ARCHAEOLOGIST DAVID STACEY challenges some archaeological orthodoxies about the site of Qumran, particularly in Jody Magness's recent book, The Archaeology of Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls
. Stacey's essay, "Some Notes on the Archaeological Context of Qumran in the Light of Recent Publications,"
is on the Bible and Interpretation
website. Excerpt, with some of my comments interspersed:
The necessity for a garrison at Qumran was of fairly short duration. Even during the lifetime of Jannaeus, the moat he had dug in Jericho became a convenient refuse dump (Netzer 2001: 145), indicating a reduction in the threat of attack from the east. Following his death (76 B.C.E.), the "Twin Palaces" (Netzer 2001: 5) were constructed, in part, over a section of the moat that had already gone out of use and completely filled in (Netzer 2001: 146). In Qumran, the garrison may have been withdrawn as early as c. 80 B.C.E, with the buildings becoming largely surplus to requirements.
For me the most startling part of this essay is Stacey's support of Golb's proposal the ruins at Qumran, at least in the later period, represent a military garrison. Of course Stacey also thinks that the sectarians moved onto the site after the garrison, whereas Golb thought it was a garrison up to its destruction. Still, I always understood that archaeologists rejected the post-Iron-age garrison interpretation because the water supply was too open and could not be protected.
At the same time that there is a reduction in the strategic importance of Qumran, there are signs that there were new occupants. A profusion of miqva�ot gradually surrounded and encroached into the earlier structure,10 and unusual gatherings of animal bones were deposited. The new arrivals also brought with them the changed funerary practices11 revealed in the cemetery. There is no evidence for a break in occupation and any incomers must have arrived with the encouragement of the Hasmonean royal estate. Pottery production continued and was still important. Some of the over 700 bowls found in Locus 89, "the pantry," were probably produced for trade and, as they strongly resemble vessels found in late Hasmonean and early Herodian Jericho (Bar-Nathan 2002: 89), it seems that there were still close economic ties between the two sites. In all likelihood, Qumran also supplied some pottery to such nearby sites as Rujm el-Bahr, Qasr el-Yahud and, perhaps, Ein Gedi and Masada.
Who were these newcomers? By now the greatly increased area under cultivation in Jericho would have required a further influx of labor, some of it, particularly at harvest time, seasonal. Josephus described the Essenes as men "of the highest character, devoting themselves solely to agricultural labour" (Antiquities XVIII: 19) and, as such, would have been welcomed by the Hasmoneans. A considerable proportion of the population of Qumran probably worked (and slept) during the week on the royal estate, particularly in that area opened up south of Wadi Qelt12 closest to Qumran, which would have been only two or three hours walk away. This would help account for the noticeable shortage of living space at Qumran, which has led some to conclude that "some of this habitation could have been seasonal�that is, perhaps some of the members lived at Qumran on a temporary basis" (Magness 2002: 69-71). On the eve of the Sabbath, they would return to Qumran where, being beyond the boundaries of the estate, they were separated from what, if they were indeed Essenes, they would have considered the impurities of the world and could conduct themselves according to their ascetic ideals.
Some of the Qumran community were potters; others were, perhaps, acolytes hoping to join the Essene sect. During their three year "apprenticeship," they could support themselves and their community with laboor on the Jericho estate. Once accepted into the sect, some may have remained in Qumran, but others would have moved to Essene communities elsewhere. Over a thousand people are buried in the Qumran cemetery, too many for them all to have lived and died there. The marl into which they are dug offered an easier and cheaper burial option than the bed-rock of Jerusalem, and it is probable that many of the corpses were carried down from communities in the hill country, perhaps accompanied by superannuated documents belonging to the same communities.
There is no reason to assume that the scrolls found in Qumran were all hidden in haste at a time of conflict. It is far more likely that the caves served as genizot for other communities in Jerusalem and elsewhere. Over the years, torn and damaged scrolls and documents that had become "old-fashioned" because they contained outmoded philosophies or rules that had been surpassed were brought down from the hill country and quietly deposited in the safety of the caves. Some scrolls may have been as much of a curiosity to those who deposited them as a book of Victorian sermons would be to us.
I can't comment on the archaeological aspects of his interpretation, but the last paragraph seems to me to be a possible reading of the evidence. My own working hypothesis is that various sectarian groups under the broad "Essene" umbrella sent their religious libraries to Qumran, probably because there was an Essene settlement or retreat center there, for safe-keeping during the war.
It's interesting to have such preliminary essays posted on the Internet and discussed on e-mail lists, but actual advances in the field are going to come from scholarly monographs, reviews of them in the journals, and articles in peer-review journals. I think that point is worth keeping in mind and perhaps belaboring.
Also, while finding the Amazon entry for Magness's book above, I also ran across the following by her, which evidently is soon to be published: Debating Qumran: Collected Essays on Its Archaeology (Interdisciplinary Studies in Ancient Culture and Religion