Friday, November 05, 2010

The people who lived at Qumran

THE PEOPLE WHO LIVED AT QUMRAN are the subject of an article in the Jerusalem Post:
Who are the people living in Qumran?

11/04/2010 11:50

The question of which Jews lived Dead Sea Qumran settlement 2,000 years ago is still the subject of controversy.

Biblical scholars have now had 60 years to research the scrolls hidden in caves close to the Dead Sea Qumran settlement. The question of which Jews lived there 2,000 years ago is still the subject of controversy.

Ever since early 1947, when three Ta’amireh Beduin discovered large clay jars containing ancient scrolls in a cave close to the ruins of an abandoned settlement at Khirbet Qumran, the 150-year-old field of scientific biblical research sought to re-examine all the accumulated knowledge in light of these new findings. In 1952, Beduin discovered another cave with a number of additional texts, and in 1956 they found cave 11.


TODAY we know that Qumran settlers were members of the Essene movement, as described by Josephus, Philo Alexandroni and Pliny the Elder and proposed independently by Prof. Eliezer Sukenik in 1948; it was worked out in detail by Andre Dupont-Sommer in 1951 and later by many other scholars. Today, however, we understand that while the Qumran group lived according to the Essene principles, administered a rigorous entrance test for admission, shared one purse and imposed communal ownership, enforced restrictions on marriage, divorce and celibacy and insisted on the rules of cleanliness, it was a separate body, established by their leader, Zadok.

That is indeed roughly the mainstream view, but this hardly represents the controversy mentioned in the first paragraph. There's no mention of Norman Golb's theory that the Dead Sea Scrolls come from literary archives in Jerusalem, now made notorious by the recent court case involving his son, Raphael, but still there to be considered on its own merits as a theory. Nor is there mention of the view of the recent excavators of Qumran that the site was a pottery workshop. The stuff about the Teacher of Righteousness is widely accepted but is still pretty much speculation.

My own position is that the Qumran sectarians probable were "Essenes," but that this idea has to be handled very carefully and is not as helpful as it might seem. To say, for example, that a church sometime in the last several hundred years was "Presbyterian" really tells us very little until we know a lot more about when and where. Presbyterianism has changed quite a lot over the centuries and Essenism may well have too.

As for the site itself, I take no position on whether the sectarians/Essenes lived there, but I do think that much of the library was brought in from outside for safekeeping during the war.

The article focuses on the work of Gabriele Boccaccini and Ben-Zion Wacholder. It's clear at least that Boccaccini was not interviewed, or the author would have worked out that he is a man.

UPDATE (7 November): It seems Professor Boccaccini got off easy. Jack Sasson on the Agade list points out that Professor Shemaryahu Talmon is mentioned in the article as "the late." Don't worry, he's fine.