Tuesday, February 14, 2017

VanderKam on Qumran "Cave 12"

UNIVERSITY OF NOTRE DAME: New Dead Sea Scroll cave reports may be ‘premature,’ scholar says. Professor Emeritus James VanderKam issues some salutary cautions concerning the recent reports of a 12th Qumran scrolls cave (which contained no actual scrolls):
“In 1952, after the earliest scrolls finds, archaeologists made a survey of hundreds of caves and openings in the general vicinity of Khirbet Qumran,” VanderKam says. “Some 230 of them contained nothing of interest, but 26 housed pottery like that found in the first scrolls cave. The most recent find appears to be another one like those explored in 1952, although it does seem to have more direct evidence that scrolls were at one time lodged in the cave.”

VanderKam notes that the discovery is intriguing, but says more needs to be determined from the archaeologists’ findings.

“As with any archaeological discovery, it is great to have the new information. It is also of considerable interest that the cave is in the Qumran area,” he says. “However, given the fact that other caves in the district, besides the 11 that held the Dead Sea Scrolls, contained pottery of the same sort as Qumran Cave 1, it seems a bit premature to call it Qumran Cave 12. The people of the scrolls apparently used a fairly extensive area around Khirbet Qumran, so it is not surprising if there would be evidence of their presence in additional nearby caves.”

“I look forward to learning more details about the finds in the cave, such as the dates of the various items discovered. And, if scrolls were once stored in the jars and have been removed, I really hope they can be located and made available for study.”
Yes, to all of this.

That last point merits some unpacking. The largest hoard of Dead Sea Scrolls were found in Cave 4. They were just heaped in the cave, not kept in jars, so they were very poorly preserved. If there were scrolls in jars in this new cave ("Cave 12") and looters found them, where are they now? And what condition were the jars in? Were they intact? That could imply the survival of well-preserved scrolls, comparable to the scrolls of Cave 1. Some of the Cave 1 scrolls survived almost complete inside intact jars.

Then again, Professor VanderKam is right to retain some skepticism that any scrolls were ever in "Cave 12."

Watch this space. Background here and here.