Top 10 and Qumran Latrine Response

Haaretz has a very one-sided article on Israeli archaeology in the West Bank.  Somebody should write an honest response to what’s essentially a mouthpiece for the opinions of one Rafi Greenberg.

Archaeology magazine lists the Top 10 Discoveries of 2006.  Nothing of biblical significance is included, but the #1 discovery is the tomb in Luxor’s Valley of the Kings.  KV63 is the first tomb excavated here since King Tut’s tomb in 1922.

Hardly a week goes by when some argue is promoted or dismissed on the basis of logic rather than evidence.  In this Haaretz article about the Qumran latrines, Yitzhak Magen responds to the recent proposal by Zias and Tabor that only Essenes would have ventured outside the camp.

“In addition,” Magen says, “the Qumran area and particularly the caves surrounding the site, are full of predatory animals and animals that consume carrion, like foxes, hyenas, and leopards. People who lived in this area for years were well aware of that. They feared these animals and certainly would not leave their camps to relieve themselves. Thus, it is unreasonable to assume that the camp’s latrine was located at such a distance.”
“It was not the Essenes who buried the scrolls in the caves near the Qumran ruins,” Magen adds. “The scrolls were buried by Jews who escaped from Jerusalem after the destruction of the Second Temple.” One of the main escape routes from Jerusalem passed through Qumran. Jews, who were somewhat unfamiliar with the area and had no knowledge of its predatory animals, did not fear entering the caves to bury the scrolls, he proposes.

So it’s unreasonable that Essenes walked a few dozen yards to bury scrolls, but it’s reasonable that people came dozens of miles and hid them there (but only because they didn’t know about the foxes!).

Magen does not respond to the ancient texts which specify the Essenes should travel 1,000 or 2,000 cubits (1,500-3,000 feet) outside of the settlement to relieve themselves.

Whenever you hear that something is “unreasonable,” that should alert you to the likelihood that there’s no good evidence to support the proposed conclusion.


9 thoughts on “Top 10 and Qumran Latrine Response

  1. And heaven forbid if those “preditory animals” came into the camp. I would bet not even the huge tower there would protect them from those fearsome foxes!
    I too like it when events are seen from a hypothetical stance.
    And we are to believe that the Jews escaped carrying thier sacred scrolls, bringing them miles into the desert, then abandoning them in caves after they had reached relative safety? Sounds logical to me.

  2. The “Essene latrine” claim has been refuted at greater length by Norman Golb of the Oriental Institute, see his email reproduced at


    Golb’s basic point is conclusive: the ancient texts do not speak of 1,000 and 2,000 cubits, this is an simply one more outrageous lie being perpetrated by these so-called archaeologists, who bizarrely sent their samples to a parisitologist in France when they could have used one in Jerusalem.

    A toilet (also featuring parasites) has previously been identified within the site of Qumran. This fact itself clearly reveals that the new proposal is arbitrary, and that the press campaign being organized around this “Essene” finding is simply one more effort to defend a collapsing theory.

    As for the distance from Jerusalem, several identical scrolls were also found at Masada, where refugees from the destruction of Jerusalem are known to have fled. This is analysed at length in Golb’s well known book on the scrolls. Golb’s views have now been accepted by numerous scholars all over the world, despite the lies being repeated over and over again in museum exhibits controlled by traditional Scroll scholars.

  3. Readers can judge for themselves whether Golb’s response is convincing. For those who don’t know, Golb is a leading proponent of the view that Qumran was not inhabited by Essenes. This view is rightly rejected by the majority of scholars. The rhetoric expressed in the comment above does not suggest that an intelligent debate is desired.

  4. It seems to me that an intelligent debate is precisely what “We Demand a Neutral Scientifc Exhibit” desired, and it is precisely what has been lacking in Dead Sea Scrolls research over the past 20 years. When traditional Qumranologists feed the media false or erroneous statements about the contents of ancient texts to support their theory; when they send their samples to collaborators in other countries rather than taking them to the laboratory down the street; and when this kind of so-called research goes on year after year and is swallowed with enthusiasm by the media; there is indeed cause for indignation. Theories do not rise or fall on the basis of what the “majority” says it believes, but on whether they fit the evidence. If we took a poll of American literary scholars today, I am sure a “majority” would declare itself in favor of the “postmodernist” theories of Jacques Derrida. That doesn’t mean they are right, it just means that the current state of literary studies is a sad mess. In the case of Qumran, the crucial point is that the key archaeologists who have looked at the site over the past decade, including the Donceels, Hirschfeld, and the official Israel Antiquities Authority team led by Magen and Peleg, have all come to the conclusion that the site was not inhabited by the Essenes or any other sect. Whether or not they are the “majority” is of no consequence to me; their work has shed a fundamental new light on the site and as a result, Qumran scholarship will never be the same. Incidentally, the “Neutral Scientific Exhibit” people have an interesting blog, featuring news items, a chronology of Scrolls research over the past decade, and a debate with the curator of the San Diego Natural History Museum Exhibit, the link is http://scrolls-in-san-diego.blogspot.com/

  5. Thank you Charles.
    For those who don’t know, Todd Bolen is an Associate Professor of Bible at the Master’s College for Christ and Scripture. He holds not a Ph.D., but an M.Div. degree from the Masters Seminary. He is neither a major Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologist like Peleg nor a world-reknowned palaeographer and historian like Golb, and it is quite outrageous for him to use his blog to state, ex cathedra, that Golb’s theory “is rightly rejected by the majority of scholars”, without informing his readers, for example, that Golb’s article on the Scrolls is one of the two on that topic featured in the Cambridge History of Judaism — the editors of that prestigious reference work appear to have a much better understanding than does Mr. Bolen of the current state of Scrolls scholarship. In essence, Mr. Bolen is misinforming his readers, and in this he is simply typical of traditional Qumranologists.

  6. “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”

    If the Golb theory is right, it will eventually be accepted. I do not speak as a scholar on the subject, but as one who is widely read and knows the state of the current debate. Yes, there are divergent opinions and these should be welcomed and debated. I hardly think this is the forum for it, especially if I am who you represent me as being. In fact, it appears that you are merely using my site and my work to promote your own site. You should thank me for giving you the platform instead of disparaging me.

  7. Dear Mr. Bolen,
    We don’t mean to disparage you. But we object to what appears to be an effort on your part to present a picture of the current state of Scrolls research that is unfortunately not accurate. What is missing from your comments is a frank avowal that Scrolls studies are today polarized between two opposing theories (see the Cambridge History of Judaism, multiple recent news accounts, and the conclusions of the Donceels, of Hirschfeld, and of the officially appointed Israel Antiquities Authority team, published last year after ten seasons of digs at Qumran). You sustain this effort by accepting demonstrably false information (“ancient texts which specify the Essenes should travel 1,000 or 2,000 cubits” — the apocalyptic texts referred to do not speak of Essenes and contain no such measurements) without questioning it, and by ironical innuendos directed against some of our greatest living scholars of Jewish antiquity. Your readers’ comments(“Nice work, Todd. Keep ’em honest”, etc.) indicate the results of the approach you have taken.
    The saddest comment is the one posted by “Psychobob”, who states: “Are we to believe that the Jews escaped carrying their sacred scrolls, bringing them miles into the desert, then abandoning them in caves after they had reached relative safety?” As you must know, this statement fundamentally misrepresents the Jerusalem theory, but you let it stand without any response or explanation, and instead assert that the theory is “rightly rejected by the majority of scholars”. If the only answer to the Israel Antiquities Authority team, and to Golb, Hirschfeld, Elior and all the others is to misrepresent their view and say it is rejected by the “majority of scholars”, then how are we ever going to have an intelligent debate?
    “Psychobob”, please do not take offense at what we said above. If you read Golb’s book, you will see that he explains the hiding of the Scrolls as part of a concerted effort on the part of Jews to remove their literature, as well as a large quantity of precious artifacts, from Jerusalem before or during the siege and to hide all of this material in various locations in the Judaean Desert, a list of which locations is contained in the Copper Scroll — the single, crucial historical document found in the caves near Qumran. According to Golb and now many others, this process took place with the help of inhabitants of the region. It is a perfectly reasonable view which seeks to explain the totality of the findings, including the variegated nature of the texts, the fact that they were copied by over 500 different scribes, the centrality of the Copper Scroll (for decades wrongly marginalized from Qumran scholarship), and the secular nature of the Qumran site. Whether the view is right or not is obviously open to debate, but in the lack of any proof of an organic link between Qumran and the Scrolls, one must tread as carefully as possible when examining and comparing the two alternative theories and the claims upon which they rest. One thing that is clear is that if the Jerusalem theory is right, the Scrolls are a much more important finding than they were previously thought to be.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *