Friday, May 06, 2005

Summary of Jerusalem Archives Seminar

Although as far as I know, Golb has not actually persuaded anyone of his theory, it seems fair to say that his work has made a significant contribution to the field of Qumran studies. He seems to have gotten it wrong in two places in particular:
  • That the Qumran library is not a sectarian collection

    The sectarian nature of the library is hard to get around: there are multiple copies of many sectarian texts and their terminology and content show a web of interconnections that argue strongly at least for a broadly cohesive sectarian movement.

  • That the site of Qumran was a military fortress up to its destruction around 68 C.E.

    I can't comment authoritatively on this, but I can say that no archaeologist has been convinced by his arguments and everyone seems to agree that a fortress would not have left its water supply unsecured in the way we find at Qumran. It's true, however, that archaeologist David Stacey has indicated in an informal Internet essay that he thinks that the site was a military garrison into the early first century B.C.E., although before what he would accept as sectarian occupation. But I have yet to see even this argued in a scholarly monograph or peer-review journal.

That said, we also noted quite a few places where he seems to have gotten it right on some important points that have now become mainstream:
  • The number of scribal hands in the Qumran manuscripts is too many to be explained by local production

    Many, perhaps most of the manuscripts must have been imported from outside the group who were living at Qumran (assuming they were sectarians).

  • There is a surprising lack of autograph copies and "documentary" (i.e., administrative) texts in the Qumran library

    Aside from the Copper Scroll, the only administrative text I can think of is 4Q477, in which some named individual are being rebuked, evident in a context associated with the Rabbim, the Many, a term associated with the Yahad. Perhaps also the "List of Netinim" in 4Q340. At one time the collection of administrative texts in DJD 27 was thought to have come from the Qumran library, but it now seems that they are texts from the Bar Kokhba era. Where are all the sectarian administrative texts?

  • The Copper Scroll is probably a real treasure.

    I think pretty much everyone accepts this nowadays.

There are other, more controversial points on which I think he's made a contribution, even though his view remains against the consensus. For example, I rather like his reading of the Community Rule (1QS) as the rule book of a kind of sectarian association made up of men with families and I think it makes marginally more sense than the usual reading of it as a constitution for a celibate Essene quasi-monastic group living at Qumran.

A couple of other interesting points came up. One student raised the possibility that the Qumran watchtower was garrisoned to keep an eye on the area but the water supply was unprotected because the plan was for the garrison to abandon the site if approaching enemies were sighted. The analogy was with ancient garrisons on the British coastline (often surviving now as churches), which were set up with that purpose. We wondered how close an analogy this was, but since none of us controlled either archaeological discipline, we couldn't get very far with the idea.

Finally, and this seems a fitting question with which to close, we asked why nobody ever came back to get the scrolls. Did everyone who knew about the scrolls deposits really die? Even granting the carnage of the Great Revolt, that seems unlikely. Could the scrolls deposits have been genizot, caches of worn manuscripts that were not intended to be used again? Are other explanations possible? As with so many other questions about the Dead Sea Scrolls, we just don't know.