Thursday, April 21, 2005

Summary of "Women in the Dead Sea Scrolls" Seminar

We touched on the evidence of the Qumran cemetery first. The very interesting question was raised as to whether the excavated graves were a representative sampling from the site as a whole (albeit a small one)? The general memory during the seminar was the sampling was pretty representative, and a look at relevant maps and such afterward confirms this. See especially the new survey published by Broshi, Eshel, Freund, and Schultz: "New Data on the Cemetery East of Khirbet Qumran," DSD 9.2 (2002): 135-65.

We then moved to the texts and began by discussing the androcentric nature of the Hebrew language. The, if you will, default gender in Hebrew is male and this comes through particularly with plural nouns, adjectives, and verbal forms. Mixed groups of men and women are addressed or referred to using masculine plural grammatical forms. You can have a hundred women and one man, and you would still use the masculine plural forms. Maxine Grossman has explored the implications of this grammatical androcentrism in her work. Suffice to say that this feature sometimes leaves us in the dark as to whether given laws, etc. are being applied to an all-male group or to a group of mixed gender.

We talked briefly about whether it might be possible to discern an evolution over time in the role of women in the sect. Paleography is too blunt a tool to allow us to date the composition of individual works in relation to one another with much confidence, but there are one or two other clues to ponder. For example, women are mentioned in 1QSa (the "Messianic Rule" or "Rule of the Congregation") with a fairly substantial social role. This may be contrasted with the complete lack of explicit mention of them in the Community Rule. It may be that the eschatological community described in 1QSa was seen as having a greater role for women than the current community in 1QS. Such questions are worth asking, although any answers are speculative.

Then we looked at three especially interesting and, typically, especially difficult Scroll passages that deal or may deal with women. In her essay, Lindsey noted that there is an important damaged spot in 1QSa 9-11 which can be read in two ways. Referring to when a man can get married, it can be read either "And he shall not draw [near to] a woman to know her carnally unless he is fully twenty years old when *he* knows good or evil" or "And he shall not draw [near to] a woman to know her carnally unless he is fully twenty years old when *she* knows good or evil." The word in question is a damaged pronominal suffix that can be restored either as a waw ("he") or a he ("she"). The first reading is interested only in the responsibility level of the man, whereas the second addresses the issue for both. I have to say, however, that the first looks more likely to me to be right. The passage flows well if we take it to say that the man is twenty years old and therefore has reached an age of accountability. But I'm not quite sure why his age would be an issue in relation to when his bride has reached the age of accountability.

The second and third passages are in 4Q502, which I have interpreted as a wedding ceremony, following Baillet in DJD 7, but others have taken as a "golden age" ritual (i.e., involving retired persons) or a New Year's rite. For our purposes the overall interpretation does not matter. In two places Baillet found mention of "female elders," women with an official role of elder. I followed him in my commentary, with some reservations. Having continued to think about the passages, I have more reservations still. The Hebrew word for "elder" (ZQN), can mean simply "old man" or it can have an official sense of "elder," entirely according to context. The female form of the word (ZQNH) is only used in the Bible (and, I believe, in the rabbinic literature) to mean "old woman," but at least theoretically it could be used in an official sense as well. Both passages in 4Q502 involve the mention of (masculine plural) ZQNYM followed by the same word, but with the ending broken away. Baillet wanted to fill in the words with the feminine plural (ZQNWT), but the last two letters do not survive on the papyrus.

4Q502 frag. 19.2 probably should be restored as ZQNYM WZQ[NWT], because the word pair appears in a context that lists other male-female pairs (youths and virgins, young men and young women). But the problem is that the context therefore also makes it more likely that the word pair means "old men and old women" rather than "male and female elders." There is no clear reason to give the phrase an official capacity.

4Q502 frag 24.4 does use the words in an official capacity. We are told of an unidentifiable woman (the context is badly broken) that "she stands in a council of ZQNY[M] ZQ[ ..." (The letters of the second word are badly damaged but the readings look reasonably likely. We could restore the last word as ZQ[NWT] and translate as "elder m[en] (and) eld[er women]." But if this is correct, it is odd that there does not seem to be a conjunction waw, "and," between them. Given the broken context, I would not like to rule out the possibility that a full stop was intended after ZQNY[M] and the next word began a new sentence, in which case it too could have been ZQ[NYM], "elder men."

In sum, it is possible that women acted as "elders" in whatever rite 4Q502 described, but this is by no means certain.