Friday, December 17, 2004

QUMRAN EXCAVATION UPDATE - The Jerusalem Post has a long and detailed article ("A Crack in the Theory") on the recent excavation of Qumran by Yitzhak Magen and Yuval Peleg and the controversial theories they have formulated around it. Excerpts:
AFTER 10 years of work at Qumran, when Magen and Peleg's crew reached the bottom layer of the large pool, they were stunned to uncover a previously unseen white sediment. The powder has turned out to be the most significant clue yet to the Qumran mystery, they say.

"It was the most important thing ever found at Qumran: the bottom of the pool has some three tons of high-quality clay," Peleg told the Post. "We started to understand the site - there were no Essenes."

Qumran in the Second Temple period was not much more than a small, dusty, muddy, and smoky pottery-industry work station, devoid of spirituality, according to the clay sediment in conjunction with their other findings, he says.

The finding of "buckets and buckets" of burned dates also led the archeologists to confirm that the only other activity going on at Qumran was the production of date honey, stored in small ceramic vessels made there.

Initially, to check that the powder was indeed viable clay, the archeologists threw the fine chalk-colored residue into a vat and added water. Then they delivered the clay to a potter and asked her to fire away. The potter gave the clay a quick thumbs-up. Her first vase adorns Magen's Jerusalem office, together with dozens of handmade drawings of Qumran artifacts.


Considering that the texts are so diverse, that there are often numerous copies of the same text written in different styles, that some texts contradict each other, and taking into account the regional migration patterns during that period, Magen and Peleg say the natural conclusion is that the scrolls didn't come from one library or even from Jerusalem libraries alone, but from synagogues and libraries all over. As such, they constitute the broadest possible representation of Second Temple Jewish thought, and not just the Judaism of the Essenes, or of any one sect or geographical area.

Many scholars have long held that there were three main sects of Jews in the Second Temple period: the Sadducees, the Pharisees and the Essenes. Reconsidering that the scrolls are a broad representation of Judaism could support a theory that there were actually dozens of streams, the authors add. "The Essenes may have been one of several groups that wrote the scrolls.

I wish the sentence in bold-font (my emphasis) were right, but I just can't see it. The high density of sectarian works, the lack of other viewpoints such as pro-Hasmonean ones (e.g., no 1-2 Maccabees), and the lack of Greek texts all mark the Qumran library as a sectarian collection. I think Magen and Peleg are probably right that it's a collection of separate libraries that have been consolidated, but they were sectarian libraries to start with. I've been saying this for years.

The fact that sectarians converged on this point to deposit their religious libraries would certainly imply that the site had some sort of sectarian connection to start with, but if the archaeology indicates not, that whole aspect will need to be rethought. I look forward to reading their report when it comes out and to listening to the reactions of other archaeologists.

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