Tuesday, October 24, 2006

GOLB AND THE SCROLLS -- Various people have been sending me this article from the Chicago Tribune (requires free registration to access):
U. of C. professor may be right after all
Chicago scholar's long-discredited theory on Dead Sea Scrolls finds support in new archeological dig

By Ron Grossman
Tribune staff reporter
Published October 22, 2006

The Dead Sea Scrolls have provoked endless controversies since the ancient manuscripts, hidden away in the age of Jesus, were recovered in an obscure corner of the Holy Land in the late 1940s.

But one thing scholars have agreed upon: Norman Golb is wrong.

Golb, a feisty University of Chicago professor, has long argued that the scrolls are a sort of library of writings by different Jewish sects hidden near a site known as Qumran to protect the texts from Roman invaders.

Most scholars, meanwhile, have insisted that the scrolls are the work of a tiny sect that wrote them in a monastery at Qumran.

"In 40 years, about the only one Golb has been able to convince is himself," said Eugene Ulrich a University of Notre Dame professor and eminent scrolls scholar.

But a new archeological dig has produced evidence that puts a spotlight on Golb's long discredited theories and suggests new ideas about the missing link between Judaism and its offshoot, Christianity.

"A lot of people said he was wrong," said Hershel Shanks, editor of Biblical Archaeology Review, "But Norman had one small piece of the puzzle all along."


Now, comes independent verification of Golb's hunch. As noted in Biblical Archaeology Review, Yitzhak Magen and Yuval Peleg concluded that the site wasn't a monastery and had nothing to do with the Essenes. It began as a fortress--just as Golb said--when the Jews had an independent kingdom. When the Romans afterward took over Palestine, it housed a pottery factory.

"Whosoever severs the link between the site, its Essene community and the scrolls found in the caves, of necessity also undermines all previous ideas about the nature and provenance of the scrolls," Magen and Peleg wrote.

I've always found Golb's ideas interesting and worth thinking about (see, e.g., here and here). And it does seem plausible to me that numerous small libraries from around Judea were consolidated during the Judean revolt with whaterver library was at Qumran. But the contents are uniformly sectarian or at least unobjectionable to sectarian sensibilities (with vanishingly few, if any, exceptions), so I think the collections of scrolls that were brought to Qumran came from sectarians living outside it.

Until recently, everyone seemed to agree that Golb was wrong about Qumran being a fortress, on the grounds that the water system is inadequately defended. But this has been challenged now for some time (see this post from 2004). For more on the theory of Magen and Peleg, see here. And Golb's theory has already received attention in relation to the new excavations.

UPDATE (25 October): David Stacey e-mails:
Jim, In today's blog you flag up an old internet article of mine. That was written before I'd had a chance to study de Vaux's field notes which are not in C.U. library. When interlibrary loans eventually produced a copy I realised that there was a fundamental error in his interpretation of the archaeology of the aqueducts, an error that has been reproduced without question subsequently. (The 'main' aqueduct together with the so-called 'main building' could not have been built before the time of Herod). An article has been accepted for publication in DSD but will not get to the head of the queue before the end of next year. A shortened version without plans or photos can be accessed at [this link (word file)].

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