Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Summary of Calendrical Texts Seminar

The first point that was raised asked what I thought was a rather interesting question. Readers are probably familiar with the passage in 1QpHabakkuk xi which says that the Wicked Priest pursued the Teacher of Righteousness into exile and showed up to confound "them" (evidently the sectarians) and make them stumble. Since early on, scholars have taken this episode to indicate that the Wicked Priest was operating on a different calendar from the sectarians, so that he could move freely on what was to them a holiday that allowed no work. The question was, is there any other way to interpret this passage which doesn't involve assuming two calendars? I am not aware of one in the literature and none of us could think of one off-hand. If readers can point to one, please drop me a note.

Much of the discussion involved not the minutiae of the various calendrical texts, which were well covered in the essay, but connections with the Big Picture, doing what science fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon called "asking the next question."

One of these next questions was asking what calendrical system the Temple used originally and whether the system had been changed or was still the same in the time of the Qumran sectarians. The fact is that we just don't know what calendar the Temple used at any time in its history. On the one hand, the rabbinic literature takes it for granted that the Second Temple used the lunisolar calendar. The sectarians seem to have used the solar calendar (see below), and the passage in 1QpHab seems to indicate that the Jerusalem priesthood used a different calendar than the sectarians - reasonably taken to be the lunisolar calendar. But on the other hand, the work of Annie Jaubert argues that the priestly traditions in the Hebrew Bible (such as P, Ezekiel, Ezra-Nehemiah) used the solar calendar (on the grounds that work such as travel is never done in these sources on what would have been the sabbath if they were using the solar calendar). It's a reasonable deduction in that case that the Temple used the solar calendar. One plausible reading of all this evidence is that advocated by Rachel Elior in her recent book The Thee Temples, that the Temple cult originally used the solar calendar but changed to the lunisolar calendar under the Hasmoneans. Something like this seems plausible to me.

Another issue, not so much of next questions as of first principles, was what "master narrative" to use when trying to understand specific issues in Scrolls studies. The traditional master narrative has been that the Teacher of Righteousness, who was slated to be the next high priest, fell out with the Hasmoneans when they usurped the high priesthood and he and his followers retreated to the desert near the Dead Sea and founded a celibate, quasi-monastic "Essene" community there which lasted until the Great Revolt. When the Romans invaded, the Essenes at Qumran hid their library in the nearby caves and then died fighting the Romans or else fled and never returned. This master narrative is in itself plausible and indeed in many ways satisfying, but a good bit of it is an imagintive construct created to connect together our scattered bits of actual evidence. Our perspective changes if we introduce changes into the master narrative, for example, if we assume that the scrolls found at Qumran are actually from many libraries from Judean Essenes hidden together at the time of the war. Or we could assume that the relationship between the Temple and the Essenes was much more complex than as presented in the master narrative. There may have been total estrangement at some times but reasonable amounts of cooperation at others. In favor of the first adjustment is the fact that both the Community Rule and some of the biblical scrolls come in multiple copies with variant texts. In favor of the second adjustment is the fact that some Qumran texts assume that the sectarians (or the readers whoever they were) did offer sacrifices at the Temple. Examples are the Damascus Document and 4Q512/4Q414 (inadvertently referred to in class as 4Q502 - sorry for the slip).

All this means that if we use expressions like "the Qumran community," "Qumran authorship," "at Qumran," etc., we should make explicitly clear what our background assumptions are. Often it is safest to avoid such expressions. (The essay was mostly free of such things, but I used one or two small points as an excuse to raise this issue.)

More "next questions" include, what is the Sitz im Leben of the Mishmarot? Why did someone calculate and copy them? Why did they correlate the solar and lunisolar year? I don't follow the discussion of calendrical issues at Qumran all that closely, but I don't recall ever seeing these questions raised. Are the Mishmarot copies of rotas taken from the Temple before the Hasmoneans? Are they utopian exercises completely divorced from practical reality? Or do they indicate some closer cooperation with Temple authorities than is often imagined? Any ideas out there?

On the question of intercalation (the adding of extra days to the year to make it correspond exactly to the solar year of 365.25 days -- leap-year is an intercalation): lots of effort has gone into systems the sectarians might have used to reconcile the 364-day year of their solar calendar to the actual year. But another possibility is that they didn't reconcile it because they attributed the growing gap between their calendar and the actual year to be the result of human sin. A remarkable passage in the Astronomical Book (1 Enoch 80:2-8) seems to say this:
2 And in the days of the sinners the years shall be shortened,
And their seed shall be tardy on their lands and fields,
And all things on the earth shall alter,
And shall not appear in their time:
And the rain shall be kept back
And the heaven shall withhold (it).
3 And in those times the fruits of the earth shall be backward,
And shall not grow in their time,
And the fruits of the trees shall be withheld in their time.
4 And the moon shall alter her order,
And not appear at her time.
5 [And in those days the sun shall be seen and he shall journey in the evening on the extremity of the great chariot in the west]
And shall shine more brightly than accords with the order of light.
6 And many chiefs of the stars shall transgress the order (prescribed).
And these shall alter their orbits and tasks,
And not appear at the seasons prescribed to them.
7 And the whole order of the stars shall be concealed from the sinners,
And the thoughts of those on the earth shall err concerning them,
[And they shall be altered from all their ways],
Yea, they shall err and take them to be gods.
8 And evil shall be multiplied upon them,
And punishment shall come upon them So as to destroy all.'

(Charles translation)

The Islamic calendar is something of a parallel here. It doesn't attribute the real solar year to human sin, but it is a lunar calendar that is never reconciled to the solar year, so its holy days move around in the solar year.

Finally there is the question of whether the calendrical texts at Qumran imply the following of one single calendar. Here our evidence is somewhat mixed. Jubilees 6:36-38 advocates the solar calendar and rejects any lunar component. But a number of Qumran text reconcile the solar and the lunisolar calendars. The solar calendar is a stable component always to be found, but the attention to the lunisolar calendar needs explanation too.