we shouldn’t assume they are all from one location, however major. So maybe the “sectarian” documents also come from Jerusalem, but along with the Copper Scroll? This gets confusing — no “sectarians” settled at Qumran near where uniquely “sectarian” scrolls are found, but “sectarians” in Jerusalem under the shadow of the Temple system and priesthood lineage they opposed. And their unique documents transported at high risk with other sacred texts central to mainstream Temple Judaism?
    A lot of the acrimony over Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls seems to come from the slowness of the research. With many of the scroll texts this seems to have involved possessiveness and dishonesty which has fortunately been corrected with digital public access. As for the archaeology of the site, my sense is that de Vaux has been slow not due to possessiveness or dishonesty but due to meticulousness.
    As to the site: anyplace with the vantage point of Qumran will have military value, either defensively against brigands, or offensively in a regional military situation. Just because a place gets used for military purposes does not mean that it was built for that purpose. By the same token, it was not uncommon in the ancient world for desert religious communities to inhabit the ruins of military outposts. Either can, and often does, happen.
    As for the scrolls, I am not convinced by the arguments that the scrolls are diverse because they come from many libraries and that we don’t know anything about their provenance because little to nothing that old is extant. Post-Temple Rabbinic Judaism, intellectual descendents of the Pharisees, copied and recopied texts that are consistent with the Masoretic corpus known as the Hebrew Bible. In contrast, many of the scrolls have distinctive features consistent with the Alexandrian Septuagint tradition. If the scrolls were from Jerusalem libraries reflecting mainstream Judaism, why were these distinctive features not passed down through Rabbinic Judaism? There is a lot more substantive research to support this view of the scroll texts than there is any real basis for the provenance of the Copper Scroll. Although I personally think it to be authentic, I have not heard of any successful finds of the treasures listed, and there is still the possibility that it was a hoax (yes, ancients did such things) or a diversion to put Romans or other pillagers off track. Personally I prefer the idea that the Copper Scrolls are coded and that after the destruction of the Temple the Essenes helped their deposed brethren to preserve what they could.

  14. I’m about to go to sleep, but remains of women were found in the cemetery at Qumran, Pliny describes celibate Essene refugees, and on the Copper Scroll, it was written on precious metal in a very dry style, just like a catalog, so the argument that it “might” have been a hoax is really not convincing (its only virtue is that it’s not entirely implausible, which is not a strong historical argument). Some of the items listed in it are identical with ones described in rabbinical sources as belonging to the Temple.

    I don’t think Golb would deny that some of the scrolls could have come from elsewhere, but the general configuration of data and events points towards Jerusalem. As I said before, there was a “Gate of the Essenes” in the city (as mentioned in Josephus); how could such a gate have existed “under the shadow of the Temple priests”? My point here is that we don’t really have much evidence on what the cultural situation was like in Jerusalem at the time, but if you’re trained as an historian, you’re going to look at the physical evidence first and then on the basis of how it fits together reach conclusions on the cultural situation as revealed in the Scrolls, etc.

    But the real point that has to be made here is that once the shift takes place away from the dogmatic Qumran-Essene “camp” and towards other interpretations (see again Elior on the corpus of texts written by Temple priests), then a crucial step has been taken. Is a compromise possible? Maybe, but sometimes there are situations where it just makes more sense to abandon the first theory entirely in favor of one that is altogether different, and this might be such a situation.

  15. Dear Peter Kirkup,

    I’m following the discussion between yourself and “fast reply” with interest; I didn’t mean to sound arrogant in my own initial answer and am sorry if I did–perhaps a bit of a knee-jerk reaction ( i.e. unfair judgment of your own initial comments) from observing the ugliness–no exaggeration–of much of the “Qumran-sectarian” camp’s efforts to shore up their hypothesis over the past 15 years or so (trying to set up closed research centers in turn for cash; bogus readings of pottery-shards; “Essene toilet” claims; and blackballing of eminent researchers from conferences; trying to destrioy the careers of gifted graduate students in the opposing “camp” through defamation; and so forth and so on). For your part, you know a great deal more than what your initial reply to me suggested. When it comes to the issues, I obviously think “fast reply” is right and I don’t have anything much to add for now. There are basic issues (the word used in the old sense) of historical method at work here–that’s why the findings of the official IAA team are so important, i.e. that there’s not any scrap of evidence that sectarians were at Qumran, the “scriptorium” claim and so forth is baseless, and the Scrolls are thus very likely to come from Jerusalem, the region’s cultural center. (As I’m sure you know well, a basic principle of paleography is: don’t connect a cache of scrolls to the place they were found in the absence of serious (not “maybe if”) empirical evidence of such a connection–they can be deposited from anywhere; and the Dead Sea Scrolls are all literary copies–the Copper Scroll excepted–not documents showing life at the site or the life of some sect. When it comes to the contents of the Scrolls themselves, the only way to operate soundly (it seems to me) is to inductively separate them into the different conceptual strands they seem to reflect, and then carefully form broader conclusions re. what this says about the state of Judaism at the time–about which we don’t know much aside from what the Scrolls offer. There are continuities with what came after Jerusalem fell, but–clearly–crucial differences as well; we must clearly separate our pre-assumptions (things “everyone knows” because they’ve been taught) from what the evidence really offers. Even the term “sectarian” is pretty much an anachronism in this context–there were the priests, and a lot of other often conflicting streams and sub-streams, all against a backdrop of deep political crisis. In any event, again, what we mustn’t do is stick to a set of pre-assumptions and try to keep on stretching the evidence to fit maintain the assumptions. Well, maybe that process is unavoidable–it’s exactly what Kuhn says happens when a paradigm is in the course of collapsing. Also: instead of “Golb camp” I’d say “Jerusalem theory” camp–all sorts of other researchers in various countries have now accepted the view the scrolls come from Jerusalem–and sometimes they even claim credit for the original idea! (see the lead article on the theory in the German magazine Der Spiegel from a few years ago which focuses on the Israeli team, and on a German professor, and (outrageously) doesn’t even mention Golb–who by the way has always been careful to give Rengstorf the credit he deserves for having grasped the general point first (although not being able to see past the temple library). This trend will in my view continue over the following decades, and eventually the Qumran-sectarian theory will be recognized as a scientific blunder resulting from a complex set of ideological and pragmatic factors (most of all but no only: bad archaeology). (Saying this isn’t meant snottily or arrogantly, it’s just my take on where the historiography is heading.) This doesn’t mean there won’t continue to be self-confirming Qumranology conferences, continued blackballing, use of the Scrolls themselves to bring in cash in turn for permission to hold one-sided museum-shows, and so forth–all that politics is inevitable. But the paradigm will continue to crumble behind the scenes, and eventually more and more of what’s happening will become public (as opposed to specialized historiographical) knowledge. One more thing–to appreciate the scrupulous nature of Magen and Peleg’s research and solidity of their findings, you need to read their original report, not the shoddy version of it offered in BAR.

  16. I certainly don’t agree with Morris about this “bad archaeology” stuff, and I find it hard to evaluate some of what he’s saying given the nature of his discourse. Yes, mistakes were made, some improprieties were undoubtedly committed as well due to the zeal or “cautiousness” of de Vaux (apparently he never published the evidence for wealth at Qumran). I agree with him that the hatred has to stop. But I think the real problem here is a difference in methodology, which will naturally result in different interpretations of the evidence. I also think the term “sectarian” is indeed appropriate for some of the Scrolls, and I don’t think Golb would deny that. Like I said before a “Gate of the Essenes” existed in Jerusalem. That neighborhood was probably inhabited by Essenes or by many different “brethren groups” who saw themselves as opposing the priests. The countless debates in the Talmud show that Jews were capable of integrating and tolerating differences of opinion (perhaps even more back then than today!).

  17. Let’s get to more substance here. Theories and methodologies are fine, but I am more interested in evidence, human beings, and possibilities.
    Starting with evidence. Pliny is not a rich source on the topic compared to Josephus. Pliny may never have lived in Judea, may have got his information from Agrippa, and could also be referring to a time prior to the destruction of Jerusalem (remember the destruction of the Temple was the culmination of a protracted struggle for control of the region).
    Now about human beings. I don’t care what a person’s beliefs, they have to live. I have heard no response to my contention that the Qumran settlement, whoever lived there at whatever time, required outside support. This is often true of monasteries in much more favorable circumstances. Josephus writes that all Essenes believed in asceticism, but that some believed in celibacy and some in marriage. And just because you are celibate doesn’t mean you don’t have members of the opposite sex around. Catholic priests often have women help at the rectory, monasteries have patrons and supporters who are not celibate men. So let’s get real about human beings.
    Now let’s consider some possibilities. How about these? Let’s say that the celibate Essenes have their main site at Qumran. They help support themselves by making pottery according to the purity standards of the group, as well as copying manuscripts important to the group such as Jubilees.
    Down below with the date palms is a supporting settlement of family group members who supply dates and logistical support for the aid required from patrons who live in the cities.
    In cities such as Jerusalem and Jericho you have believers (not an enormous number), supporters and patrons who help underwrite the settlement. They provide foodstuffs that cannot be grown in the desert and perhaps manuscripts for the Qumran library.
    During the course of protracted resistance, including some major uprisings, the Romans attack at various times and places, sometimes seeking resistance, sometimes wealth, sometimes “sport”. Maybe they add some military features to the site. But with the over-reaching stupidity of an Empire that doesn’t really know how to win the “hearts and minds” of the populace, they intermittently have to abandon campaigns and outposts. The Essenes return with the awareness that they need to take the precaution of hiding their library, not because the Romans would desire the manuscripts but because they would destroy them for sport. The caves are difficult to notice, difficult to find, and difficult to get into.
    With the final uprising, many in Jerusalem make evacuation plans and start to disperse wealth and family members. The Romans retaliate, sacking Jerusalem and destroying the Temple. In the resulting chaos, the Romans follow up, ending with the showdown against the Zealots at Masada.
    During the course of this chaos, people make desperate moves. Some seek assistance from Qumran, who help secret the Copper Scroll and perhaps library manuscripts in some of the caves. If there was other wealth hidden there, it was either removed before the Romans descended on Qumran or the Romans found it. The Romans maybe found one of the caves, smashed up the pottery, but only finding manuscripts, didn’t bother pursuing more. The Copper Scroll was a coded guide to dispersed treasury with exagerrated numbers to throw off any enemy that might find it. The treasury listed was lost in one way or another: removed again, looted, or never found.
    So I’m fine with theories, methodologies, and paradigms, but let’s get off of that for a moment and get some responses to these ideas. Anyone?

  18. I think the problem with all of this is that it simply presents a series of conjectures whose principal merit is that they are not entirely implausible. Pliny “may” have gotten his info on the Essenes from Agrippa, but there is no evidence whatsoever that he did (indeed, when he got info from Agrippa on another matter, he explicitly went out of his way to say it was from Agrippa). Similarly, your explanation of the Copper Scroll is a “special” explanation. In general, your method (yes, we are still dealing with methodology) is to assume that Essenes lived at Qumran, and then attempt to explain the anamolies by inventing scenarios and pointing to things like the “necessity for outside support.” Anyone living at the site would have required outside support, but the problem is that a thorough review of the data by a whole series of archaeologists (the Donceel team, Hirschfeld, and most recently the Magen and Peleg team) has shown there is no convincing reason to believe this is the place described by Pliny in the first place. No one, of course, is saying that the Qumran-Essene theory is entirely impossible, they’re just saying that it doesn’t account for the total configuration of evidence as well (i.e., in as economical and convincing a manner) as the Jerusalem theory: again, methodology. Can I prove that the Qumran-Essene theory is wrong? Of course not. Is it reasonable for me to conclude that the other theory does a better job of accounting for the evidence? Clearly the answer is yes. What this comes down to is that we need a standard of evaluation for this kind of historical debate. Something like “the preponderance of the evidence”: again, a question of methodology. And that is something that can only be solved by thrashing it out in international conferences where scholars of radically contrasting viewpoints discuss these issues in detail to try and convince each other and learn from each other. It can’t be solved by comforting one’s Qumran-Essene fellows in cozy private conferences from which opponents of the theory are excluded. This way of going about things only creates the impression that one has something to hide, that one is afraid of having to confront certain objections.

  19. OK, let us insist on methodology. But first, a few comments.

    Assuming you are an academic, I want to thank you for the HUGE compliment of saying that my conjectures are “not entirely implausible”. Knowing that in an academic debate of this sort, a significant error on my part would invite a major attack, I am pleased that what I am getting for the most part is quibbling.

    I myself am not an academic and have never attended any of the conferences you speak of. I am sorry if you have been ill-treated but at the same time this issue does not involve me. I am a clinical social worker with an interest in the history of religions.

    Now for methodology. You write that I “assume that Essenes lived at Qumran, and then attempt to explain the anamolies by inventing scenarios.” My counter is that you assume that the scrolls are not related to the Essenes and come from mainstream Jerusalem libraries without even attempting to explain the anamolies. For instance (and this is one of many), why would the scrolls include multiple copies of Jubilees when Jubilees is not in the Masoretic corpus? This is a major anamoly involving a great deal of evidence that you have repeatedly avoided addressing.

    I didn’t bring Pliny into the debate, but rather Josephus. Nobody has responded to my points about Josephus, but somehow Pliny keeps coming up. I mentioned Pliny only to suggest that Josephus is the richer and more credible source on the subject, but instead of addressing this, I get quibbling about Pliny.

    Now about theories. One theory that explains everything may be preferable, but what do you do when it doesn’t? In the social sciences, you can try to explain behavior by nature, nurture, or free will. According to the evidence to date, if you try to explain all behavior with any one of these theories you get laughed out of the room. Life is too complex for that. With the scenarios I present I am suggesting that history is too complex for that as well.

    Along these lines, don’t take my arguments for more than they intend to convey. For instance, my reason for pointing out that any significant settlement at Qumran would require outside support is not an argument for why Qumran had an Essene settlement (at least for a period to account for the proximity of the scrolls). It is to challenge the simplistic idea that the Essenes were isolated and self-sufficient.

    Along these lines, I just received an email from a friend who just returned from Sabbatical: “Interesting questions you are asking in your comments on Qumran. I would add to your comment on the need of the Qumran group that they almost certainly needed some protection from the powers that be. I have always been impressed that they are not far from Hasmonean fortresses inherited later by the Herods and I wonder about the relationship.”

    So these are some of my thoughts on methodology. Now would you be willing to address the “scenarios” I present, because I am contending that they are supported by the “preponderance of evidence”. Or will you continue to avoid them, creating “the impression that one has something to hide, that one is afraid of having to confront certain objections”?

  20. To begin with, one of my main interests is the sociology of research, whence my remarks on the international conferences–these facts are well known, they’ve been reported on in all kinds of newspapers and one doesn’t need to have been the victim of such tactics oneself to see what is going on and to realize that it’s wrong.

    I already explained that the Scrolls are a necessarily incomplete, but already richly variegated, collection; some of the libraries represented among them were mainstream and others were not. So again, we need to be clear on what the theory is and what it isn’t, otherwise we are talking in circles.

    Apparently, you did not read Golb’s article linked in one of the comments above, where he explains the proper meaning of the term “masoretic.” From what he says, I see that the term is not even used in connection with scrolls, but only with codices, of which none were found at Qumran. Perhaps you are right that the book of Jubilees would not have been part of a “mainstream” library, although I think that here too you are putting the cart before the horse. But a portion of the scrolls clearly came from libraries that were not “mainstream,” so I don’t see what effect that point has on the argument.

    This, of course, leads me to conclude that there were not only “mainstream” libraries in Jerusalem (and also, that the scrolls oblige us to challenge our preconceptions about what was and was not mainstream at that point in time). But I do not “assume” that the scrolls came from Jerusalem; rather, I have kept up with the latest research to the best of my ability, and I see highly respectable scholars concluding that this explanation fits the material evidence better.

    As for Josephus, he does not describe any group of Essenes living by the Dead Sea. The Qumran-Essene theory was based on Pliny’s specific description of those Essenes, not on Josephus. If all you had was Josephus, the theory would be even more remotely speculative.

    I’m perfectly happy to agree with you that the inhabitants of Qumran were not isolated and had protection from the powers that be, I simply don’t see any kind of evidence that those inhabitants were Essenes, nor do I see any evidence whatseover that scribal copying of literary texts took place at Qumran. The celibate refugees described by Pliny certainly weren’t being protected by the powers that be, so there’s a gap in reasoning here that has to be bridged.

    Ultimately, I believe that once you start modifying the old theory the way you are doing, the question is bound to arise whether there is any reason to hold on to it at all. So we disagree about the preponderance of the evidence. It seems to me that it’s a respectable disagreement and should be spoken about more often, and more openly, among people who are currently teaching in the field as well as among interested kibbitzers like you, me, and others like Peter Kirby and Stephen Goranson. The passion everyone puts into their opinions tends to lead to tension and expressions of anger, but at least we’re proving that a discussion is possible.

  21. To “no assumptions”,

    This was helpful, and I am glad to be engaged in a more orderly discussion. The cards are now more spread out on the table. The way I prefer to operate is to respond to your points and make some of my own. If you then respond to my points and make your own, I will consider this a fair conversation.
    If by “no assumptions” you claim to have none, I beg to disagree. The claim to not have assumptions is itself an assumption. I prefer to claim that I will endeavor to explicate as many of my assumptions to the greatest extent possible.
    As for “conference tactics”, I don’t have a dog in that fight. I have enough dogs in other fights and don’t have the time to worry about this one. What I am interested in is the subject matter and the research findings.
    Although the link to the Golb article did not initially work, I have since found the article and don’t think that it provides much more relevant than what you have provided. One of the things I found unclear in Golb’s article is his view of languages: Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic. He doesn’t distinguish spoken versus written. Spoken language changes more quickly than written. In the ancient world it was not uncommon to write a different language than one spoke.
    Let me address your comments by laying out five cards and then playing them together: 1) Septuagint (LXX), 2) Masoretic Text (MT), 3) Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS), 4) Qumran, 5) Essenes.
    The Septuagint is not just a collection of texts, it is a textual tradition associated with Alexandria, Egypt, the solar calendar, etc. Golb is probably right about the development of the Septuagint over time because it may be the tradition that produced 3 and 4 Maccabees.
    The Masoretic Text is not just a collection of texts, it is a textual tradition associated with Babylon, Mesopotamia, the lunar calendar, etc. The rigor of copying in this tradition prevents it from alterations that could result in confusing MT texts with LXX texts.

    The fact that what we have extant of the originally Greek Septuagint are first century(ish) BCE Hebrew scrolls and the earliest extant versions of the Masoretic tradition are tenth century CE codices does not alter the traditions these texts represent. The LXX texts in the Dead Sea Scrolls, being Hebrew translations of the original Alexandrian Greek, shows that written language was catching up with spoken language – the daily language in Roman Palestine probably including Hebrew and Aramaic.
    So many of the DSS texts are clearly LXX versions (not just texts that are not in MT, but also versions of Isaiah, Kings, Samuel, etc) that I don’t see how one can get a good understanding of those documents without addressing this fact.

    Now to start sorting the cards between the Qumranologists (Qs) and the Jerusalem theory (Js). The Qs link Qumran, DSS and the Essenes. The Js de-link Qumran, DSS and the Essenes. For argument sake (and I don’t yet give up the argument), let us accept a de-link between Qumran and DSS, as well as the Essenes and Qumran. But can you credibly say that there is no major link between the Essenes and DSS? Not just the “sectarian” texts, but the LXX ones as well? If not the Essenes, then who would be associated with the character of these texts? To date, the descriptions of the Essenes best fit this character and no competitive alternatives exist. The idea that the Sadducees were also Zadokites ignores the apparent antipathy that the “sectarian” documents seem to have for the brutal Hasmonean rulers.
    At the same time they opposed the Pharisaic association with the Temple system and collaboration with the Romans. The Essenes would have to have been careful to distinguish their spiritual opposition to the Romans from the militant opposition of the Zealots. The Romans were probably suspicious of them, as they were of Jesus and John the Baptist, and the Essenes may have been reluctant to openly alienate the Hasmonean powers for that reason.
    The association between the Essenes and a large part of DSS therefore likely exists even if the Essenes never set foot at Qumran and there is indeed no relation between the cave deposits and a settlement at Qumran.
    Your move.

  22. Very busy right now as I’m going to Seattle tomorrow, will hazard a brief reply only to the final paragraph and will get back to you in few days. I would agree on some of the sectarian scrolls (although there are differences even among those); I would not agree on the LXX texts; but I think the real problem is that the portrait of Judaism given to us by Josephus (the “three sects,” etc.) probably simplifies matters enormously to make it intelligible for his audience (and the accuracy of the picture given by Josephus is of course the ultimate “assumption”); the scrolls seem to give a much more complex picture, so that we could come out in the end concluding that there were many more groups or “sects”–once we parse all the texts. But it should be emphasized again that Golb never denies that Essenes may have authored some of the scrolls. Even under that assumption, however, the question of the broader historical significance of the scrolls as a whole would remain. Did sectarians hide these manuscripts and everything described in the Copper Scroll, or were sectarians participating, among others, in a broader phenomenon connected with a major historical event–the sacking of Jerusalem? To turn the question around, what about the corpus of around 100 texts identified by Elior as being written by Temple priests? She believes that it’s “obvious” that priests wrote these texts. I know this is probably not a very clear reply but again, I’m in a rush.

  23. Please don’t misrepresent what I say about Josephus with your “assumption” methodology. I never said that everything Josephus wrote is accurate, but that he appears more knowledgable than Pliny on the Essenes. He wasn’t an Essene so shouldn’t be expected to have intimate knowledge, only better familiarity than others.
    Now let’s not confuse things with a hypothetical proliferation of “sects”. Most people at the time in that area lived in villages and other rural locations, were illiterate, and practiced folk religion with a fluid array of oral traditions. These aren’t “sects” but just plain “folk” doing what they can manage to celebrate and worship. The organized traditions we are talking about have educated leaders. The Essenes, while valuing and in part practicing asceticism, had an educated tradition involved in their religious observance. By the way, I know of no evidence that either Jesus or John the Baptist were literate, although they were obviously proficient in oral traditions.
    But in your rush, you explained nothing about your rejection of the association between the apacolyptic tradition expressed in the majority of the “sectarian” texts and the Septuagint versions of many other texts. This is where Golb’s view seems weak, in the area of textual analysis.

  24. Yes, sorry for my rush.

    I don’t believe one can properly assert that Golb’s view is weak in the area of textual analysis. After all, he was the one who pointed out that all sorts of specific ideational, doctrinal differences among the texts make it difficult to conclude they were written by a single sect; he was the one who pointed out how silly it is to read “Damascus” as a metaphor for Qumran; he was the one who pointed out that no doctrine of celibacy has been identified in any one of the Scrolls, despite claims to the contrary of various scholars; and so on and so forth–I fail to see how any of this amounts to weakness at textual analysis.

    Now, to address your point about the “apocalyptic tradition expressed in the majority of the ‘sectarian’ texts and the Septuagint versions of many other texts.” My understanding is that the Septuagint, Pseudepigrapha, etc., were known and studied long before the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, and no one suggested that they were authored by Essenes. The idea that the authors of those texts were Essenes results from the prior identification of the Scrolls as Essene writings (this is what I mean by “assumptions” and “putting the cart before the horse”). If one identifies the Scrolls as the remains of Jerusalem libraries, all one can legitimately conclude is that the apocalyptic genre was popular among literate Palestinian Jews of the Second Temple period.

    You say most people lived in villages. My understanding is that “most” people lived in Jerusalem, a major urban center (estimates of its population range from 55,000 to 3,000,000, the figure stated by Josephus who, as you say, is our best source). Clearly, if we are looking for a literate, “educated” population of the kind capable of maintaining various “organized traditions” and reading/producing Scrolls such as the ones hidden along with the Copper Scroll in the caves near Qumran, that–Jerusalem–is where we should look: the social and economic infrastructure required for such training and organization tends to exist in cities, not villages.

    Allow me to insist again on the point I raised before I left, concerning the corpus of around 100 Scrolls specifically identified by Elior as being written by Temple priests (who, of course, were educated members of the urban population). You don’t seem to have responded to this–am I missing something here, or is Rachel Elior weak on textual analysis? At any rate, if you would be willing to grant that those texts were the writings of Temple priests, I would be willing to grant that non-celibate Essenes wrote all of the “sectarian” Scrolls despite the various contradictions among them. I still wouldn’t really believe it, but I would be willing to grant it because, given the steadfast nature of our respective beliefs, it would be a fair exchange.

    This being said, I would again suggest that the picture of the “three sects” provided by Josephus is probably not accurate. This does not mean that he was not indeed our best source–apart from the Scrolls themselves, which force us to question his description. At any rate, I see no reason in anything he says to discount Pliny’s estimate of several thousand Essenes living in all of Palestine; compare that with the 500 scribal hands found among the Scrolls (a fact concealed from the public until the horrifying, immoral Dead Sea Scrolls monopoly was broken fifteen years ago), and the problems confronting the Essene theory become quite evident.

  25. P.s. When writing the final paragraph of my preceding comment, I suspected that there was something wrong with it–and I have now verified that in fact it was not Pliny who stated the Essenes number several thousand people throughout Palestine, but Josephus himself. I’m sorry for this mistake which resulted from erroneous information that came up on a google search I did to refresh my memory. At any rate, this further strengthens my point about the 500 scribal hands, since you yourself agree that Josephus is our “best source” on the Essenes.

    I should also point out that I spoke rather glibly on the question of Essene authorship of apocalyptic texts. Before the Scrolls were discovered, scholars discussed the authorship of those texts, and some scholars did argue that Essenes wrote some of them. But this was a debated question, and certainly no one ever argued that Essenes wrote all of them, and that was my point.

    Incidentally, is the article by Magen and Peleg (not the BAR trash by Shanks, but the scholarly article in the Brill volume) available to you for reading? If not, I would be happy to have a copy of it sent to you. I am quite sure that if you read it, our disagreements will largely vanish.

  26. Thanks for the apology, it helps to proceed.

    I would be glad to look at the Magen material and I have not found a ready link to it, so it would help for you to provide it.

    Previously you insisted that I look at the Golb review of a conference brochure. Although I had already responded to your depiction of it, and later stated that I had found nothing substantive in the original that you had not already conveyed, you have not responded to my points on the matter. You give a small indication in you last response that you have started to look into the matter of LXX, but you have failed to respond to my points on the difference between LXX and MT. This does not give me confidence that you know the topic, so let me start from scratch.
    Language was first oral then written. Homer is the most attested of an oral tradition (memorization through the generations)to become written (in the phonetic script of Greek). I have a friend who is a Yemenite Jew who memorized the Hebrew Bible from an early age.
    Written languages known are either pictoral (Egyptian, Chinese) or phonetic (Greek, Hebrew, Latin).
    When you ask “who wrote such and such”, this can be a complex question.
    First is who came up with the story and spoke it, and in what language. Then who first wrote it down, and in what language. Homer was first spoken for many generations before it was written, in this case in the same general language.
    The legend is that the Septuagint was written by the “seventy” in Greek Alexandrian Egypt. Greek was the written but a secondary spoken language of the Jews who were literate. LXX emphasized the prophets.
    When the Hasmoneans failed to stem the corruption of the temple system and suffered from brutal infighting, the Essenes presented a viable reform that relied on the LXX tradition of the prophets. They believed that the prophets were speaking to them to resist the corruption.
    In the meantime, the Pharisees relied on the MT tradition that emphasized the Torah while they collaborated with the Romans. While both the Essenes and the Pharisees perished with the destruction of the temple, MT continued with the Rabbinic Synagogue and LXX continued with the primitive gospel tradition, particularly John (Peter and Paul were more MT influenced).
    So the Essenes did not write LXX, nor were DSS our first evidence of LXX, but DSS did add substantaily to our knowledge of LXX.
    I would like you to respond to my basic points on LXX and MT before I respond to the Magen material. I am tempted to pre-respond to the Magen thing because I suspect there are things about the Essenes you are not considering, but I want to keep this exchange fair. You insist on something and I respond, now I insist and it is time for you to respond.

  27. The link to Magen and Peleg is:

    See especially their conclusions on the scrolls at the end.

    As for your argument about the Essenes, I simply don’t find any of it to amount to a convincing historical or archaeological argument. You relate an interesting legend, and one can no doubt speculate that Essenes or a related group did have something to do with some of the LXX scrolls, but I don’t see a strong argument being offered for that (see the points made about Essenes and others by Magen and Peleg). I’m trying to look at the totality of the evidence pertaining to the Scrolls as a whole, including the corpus of around 100 texts attributed to Temple priests by Elior, the 500 scribal hands, the Copper Scroll, the archaeological evidence discussed by Magen and Peleg, and the reasonable explanation of all of it offered by Golb and others–explanations that take account of possible Essene involvement in authorship of some of the scrolls.

    The piece by Golb that I linked in an earlier comment was his review of the San Diego scrolls exhibit catalog, not of a “conference brochure.” Statements like this can make one think that you didn’t actually read the article. Incidentally, he now has another review out which is also worth reading, on the “virtual reality” Qumran film being shown at the same exhibit. The link is:


  28. Sorry,exhibit catalog. I did read it but found it woefully inadequate on the LXX/MT issue. Magen and Peleg are much better on this and largely agree with my position. Cool photos too, so thanks.
    So at this juncture is it fair to say that there is a great deal of evidence to link a large portion of the scrolls to the Essenes? If you will agree to this then we can get on to the issues of the diversity of the scrolls, the number of scribal hands, etc.
    And if we keep this in good humor, maybe we can have fun identifying who has clay feet, whether or not it is good to get fired, what are the elements of a sound vessel versus a discard, and who is simply a crackpot. Just kidding.

  29. P.s. I just reread your comment of yesterday regarding MT and LXX, and I think I can explain my difference with you on this as follows: traditions or “legends” (the term you yourself employ) about how certain things came to be, are in my view the weakest form of historical evidence. For example, there is a “tradition” that God gave the “law” to Moses on Mount Sinai, and to this day deeply religious Jews believe that the entire “oral tradition” contained in the Talmud was merely written down by the rabbis, who inherited it from the oral chain beginning with Moses. But no serious historian would take this as an even remotely credible explanation of how the laws discussed in the Talmud actually came to be formulated–even religiously devout historians recognize this, and strive to separate their beliefs from actual historical reasoning. (In an earlier comment you mentioned Homer, whose epics were written in a formulaic style that fits what is known about oral poetry, but even on that point there is great disagreement among literary historians–many believe that he took an oral tradition and utterly remodeled it, so that only little nuggets here and there were actually identical to the orally recited poem.) At any rate, such traditions or “legends” have a very weak value as historical evidence when compared with concrete physical data (500 scribes, etc.) and actual historical documents such as the Copper Scroll. Am I to believe they really used a wooden horse to get into Troy because of the oral legend set down in writing by Homer? Of course not. In our case, complex phenomona coalesce and transform themselves over time, and legends arise to explain them–none of this amounts to anything I can accept as a convincing argument–and I say this on methodological principle, not simply because it doesn’t fit the view I find to be stronger.

  30. P.p.s. Our comments crossed. I don’t believe Magen and Peleg agree with your position at all. Please point me towards where they discuss LXX, MT, etc. I recall their remarks on Essenes (“or for that matter other groups”) as being specifically made with respect to the “sectarian” scrolls, not LXX. Therefore I cannot agree with you, because numerically speaking the “sectarian” texts are only a small portion of the 900 scrolls. But we certainly can agree that Essenes may have been involved in authorship of the sectarian texts. Our difference on that point is that I emphasize the word “may,” and remain convinced that the sectarian texts are probably the writings of various “brethren groups” living in or around Jerusalem, and who may or may not have been Essenes.

  31. Magen and Peleg, pg. 65: “The Qumran scrolls are textually multi-faceted: they differ in writing, spelling, language and content. Some are similar to the Samaritan version of the Torah, others to the Septuagint translation, and still others — especially the later texts — to the Massorah version.”
    You are really mixing up terms and this is making the debate untenable. I am not relying on “legends” and “traditions” — I know of no dispute among scholars that LXX originates from the Alexandria. I also know of no dispute that many of the scrolls, such as Isaiah, are LXX versions.
    This is considered “internal evidence” and it has as much standing as physical evidence. If you banish the internal evidence, you are no longer talking about scrolls, but pieces of leather. It will not do to exclude vast areas of research such as linguistic and textual analysis and expect to be taken seriously on historical matters.
    A good basic reference for LXX and DSS is John L. McKenzie’s Dictionary of the Bible.

  32. p.s. Magen and Peleg, pg.
    65: “Clearly these texts did not originate in the official libraries in Jerusalem and in the Temple, which were under priestly control. Rather, they originated in sectarian libraries, as well as in libraries in Jewish towns outside Jerusalem.”

  33. Well, you have identified an apparent difference of opinion between Magen and Peleg on the one hand, and Rachel Elior on the other hand, regarding one portion of the scrolls (the portion she believes were written by Temple priests). But you are being quite selective in your quotations, because on the very same page 65 Magen and Peleg say: “The Biblical scrolls from Qumran are non-sectarian; they reflect the state and tradition of the biblical text in all of the Land of Israel. Can we state the same of sectarian scrolls fround at Qumran? These were sectarian texts, but not all were necessarily composed by the Essenes–and certainly not by Essenes inhabiting Qumran, but, as noted by Josephus, in every city and village in Judea. We will go one step further and ask whether the Qumran sectarian texts may in fact represent not only the Essenes, but all sects and streams of opinion present in Judaism at the end of the Second Temple period.”

    Let me cite the first sentence again: “The Biblical scrolls from Qumran are non-sectarian; they reflect the state and tradition of the biblical text in all of the Land of Israel.” How does this “agree” with what you are arguing?

    As for the rest of the paragraph I’ve quoted, compare the statement by Golb on page 11 of his 1980 article: “Determination of the nature of the concepts and practices described in the scrolls may be best achieved not by pressing them into the single sectarian bed of Essenism, but by separating them out from one another, through internal analysis, into various spiritual currents which appear to have characterized Palestinian Judaism of the intertestamental period.”

    Clearly, 27 years later, Magen and Peleg are saying exactly the same thing (“all sects and streams of opinion present in Judaism at the end of the Second Temple period”), and I don’t see how you can legitimately assert, as you did above, that they “largely agree with your position.”

    So who is “mixing up terms and making this debate untenable”? I was simply responding to your own use of the word “legend,” but you answer by selectively quoting a passage in what frankly seems to me to be a misleading manner.

    So I will accept Magen and Peleg’s statement that “the Qumran scrolls are textually multifaceted: they differ in writing, spelling, language and content. Some are similar to the Samaritan version of the Torah, others to the Septuagint translation, and still others–especially the later texts–to the Massorah version.” As you can plainly see, in the very next sentence they explicitly state that the biblical scrolls are “non-sectarian.” Therefore, they obviously don’t buy into this theory of Essene authorship of texts that are similar to the Septuagint or the Massorah, and neither do I.

    In fact, even if one were to regard those texts as sectarian (which I for one certainly do not), Magen and Peleg would still be saying that they were written by “all sects and streams of opinion present in Judaism at the end of the Second Temple period.” So hopefully you will now reconsider whether they “agree” with your Essene interpretation, so the two of us can at least agree on what we’re talking about–that in itself would perhaps be a major accomplishment in the field of Scrolls studies.

  34. So let’s compare these quotes from pg. 65 of Magen/Peleg:

    “Clearly these texts did not originate in the official libraries in Jerusalem and in the Temple, which were under priestly control. Rather, they originated in sectarian libraries, as well as in libraries in Jewish towns outside Jerusalem.”

    “The Biblical scrolls from Qumran are non-sectarian; they reflect the state and tradition of the biblical text in all of the Land of Israel.”

    So it seems as though you have some contradictions in your own sources. I would forward the suggestion that neither Golb nor Magen/Peleg are qualified to dictate conclusions on linguistic/textual matters. Let them submit their suggestions to a qualified body and I would spend the time to pay attention. In the meantime, please do your homework, because that is what I do.

  35. (1) These “contradictions” that seem so important to you, to me seem quite minor. If one reads the entire argument, one cannot help but see that Magen and Peleg have concluded the scrolls came from the Jerusalem region (“towns outside Jerusalem”), and were hidden by refugees fleeing the siege. They also believe the texts reflect the views of all the sects and currents of Palestinian Judaism of that period. Golb and Elior might not agree with this exact scenario to the extent it is physically limited to “towns outside Jerusalem,” but the general direction in which all of these researchers are going is quite clear: towards Jerusalem, towards diversity, away from the Qumran-sectarian theory. It’s perfectly normal for scholars to disagree on the details within such broader scenarios–just as there are all kinds of variations of the Qumran-sectarian theory.

    (2) No one’s “dictating conclusions.” See my earlier comments on the outrageous refusal of tradional scrolls scholars to debate their opponents. You blithely ignored those comments, and now you talk about “submitting suggestions to a qualified body.” A body that has lost all credibility by refusing to debate its opponents is quite the opposite of “qualified.” Furthermore, as far as linguistics and textual analysis of Hebrew manuscripts go, there is no more prominent living scholar than Golb, as is well known; if you are not aware of this you are simply ignorant in the field. I won’t waste my time pointing you to the many sources on this (such as his bibliography which is readily available on-line) that you can easily find yourself.

    (3) None of this shows that Magen and Peleg “agree” with you, as you asserted they did. I’d really like to understand–how could you have made such a ridiculous claim? Instead of acknowledging that you were selectively quoting them to push your agenda, you calmly ignore the point and get in a few cheap shots by pointing to “contradictions.” Be serious, anyone can see through that kind of nonsense.

  36. Wow…(said without the exclamation point of surprise but with the dot dot dot of a sad, growing realization).
    Study of the differences between LXX and MT did not begin with the Dead Sea scrolls, but goes back at least to Alexandrian born Origen (185-254). The Septuagint was the one attested translation in the great Library of Alexandria which burned down in the third century (cf Enc. Brit.) This is a major scholarly tradition that predates the Qumranologists, just as LXX predated the Essenes who relied on it. So I am not asking that Magen and Peleg’s conclusions be reviewed by their Qumranologist opponents, but by scholars proficient in the areas of linguistic and textual analysis.
    The character and provenance of DSS are not minor matters to those who think that these issues speak to the meaning of these texts.
    I had hoped that we could proceed to other matters which are also of interest to me, but we are stuck here. I will end with a contention that I began with: the Golb camp asks some good questions (which I have endeavored to answer) but fails to answer good questions in return (which is what you have done).
    Under these conditions, why would anyone want to try to debate you? Debate is rendered pointless.

  37. Debate is rendered pointless simply by your insistence on deriving a speculative conclusion (that “Essenes” were using the LXX scrolls) from ordinary facts. Even a basic source like the wikipedia article on LXX provides no evidence whatsoever for your conclusion. Here’s what they say:

    “By the 3rd century BCE, Jewry was situated primarily within the Hellenistic world. Outside of Judea, many Jews may have needed synagogue readings or texts for religious study to be interpreted into Greek, producing a need for the LXX. Alexandria held the greatest diaspora Jewish community of the age and was also a great center of Greek letters. Alexandria is thus likely the site of LXX authorship, a notion supported by the legend of Ptolemy and the 72 scholars. The Septuagint enjoyed widespread use in the Hellenistic Jewish diaspora and even in Jerusalem, which had become a rather cosmopolitan (and therefore Greek-speaking) town. Both Philo and Josephus show a reliance on the Septuagint in their citations of Jewish scripture.”

    Was Josephus too an Essene? Should this question be “submitted to a qualified body”?

    Similarly, the portion of that article on the “Relationship between the Septuagint and the Masoretic text” states simply that “the discovery of many fragments in the Dead Sea scrolls that agree with the Septuagint rather than the Masoretic Text proved that many of the variants in Greek were also present in early Semitic manuscripts.” How astonishing that they managed to come up with such a guarded assertion, using the term “Semitic” without introducing any preconception about the “Essenes”!

    Thus, your assertion that the “Golb camp,” by which I assume you mean all those scholars who have rejected the Qumran-sectarian theory, “asks good questions” without answering them is just another cheap shot. You too ask good questions, but your answers seem to be entirely speculative.

    One final point: yesterday I referred to “contradictions” among defenders of the Qumran-sectarian theory, without giving examples. Just for the record, consider that this “camp” can be divided into people who think the “community” was an Essene group or some other sect; that the imagined sect lived “in” Qumran or “around” Qumran; and that they wrote “some” of the scrolls or “all” of them. I could give you little snippets from books and articles speculating on these different scenarios, conclude that there are “some contradictions” here, and suggest that somehow this is an embarrassment for the Qumran-sectarian “camp.” But unlike you, I don’t resort to that kind of argument, and I don’t pepper my comments with snide little remarks about how, according to you, an eminent Hebraist is “weak on textual analysis” or about “submitting suggestions to a qualified body.” I simply try and face up to the current state of research in an interesting field, without relying on preconceptions about the “Essenes.”

    Have a good day.

  38. Sorry I don’t know your name, but whoever you are, I am going to offer some unasked for advice.

    I came to this discussion with an open mind. I have been willing to explore various possibilities. My main interest in the Dead Sea Scrolls is the treasure they have provided to biblical studies. I am not a fundamentalist and literally my three best friends are Jewish. I have published articles in the field of conflict resolution and forgiveness.

    Although I have neither agreed nor been convinced by the Jerusalem theory, I think it presents some questions and perspectives worthy of consideration. In order to do so I was willing to entertain the ideas that Qumran was not linked to the scrolls or the Essenes. Although I have made some mistakes, I think I have made and expect to continue to make a good faith effort in that regard. I considered the materials you referred my to and tried to discuss them openly.

    You have not afforded me the same consideration. Although you admit that the Essenes may have had a role in the scrolls, you won’t entertain the argument because there may have been other unnamed sects. I refer you to McKenzie, Origen, Encyclopaedia Britannica and you come back with Wikopaedia. Not to diss Wiko, but its not the same.

    So I entertain your arguments but you won’t entertain mine. End of debate. But might I suggest that this attack style that so often gets the better of you might be the reason that Golb is not very welcome at conferences?

    P.S., then you get the parting shot. While searching for your reference, a came across a report of another inkwell find at Qumran. And as for that pottery, it is well suited for the purposes of the Essenes (e.g. simplicity, purity of clay). Anyway, better luck elsewhere.

  39. First of all, I have “admitted” only that the Essenes may have had a role in a small portion of the 900 scrolls. I have no problem at all with Origen, Mckenzie and the Encyclopedia Britannica, but none of these sources demonstrate a connection between Essenes and LXX. That connection, as I asserted earlier, is speculation resulting from the assumption, now rejected by major researchers, that Essenes lived at Qumran and wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls there. They are always trying to come up with another Qumran inkwell in the hope of establishing this connection. Some of the inkwells found at Qumran appear to have dated from the Roman period; others are claimed by dealers to have been found there without any proof; the place was constructed as a fortress and would hardly have been handed over to a group of Essenes; and inkwells have been found in archaeological digs all over Israel and Jordan (five of them “together on a floor” at Shu’afat, just a few kilometers from Jerusalem), without anyone suggesting that they indicate the presence of “scriptoriums” in those sites.

    Second, throughout this discussion I have been trying to deal with a visible incapacity on your part to face up to the published findings of a team of major archaeologists and other scholars who represent the current state of research in this field of studies. It’s not a question of “entertaining arguments,” it’s a matter of doing your homework–you hadn’t even read the Magen and Peleg report, and when you did read it (or at any rate a few pages from it), you selectively quoted from it in an entirely misleading manner.

    Finally, your suggestion that Golb is “not welcome” at conferences because of an “attack style,” is another offensively ignorant remark on your part. As everyone knowns, not only Golb, but all the proponents of the Jerusalem theory have been excluded from conferences organized by the Qumran-Essene clique. And the famously “open” New York Academy of Sciences conference organized by Golb (you can google it to see the contents of the published proceedings) was attended by proponents of all the different theories including traditional scrolls scholars and their opponents–i.e., the very people who systematically exclude Golb, took advantage of his invitation. This was not an “attack,” it was a fascinating civil debate, widely reported on in newspapers at the time. But of course you know nothing of that and have absolutely no interest in it–the only thing that concerns you is getting in another cheap shot to try and justify an obviously abhorrent policy (to say nothing of the patently false claims) being pursued by the former monopolists and their students in an attempt to manufacture a “consensus” on the “sectarian” nature of Qumran.

    My parting shot to you (if this discussion ends here) is this: I fully respect your interest in popular speculations about the Essenes, but I must say that the snide indifference you have repeatedly displayed towards the ethical problems I have signaled is quite astonishing for someone who claims to work in the field of “conflict resolution.” Unless the community of biblical scholars seriously confronts those problems and the role they have played in generating the Dead Sea Scrolls controversy, the conflict will simply go on, and you more than anyone else should be troubled and concerned by that.

  40. I will be glad for the controversy to continue and will continue to monitor it, but not with you. You persistently fail to answer my questions, and I have never called you anything like “snide”. So stop it, it is beneath you, and if not, you answer your own question, unfavorably. Goodbye.

  41. This is starting to sound like some kind of a trial in which the judge says “answer the question yes or no”–this is the second or the third time you’ve said I haven’t “answered your questions.” Frankly I don’t know what “questions” I haven’t answered–I’ve pointed out that your LXX-Essene reasonings are speculative and unsupported by any serious historical evidence whatsoever–so I’m sure you’ll understand that I can’t accept the premises behind your “questions,” for all the reasons I’ve amply explained.

    As for my use of the words “snide indifference,” I stand by them for reasons that should be evident to you, an authority on “conflict resolution,” if you re-read your responses shrugging off my points about an ongoing scandal, combined with your casually false reference to an article about a “conference brochure,” your preposterous attempt to claim that Magen and Peleg “agree” with you, and your little insinuations about the “Golb camp” being “weak at textual analysis.” Just study your own comments and you’ll see how “conflicts” are generated. I wish you good luck “monitoring” the continuing controversy.

  42. Back from a sabbatical-related stretch blissfully free of the net, I’ve just peeked in again on this discussion. Dear Peter Kirkup–I hope it will not make things worse to point out, with all good will, that referring to “purity and simplicity” of clay as somehow pointing to an Essene presence at Qumran simply doesn’t amount to any kind of historical argument. It’s basically a faith-
    argument (“for those of us who KNOW they were present there, the Essenes can be read into that pure, simple clay”). The four (or five) inkwell thing as suggesting an Essene writing-factory out there in the desert is unfortunately along the same lines. It’s clear that for you and many other biblical-studies people, the “treasure” of the Dead Sea Scrolls is wedded to the “Essene” idea–to the point where common sense goes out the window. (The conceptual sources of this attachment would itself be a fascinating subject to explore historically.) Then when the deep problems with the argument are raised, feelings get hurt and normally I’m sure very nice and decent people end up defending all kinds of disgraceful academic behavior by their colleagues and so forth. (After all, their feelings have been hurt too, so in the end you can understand why they would blackball, defame, etc. those who have pointed out the grave weaknesses in the theory they’re attached to, and suggested compelling alternate explanations.) Well, as I’ve already said, this is unfortunately what usually seems to happen when paradigms collapse–the old ideas get all shredded and don’t really work any more, so that sort of thing steps in to replace them. I suppose saying this aligns me again, for you, with the rude and arrogant ones–I’m really very sorry, but how else can one explain such arguments (not to speak of the reference to “Jewish friends”)on the part of someone who surely has some common sense? Sometimes, in resolving conflicts instead of feeling hurt the best thing to do is simply say something along these lines: “well, you may in fact be right; and we all have to own up, like adults, to the possibility that a scholarly blunder may indeed have been made. And it is the case that some of the things we have done to try to avoid eventually owning up to this possibility may simply have been very wrong.”

  43. Call me callous, but I don’t see what hurt feelings have to do with it. The monopolists are fighting for their careers, which they see as threatened by current research developments. They’ve dug themselves into a rut–they know exactly what’s going on, but they can no longer admit they were wrong without having to explain why they denied it for so long in the face of the evidence. Their behaviour has been outrageously unethical–this must be exposed over and over again, until decent people like Peter, who are really the victims of this, begin to understand what has happened. Maybe Peter will read Magen and Peleg more carefully when he has time, and mull it over. Maybe we’ll have a different kind of conversation one day in the future–I certainly hope so.

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