Saturday, March 14, 2009

NO ESSENES? Rachel Elior has a proposal that will doubtless generate some discussion:
Scholar: The Essenes, Dead Sea Scroll 'authors,' never existed
By Ofri Ilani (Haaretz)
Tags: Dead Sea Scrolls, Israel news

Scholarship suggesting the existence of the Essenes, a religious Jewish group that lived in the Judea before the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, is wrong, according to Prof. Rachel Elior, whose study on the subject will be released soon.

Elior blasts the predominant opinion of Dead Sea Scrolls scholars that the Essenes had written the scrolls in Qumran, claiming instead that they were written by ousted Temple priests in Jerusalem.

"Sixty years of research have been wasted trying to find the Essenes in the scrolls. But they didn't exist, they were invented by [Jewish-Roman historian] Josephus. It's a history of errors which is simply nonsense," she said.

In his book "The Jewish War," Flavius Josephus describes the Essenes as an ascetic, mystical religious sect that lived in abstinence from worldly pleasures, including sex.


Elior says the Sadducees, a sect descending from the high priest Zadok, who anointed Solomon as king, are the true authors. The scrolls belonged to the Temple and were brought to the Dead Sea to protect them, she says.

"The scrolls speak in clear Hebrew of the priests, sons of Zadok. So why call them Essenes?" asked Elior. "That's a distortion of history. It's like saying that the State of Israel wasn't established by Mapai, but by the Greens."

This has some similarities to Larry Schiffman's proposal that the Qumran sectarians were "Sadducees" or at least came from a "Sadducean" background (Ironically, Schiffman is one of those supposedly mainstrean scholars who were supposedly silencing Norman Golb. See here.) I have more on Schiffman's theory here at the (currently on-hiatus) Qumranica blog. My own take is to maintain a "hold on loosely" approach to the Essene hypothesis. It's probably right on some level, but it isn't necessarily very useful for understanding the Dead Sea Scrolls, and I prefer to use the term "sectarians" rather than "Essenes" most of the time when dealing with the Scrolls. I have some related thoughts here, again at the Qumranica blog.

Regarding Elior's proposal, I do have a question not covered in the article. She is quoted as saying that Josephus made up the Essenes, yet Philo of Alexandria, who lived a generation before Josephus, and the Roman writer Pliny the Elder, who was an older contemporary of Josephus and wrote before he did, both discuss the Essenes - Philo at some length. So what about Philo and Pliny? But an informal media treatment is not the place to expect a full defense of her position.

And one quibble. Hanan Eshel is quoted (as usual, I make no assumption as to the accuracy of the quote) as saying:
"Almost 70 scholars accept the statement that one of the Essenes' groups lived in Qumran and some say we're all morons and only they understand," he said.
The fact that there is a consensus position is not in itself an argument in favor of the consensus. A consensus is just the current state of the question, the place where we have to start if we want to advance the discussion. And that's what Elior is trying to do.

For more on Elior's work on the Dead Sea Scrolls, see here.

(Geza Vermes sent this to me yesterday, but I wasn't able to get to it until now.)

UPDATE (15 March): Rachel Elior responds to criticisms here at Jim West's blog.

Friday, March 13, 2009

A TENURE-TRACK JOB in Old Testament and Early Judaism is being advertised at Groningen University:
The Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Groningen invites applications for a tenure track position in the field of Old Testament and Judaism in the ancient world, to begin 1 January 2010. The successful candidate will carry out his or her research and teaching activities at the Faculty of the Theology and Religious Studies within the Department of Biblical Studies. Preference will be given to a candidate who has a strong interest in the reception historical research of the Old Testament, especially within early Judaism, and with special attention to Qumran.
Further particulars and application instructions are here.

(Via Deborah Rooke on the SOTS List.)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

A BYZANTINE-ERA MONASTERY with cool mosaics has been found by some Israeli farmers:
Farmers find monastery beneath Israeli soil

By Deb Krajnak

-- After a group of Israeli farmers sought last year to expand their property in the hills near Jerusalem, they discovered an archeological gem beneath the dirt.

A team led by Daniel Ein Mor barely had to scratch the surface before finding the remains of a Byzantine monastery, he told CNN on Wednesday.

"The excavation at Nes-Harim supplements our knowledge about the nature of the Christian-Byzantine settlement in the rural areas between the main cities in this part of the country during the Byzantine period," including Jerusalem, Mor said.

The church is believed to have been built in the late fifth or sixth century, and is decorated with "breathtakingly beautiful mosaics," according to a description from the Israel Antiquities Authority, which hired Mor.

He said studying coins and pottery pieces will help determine the church's age more accurately. Other monastic sites have been excavated in the region, which was part of the Byzantine Empire.

Various people have sent me this. Thanks.
Dead Sea Scrolls scholar defends son arrested for impersonating rival
By Ofri Ilani (Haaretz)
Tags: israel news, dead sea scrolls

The Dead Sea Scrolls scholar whose son was arrested last week on suspicion of impersonating an rival scholar says his son understood his opponents were trying to silence him.

Professor Norman Golb, of the University of Chicago, believes that the Dead Sea Scrolls were not written by the Essenes, as mainstream scholarship holds.

"Raphael, my son, is very devoted to my research. He realized years ago that there was an effort to close the door on my opinions. And so he started debating bloggers who were against me, using aliases. That's the custom these days with blogs, as I understand it," Norman Golb said.
No it isn't. At least not among serious academic bloggers - or serious political bloggers either. Making up aliases to give the impression your views have lots of supporters is known as "sock-puppetry" and people caught doing it are rightly ridiculed.

This is an odd situation, where the son denies the impersonations and the father defends the son for doing them. But this could be the result of media garbling or misunderstanding and I wouldn't make too much of it.
Raphael Golb's arrest is the latest in a long saga of conflicts among Dead Sea Scrolls scholars. Although researchers have condemned Raphael Golb's alleged acts, some scholars in Israel accept Norman Golb's contention that some of the most prominent Dead Sea Scrolls academics do silence their opponents.

I have not found that to be true at all. Golb's theory is not accepted because it isn't convincing. The key problem with it in my view is that it claims that the Qumran texts are not a sectarian library, and anyone who reads them carefully will see that this just doesn't work (i.e., the library clearly is sectarian). But I have always found Golb's work interesting and have said nice things about it from time to time. He did raise the very useful point that the number of scribal hands in the Scrolls corpus was too large for the manuscripts all to have been produced locally. My own working hypothesis is that the Qumran library consists of a number of sectarian ("Essene" or whatever) libraries that were brought to Qumran, presumably for safekeeping during the war with the Romans. These may well have been consolidated with a library that was already there.

Background to the arrest story here (dead link now fixed!) and follow the links back. Earlier comments on Golb's work are collected here.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A PERSIAN LOVE POEM (the Rubaiyat, by Omar Khayyam) is quoted on a pottery fragment recently excavated in Jerusalem:
Jug Inscribed with a Persian Love Poem Discovered in Excavations of the Israel Antiquities Authority


JERUSALEM.- A fragment of a pottery vessel of Persian provenance that dates to the Middle Ages (12th-13th centuries CE) was discovered in an archaeological excavation directed by Dr. Rina Avner, on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, in the Old City of Jerusalem, prior to construction by a private contractor.

The fragment is treated with a turquoise glaze and is adorned with floral patterns and a black inscription. While studying the artifact prior to publication, Rivka Cohen-Amin of the Israel Antiquities Authority discerned that the inscription on the neck of the vessel is written in Persian. The inscription consists of a line that was taken from a quatrain. The inscription, which was translated by Dr. Julia Rabanovich of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, reads: “Was once the embrace of a lover that entreat”.

Somewhat outside PaleoJudaica's usual time frame, but too cool not to mention. Already noted by Lauer and Sasson, but I'm struggling this week to find any time for blogging. This article also has a very nice photograph.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A SYRIAC CONFERENCE at Yale for graduate students:
The Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations and The Program in Judaic Studies at Yale University, in cooperation with Beth Mardutho's Dorushe graduate student association, will host the 2009 Dorushe Graduate Student Syriac Studies Conference. Date: Sunday, March 29, 2009
Follow the link for the full program and abstracts.

Monday, March 09, 2009

A REBUTTAL to the comments of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about the Silwan land controversy has been published in the Jerusalem Post. Excerpts:
The Jerusalem Municipality, moreover, has acted with utmost care and in legally airtight fashion. It has, if anything, conducted this affair with greater circumspection, moderation, tolerance and restraint than would any American municipality given similar circumstances.

Not that the circumstances anywhere else can compare to those of Emek Hamelech (King's Valley or Silwan). This area, part of a First Temple royal enclave, perhaps King David's own, is of matchless historical significance and includes sites holy to all three monotheistic religions.


WHAT THE spokesman did not specify is that the area is a prime archeological site and that the illegal construction, according to the Israel Antiquities Authority, has already wrought considerable, often irreversible damage to some of the world's most unique biblical-era relics.

Paradoxically, Arab illegal construction in this particular area is recent and wouldn't have been possible without Israeli technological improvements. King's Valley was regularly flooded each winter, until the municipality devised means to drain it some 20 years ago. Since then, Arab squatters flocked to the reclaimed land and illegally constructed a variety of structures on what was earmarked as an archeological park.
(Via Joseph I. Lauer's list.)

Background here.
MORE ON THE GOLB ARREST: Haaretz has some details on the Raphael Golb/Dead Sea Scrolls case which look new.
The younger Golb, who denies the allegations, is charged with identity theft, criminal impersonation and aggravated harassment, and faces a maximum of four years in prison if convicted.

Schiffman contacted the Federal Bureau of Investigation when he found out someone was sending e-mails in which he appeared to confess to plagiarism, but was told the case fell under New York State jurisdiction.

"People can write books and agree or disagree, but what Golb's son did is a criminal act," Schiffman said. "It goes beyond the research dispute."

So the younger Golb denies the charges. Interesting.

Background here.
PURIM begins tonight at sundown. Best wishes to all those celebrating.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

SOME DEAD SEA SCROLLS are coming to a Milwaukee museum:
Milwaukee Public Museum planning to host exhibit of Dead Sea Scrolls

1 day ago (The Canadian Press)

MILWAUKEE — The Dead Sea Scrolls are coming to Milwaukee.

Milwaukee Public Museum officials say it will put the scrolls on display late this year or early next year.