Friday, February 11, 2005

The DSS Website of the West Semitic Research Project

The West Semitic Research Project, run by Professor Bruce Zuckerman at USC, has a nice educational site on the Dead Sea Scrolls. It contains a brief introduction on the discovery of the Scrolls and a basic bibliography for beginners. It also has selections from a number of texts and excellent photographs to go with each.

One of the points I made in my lecture on Tuesday was that although when people think of the Dead Sea "Scrolls" they tend to think of reasonably complete "scrolls" like this column from 4QTestimonia (4Q175), in fact such well-preserved columns, let alone well-preserved scrolls, are rare. Consider that 1QWords of Moses (1Q22) is thought of as a reasonably well preserved text worth using as an educational showpiece! And consider also that DJD 33 is devoted entirely to 41 photographic plates comprising close to 2900 "unclassified and unidentified" fragments from Cave 4, the vast majority of which bear only a few damaged letters and no readable words.

The much-maligned original team of scholars who reassembled the fragments into manuscripts - insofar as that is possible at all - deserve more credit than they often get. Those manuscripts everyone uses didn't just emerge from those shoe boxes in the form we have them now. The original team spent ten years painstakingly putting the pieces together, using content, script, leather quality and color, and the like as clues. What a dreary and thankless task! If any of them had been inclined to make a copyright issue of the use of their work, I wonder if the rest of us might not be in a little trouble.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Halakhah in the Dead Sea Scrolls?

The g-Megillot list is currently discussing whether the term halakhah should be applied to the legal traditions in the DSS. The discussion starts with this message by Stephen Goranson and proceeds from there. Both sides make legitimate points. On the one hand, the word halakhah applies to rabbinic legal traditions on civil, criminal, and religious matters and based on scriptural exegesis, and thus to use it for the Dead Sea Scrolls is an anachronism. And the Scrolls themselves may even polemicize against the term as used by the Pharisees. On the other, the Scrolls are full of such legal traditions based on scriptural exegesis and there isn't another convenient shorthand term for these traditions.

Somewhat similar, perhaps, is the question of using "midrash" for the scriptural exegesis in the Qumran biblical commentaries. The word is an anachronism, but rabbinic midrash does share some of the assumptions and techniques of the Scrolls. In this case I would avoid using "midrash" for the Scrolls, because they give us their own word, pesher, for their commentary technique.

That said, I do tend to refer to halakhah in the Scrolls (see, e.g., the bibliography for 4QMMT). I am by no means alone in this. The ambivalence about the term among Qumranologists is reflected in the Encyclopedia of the Dead Sea Scrolls, where if you look up "Halakhic Works" (p. 328) you will be referred to the article on "Legal Works" (pp. 479-80) in which Larry Schiffman refers to one of the texts as "Halakhah A," following Joseph Baumgarten. Schiffman also applies the term halakhah to 4QMMT in his article on the same (pp. 558-60) and Yaakov Elman has a section on "The Qumran Halakhah" in his "Mishnah and Tosefta" article (pp. 569-74). Schiffman also defends this terminology in his article "The Dead Sea Scrolls and Rabbinic Halakhah" in The Dead Sea Scrolls as Background to Postbiblical Judaism and Early Christianity (ed. Davila), 3-24, esp. p. 5.

It would be nice if we had a good word that applied to the Qumran legal traditions alone, but until then I think a lot of people will continue to say halahkah. As long as we make clear what we mean by it, I don't think this is harmful.

This Wikipedia article on halakhah looks pretty good, although one always has to be cautious with Wikipedia.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005


I should comment briefly on the links section to the right.

You already know about the PaleoJudaica blog and the St. Andrews DSS Website.

The Orion Center is a research center devoted to the study of the Scrolls, which was opened at the Institute for Jewish Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem about ten years ago. The Center supports research on the Scrolls at the Hebrew University, sponsors lectures and conferences, and maintains the marvelous Orion Center Website, the most important resource for the Dead Sea Scrolls on the Internet. Note especially the symposia page and the bibliography page. The latter is updated weekly. There's lots more, so it's worth having a good look around.

The g-Megillot list is a moderated discussion list on the Dead Sea Scrolls, administered by Ken Penner, a doctoral student at McMaster University in Ontario. ("Megillot," incidentally, is the Hebrew word for "scrolls.") The list not terribly active, but when there is discussion it's generally worth reading. I encourage you to subscribe if you haven't already.

The other links link leads to the page of links for PaleoJudaica. You'll find much material relevant to the Scrolls, but also lots of things dealing more generally with ancient Judaism, the Hebrew Bible, early Christianity, biblical and related languages, and the ancient Near East. There are links to websites, online texts, journals, news sites, blogs, selected PaleoJudaica posts, some of my own articles and papers, etc.

There are countless other useful websites on the Dead Sea Scrolls, some of which I will mention in the weeks to come.

Also, some of you may be wondering about the photograph. It's from a fragment of 4QGenesis-Exodusa containing Exod 4:26-5:1 on the right side and Exod 6:4-11 on the left. I took the picture myself back when I was editing the manuscript. You can find the publication of the fragment in DJD 12, pp. 23 and 25-26 (frag. 25 on plate III).

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

First Lecture

My introductory lecture on the Dead Sea Scrolls has now been posted to the St. Andrews Dead Sea Scrolls website.


Welcome to Qumranica, a blog associated with an honours (i.e. upper division) undergraduate course on the Dead Sea Scrolls, which I teach at the University of St. Andrews in St. Andrews, Scotland. The first meeting of the course is today. Please have a look at the "About Qumranica" link (also above and to the right) for detailed information about the course and the blog.

I shall be posting a summary of the opening lecture later today on the St. Andrews Dead Sea Scrolls website and will link to it here. The provisional schedule for the course is already posted on that website and will be updated as the semester progresses. I aim to update the blog at least once a day during weekdays (not excluding weekends if something interesting should happen to come up), so please come back often. And have a look as well at, my blog on ancient Judaism and its literary and historical context.

We now have at least 14 students signed up for the course, which I believe is a record since I started teaching it. The schedule and bibliography is being updated accordingly. This should be a very rich and interesting semester.