Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Summary of 4QMMT Seminar

We started by discussing the implications of the copyright ruling in the Qimron-Shanks case. The general sense of the class was sympathy with the result on the grounds that a scholar should be rewarded for his or her contribution as long as other scholars remain free to interact with the reconstructed text and offer improvements on the reconstruction. But follow the link for a different view!

We moved to the hypothesis that the Qumran sectarians were Sadducees and the question arose whether and to what degree it was compatible or mutually exclusive with the Essene hypothesis. The classical formulation of the Essene hypothesis has the break with Jerusalem happening over priestly issues. Often the theory is accepted that the Teacher of Righteousness was the man who by rights was next in line to become high priest, but he lost his place when the Hasmoneans (who were priests, but not of the high-priestly family) took over the high priesthood. Despite being widely held, this theory is very speculative. Nevertheless, if it be accepted, it seems compatible with Schiffman's view that the sectarians were a branch of Sadducees (i.e., Zadokite priests). Schiffman seems to think this is possible when he says "The dominant Essene hypothesis, if it is to be maintained at all, requires radical reorientation." (Reclaiming the Dead Sea Scrolls, 89).

This led to the broader question of in what sense the Qumran sectarians could have been Sadducees, based on the evidence about the latter in the New Testament and Josephus. If the Sadducees disbelieved in angels, the afterlife, or determinism (i.e., fate), how can they be reconciled with the Qumran sectarians, who believed in all three? If I understand him correctly, Schiffman postulates a breakaway group from the Hellenized Zadokite priests in Jerusalem, which group produced 4QMMT and the Temple Scroll (which are compatible with the picture of the Sadducees we get from Josephus and the NT) and then developed along a sectarian, eschatological-apocalyptic trajectory that took up beliefs in angels, afterlife, radical dualism, and apocalyptic determinism, while keep the basic Zadokite/Sadducean halakhic interpretations, which differed recognizably from the halakhah of the Pharisees. This group in due course produced the sectarian literature we find in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Schiffman also says "I am not claiming that the Dead Sea sect as we know it is Sadducean, only that its origin and the roots of its halakhic tradition lie in the Sadducean Zadokite priesthood" (Reclaiming, 89 - and see the discussion in general on pp. 88-89). I am not sure how helpful it is to invoke the term "Sadducees" in this discussion, given the baggage associated with them in the Greek sources. It might be clearer just to say "Zadokite priests." But in any case, Schiffman's nuance here needs to be kept in mind.

Next we discussed the three scenarios that have been proposed to explain the origins of 4QMMT. The one proposed by the original editors in DJD 10 and still widely accepted today is that it is a letter from early in the history of the sect by sectarian leaders (the "we"; perhaps the Teacher of Righteousness and his group) to a political leader and potential ally and his group (the "you"; perhaps the Wicked Priest, not yet wicked, and his followers) in opposition to people following a rival halakhah (the "they"; perhaps the Pharisees). It is thus an important contemporary source for the schism that led to the founding of the sect.

The second, argued by Steven Fraade, is that 4QMMT is a treatise intended for internal consumption -- aimed at members of the sect and used for paranesis (instruction). (These two possibilities are not entirely mutually exclusive: a copy of a letter by the founders to outsiders could have been kept by the sectarians and used for instruction by later generations. This is what happened to the Pauline epistles, although in their case it was probably the recipients rather than the senders who preserved the letters.)

The third is that 4QMMT is a historicizing document written long after the founding of the sect but saying what the authors thought the founders would have said (either to outsiders or to their followers) had they gotten around to writing it down. In other words it is fictional, almost pseudepigraphic (although technically it makes no explicit claims about its own authorship). It thus would be somewhat analogous to the pseudo-Pauline literature in the New Testament. It would also give us no reliable or at least contemporary information about the founding of the sect. Maxine Grossman has given the most extensive treatment of this possibility.

It is not easy to choose between these. For my part, I find the content of 4QMMT difficult to reconcile with the first scenario. If it were a real letter by a particular person to particular people and about the views of particular other people, I would expect some names and other personal details to come up. The utterly impersonal nature of the work gives it a homiletic and communal air that makes me think scenarios 2 or 3 are more likely.

One intriguing point raised in the discussion was the fact that no answer to the letter (if letter it was) has been preserved in the Qumran library. If 4QMMT is a letter of the founders preserved as an historical relic, it seems likely that any reply would have been preserved with it. (Or is it? No replies to Paul's letters survive either.) If the recipients didn't reply, is this because they didn't think it was important enough to reply to? Or, contrawise, did they take it as a significant challenge, but one best ignored rather than being given further legitimacy by a reply? Or is 4QMMT a treatise for internal consumption to which no reply was expected?

Likewise, why are there so many copies (6) and why are they all in Cave 4, unlike the Community Rule, the Damascus Document, and the War Scroll, all of which are found in multiple caves? Here we come to matters that are very uncertain. The one sure datum about the origins of the Qumran library is that the scrolls were found in the eleven caves near the Wadi Qumran. Any attempt to explain how they got there involves quite a lot of speculation. One possibility, the one often taken for granted as obviously correct, is that Pliny's celibate, quasi-monastic community of Essenes lived in the nearby buildings and they hid their library in the caves (some of which perhaps were already used for scroll storage) in advance of the conflict with the Romans. Another possibility is that various sectarian communities throughout Judea consolidated their personal and communal (synagogal?) libraries and hid them together in these caves during the war. That option would explain much better the multiple recensions of the Community Rule and some of the scriptural books in the Qumran library. These two explanations are not mutually exclusive and the truth may involve elements of both. We just don't know.