Friday, March 25, 2005

Two Weeks of Light Blogging

Our two-week spring break is about to begin, so there will be no more seminars for a while. When I'm around (I'll be out of town for the first part of next week) I'll keep an eye on the news for Qumran-related stories. If I see any that look interesting, I'll blog on them. If not, I won't. The big event scheduled during the break is the publication of a guest lecture by Dr. Maxine Grossman on her postmodern literary-critical approach to the Dead Sea Scrolls. Look for this in the first few days of April.

Here's a little tidbit on the popular culture front. It appears that the Scrolls are a symbol for a particularly weighty tome. This account in the Times Herald-Record, NY of a local trial of the mayor and other town officials contains this curious exchange:
One time, the defense tried to put the city charter in evidence: "How big is it?" [Judge] Rosenwasser asked. "Is it the Dead Sea Scrolls?"

Best wishes for the holidays.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Summary of Seminar on Qumran Archaeology

The archaeology session in my Qumran course is a special challenge and I wrestle with where to put it. There is an argument for placing it near the end of the course, on the theory that most of the literature deals with the archaeology in light of the Dead Sea Scrolls and also the Essenes, so the archaeological data could be put in a better context after the Essene theory had been covered. I have not done so thus far because I think it is worthwhile to try to consider the archaeological evidence strictly on its own terms in the first instance. In practice it is difficult to pull this off, but we do our best.

The "scriptorium" (Locus 30) was an early topic of discussion. There still does not seem to be any widespread agreement among archaeologists about this room. Donceel-Voƻte argued that it was a dining room and the tables were reclining couches, but this has not been widely accepted. Other archaeologists (Broshi, Magness) accept that the room was a scriptorium but are not sure how it was actually used as such. The main piece of evidence for this interpretation seems to be the three inkwells, but it is difficult to be sure how exactly to interpret them. This one room does not seem to suffice to explain the production of the Qumran library. The number of scribal hands seems to be very high -- very few scribes seem to be responsible for as many as even two or three Qumran manuscripts. This points in the direction of the scrolls being brought to Qumran (whether to the inhabited buildings or straight to the caves) from outside rather than being produced on-site. This is one reason for thinking that sectarians from around Judea consolidated their libraries in hiding during the war.

We talked briefly about Pliny's reference to the Essenes on the western shore of the Dead Sea. This is a key -- perhaps the key piece of evidence for regarding Qumran as a site where a community of celibate Essenes lived. Nevertheless, there has some debate about whether the term infra in reference to Ein Gedi makes sense in connection with Qumran. Also, Pliny says that the Essenes were still living at Qumran after the war, when Ein Gedi had already been destroyed. The buildings at Qumran seem to have been destroyed by the Romans during the war, c. 68 CE, so it has been argued that Pliny must mean another site. But both these points are disputed and it is widely accepted that Qumran is the site of Pliny's Essenes.

The question was raised whether the ambiguous evidence of the cemetery (in which at least one of the excavated ancient skeletons was female, and perhaps a couple more) could be explained by positing that the community started out allowing its members to marry but then took a stricter stance and banned women entirely. This is an intriguing notion: Josephus does have marrying Essenes and the Damascus Document has marrying sectarians. (And, incidentally, contrary to popular understanding, the Community Rule does not explicitly describe an all-male community.) Pliny is quite firm that his Essene community was always celibate, but then he also says they had been there for countless ages, so his sources were not perfect. Nevertheless, apart from that one certainly female skeleton, we have no positive evidence that the people who lived there started out as a marrying Essene/sectarian group that initially left male and female burials and only became strictly male and celibate later on, so the idea doesn't seem to have much traction.

An interesting question to which I haven't yet been able to find an answer: how do the Donceels fit the Qumran cemetery into their theory that the ruins were of a vacation villa?

Regular readers of my other blog will be aware that I am fond of counterfactual history. The discussion suggested a counterfactual scenario to me that seems like a useful thought experiment. Suppose that the Dead Sea Scrolls had never been discovered in those caves. (Make up whatever reason you like: maybe they were discovered in the Middle Ages and the caves were completely cleaned out.) What would archaeologists make of the site? They would presumably decide that it had been inhabited by Jews some generations on either side of the turn of the era, based on the dating of the ceramics and the Hebrew ostraca, etc. on the site. They would also have deduced that the occupation was brought to an end by violent outside attack, probably by the Romans. They would find some ritual baths (how many exactly is debated). According to Magness, the pottery was produced locally and was unusually plain. There would be the strange cemetery with individual (as opposed to family) graves with an unusual north to south orientation and with a very high ratio of men to women and apparently no children (assuming Zias is right that most of the graves of adult females and all the graves of children are Bedouin). Would these factors be enough to draw attention to Pliny's account of the Essenes and lead archaeologists to propose that Qumran was his Essene settlement even without the evidence of the scrolls? I don't know. What do you think?

Finally, it is interesting to note that some of the archaeologists involved in the more recent excavations do not hold to the theory of Essene occupation of Qumran. Yuval Peleg and Itzhaq Magen think that period 1a was a Hasmonean military fortress and in period 1b and following Qumran was a pottery and honey production factory. See especially this long Jerusalem Post article.

There was more in the seminar, but for the sake of time I think I'm going to leave it there.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Summary of Copper Scroll Seminar

This is a summary of the second seminar we held yesterday. I usually post the summaries in the order they happened, but there seems to be a malfunction in my e-mail that is randomly gobbling up e-mails sent to me (including from me), so the draft of the summary of the first seminar which I sent myself from home last night has been lost in the ether.

Early on, an interesting question was asked: if the Copper Scroll (hereafter "CS") treasures were real, why have none been found? It was notes that the Dead Sea Scrolls themselves were only discovered by chance, but this point is outweighed by the fact that the Israelis have been searching the caves and other remote parts of the country for decades to uncover archaeological relics and nothing certainly identifiable with a CS cache has ever been found. A jug of ancient balsam oil has been noted as a possibility, but it's not clear that the CS included this particular item. And for Freund's interpretation of the Cave of the Letters, see below. I suggested that the Romans would not have left any loose ends and if they had a suspicion that any Temple treasures or Essene hoards of treasure had not been recovered, they would have rounded up knowledgeable individuals and subjected them to persuasive interrogation until all the details had been tidied up. Indeed, Josephus reports that the Romans did torture some of the Essenes, but he doesn't say for what purpose.

Another question is worth referring to readers. How do the CS treasures, amounting to something in the range of 4500 talents of precious metals, compare to other ancient accounts of treasure (i.e., tribute to emperors, plunder of temples, etc.)? Granted, the ancients often exaggerated such things, but it would be helpful to know what numbers they actually give us. I vaguely remember, for example, that some of the tribute to kings in the Amarna letters was surprisingly large (and unlikely to be exaggerated). Can anyone point to specific accounts of treasure roughly contemporary with the CS, especially accounts unlikely to be exaggerated?

We discussed how much stock to put into the paleographic dating of the CS to c. 25-75 C.E. My view is that the paleography of the Scrolls is controversial and the paleography of the crude hammered letters in the CS, perhaps chiseled in by an illiterate person or persons, all the more so, so we should take any paleographic dating with a fair bit of caution.

Some problems to do with the cave in which the CS was discovered (Qumran Cave 3) are also important. Pixner's drawing of the cave in his RevQ 11 article shows scroll jars lining the walls, with the ledge on which the CS was put fairly far back in the cave. He says that a later ceiling collapse mostly cut the scroll off from the rest of the cave. The implication was that the CS could not have been placed in the cave after the scroll jars were, since whoever put the CS in the cave would have to have passed and ignored a bunch of potentially treasure-containing jars while hiding the copper treasure map, which hardly seems likely. However, after Pixner's article was published, Patrich published his article on further explorations of the Qumran caves (in Methods of Investigation). His team moved the large boulders in the cave and ascertained that the ceiling collapse that put them there happened thousands of years before the scrolls deposit. This raises a couple of questions.

1. Was Pixner wrong when he said that "a huge part of the ceiling caved in right in front of [the CS], hiding the CS in a sort of a niche and barring all access to it" (p. 327)? Was this a later collapse, or part of the much earlier one that Patrich cleared?

2. Were there in fact far fewer scroll jars than Pixner thought, given that there weren't any under the boulders after all? And given that the cave was full of boulders, might the jars that were there have been easily missed by whoever put the CS in the cave?

In other words, does the physical evidence leave open the possibility, contra Pixner, that the CS may have been deposited long after the other scrolls? If anyone who has been in Cave 3 can answer any of these questions, pleas drop me a note.

Also regarding Cave 3, it is normally (I'm tempted to say always) assumed that the scrolls deposit in it was part of the same sectarian one that left scrolls in most of the other 10 caves. But is this necessarily so? None of the scroll fragments from Cave 3 use explicitly sectarian terminology. There are biblical fragments and nonbiblical Jewish texts in Hebrew and Aramaic, but 3Q4, despite being called an "Isaiah Pesher," does not use the term pesher. A manuscript of Jubilees was left there too, but one was left at Masada as well. Should we or can we rule out that multiple deposits of scrolls were made in the Qumran caves by different groups? Most of the caves contain obviously sectarian texts, but not all. Besides Cave 3, note that Cave 7 had only Greek texts with nothing demonstrably sectarian. In short, maybe the people who left scrolls at Qumran were from different groups and there is no sectarian connection for the CS. Necessity makes strange bedfellows.

Then it was asked if the apparent genuineness of the CS had any implications for any other treasure stories. This seems unlikely, there are a great many ancient treasure stories and no connection with the CS hoard has been shown (at least so far) with any of them. It seems prudent to assume that treasure stories are legends unless there is compelling reason (as there is with the CS) to think otherwise.

Regarding Freund's theory that the Cave of the Letters (which contained important manuscript finds from the Bar Kokhba period which will occupy us later on) should be identified with location 25 of the CS, his book was not available to us, so we had to rely on news reports. One of the most thorough is this transcript of a Nova program. It should be noted that Edward Cook on his blog Ralph the Sacred River has advanced some philological objections to Freund's theory that look on the face of it to render the theory very unlikely. But a final judgment must be reserved until we actually see the book.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Copper Scroll Abstract

Here is the abstract for the essay on the Copper Scroll for today's seminar:
The Copper Scroll was found in 1952, but the secrets of 3Q15 remained hidden until its opening in 1955/6, despite the best efforts of K. G. Kuhn. Kuhn had previously announced that the scroll consisted of hidden treasure, and although at first he was ridiculed, the opening of the scroll proved him correct. The scroll consisted of a long and sober list of some sixty-four locations of hidden treasure, which taken at face value mounts to some 58-174 tons of precious metal. It is due to such a copious quantity of metal that Milik has questioned the authenticity of the scroll, suggesting that it depicts Jewish folklore, not real treasure. Others have disagreed, arguing that the nature of the document implies that the treasure was indeed real. Much debate has emerged from this, although questions, including the following, remain unanswered. Is the treasure real? If so, to whom did it belong? Was the scroll hidden by the Qumran community, or someone else? Was it hidden with the leather scrolls, or does its placement at the back of Cave 3 suggest a separate drop? Can we find the treasure?

This paper aims to provide at least some answers to the questions above, discussing in depth the question of whether the scroll depicts a real, or legendary, treasure. Concluding that it is indeed real, I aim to expose the identity of its depositor, prior to suggesting the implications of this scroll upon the current Essene hypothesis.

Anna Evans

Monday, March 21, 2005

Qumran Archaeology Abstract

Here is the abstract for the first essay to be discussed in our seminar tomorrow:
The site of Khirbet Qumran, the ruins located near to the caves in which the Dead Sea Scrolls were found, has for the last half-century been the source of much debate and disagreement between scholars. In this paper, the main theory regarding Khirbet Qumran shall be considered -- that which interprets the ruins as the site of a sectarian community. It shall be seen that there is a variety of evidence from the ruins to support this theory, which was first proposed by R. de Vaux when he led a series of excavations in the 1950s, and the connections between the Dead Sea Scrolls and the ruins shall also be considered. Among those who support the sectarian theory, it is often suggested that it was in fact a group of Essenes, and the reasons for this connection shall also be discussed. However, it is important to remember that not everyone agrees with these suggestions, and therefore the paper shall turn to the idea of the ruins as being the site of a villa, to see what grounds there are for taking this view. Finally, the cemetery located near the ruins shall be looked at, as the evidence found here can provide important information regarding whichever theory one chooses to support.

Dawn Jessopp

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Mobile Exhibition Again

The Biloxi Herald has a nice piece on the exhibition of Dead Sea Scrolls in the Gulf Coast Exploreum Science Center in Mobile. Here's one detail I don't remember seeing before:
The most controversial fragment is the Aramaic Apocalypse, written late in the first century B.C. The only exhibit document not written in Hebrew, the non-Biblical manuscript has sections much like Daniel in the Hebrew Bible. But it refers to the ''Son of God'' and ''Son of the Most High,'' terms often used for the New Testament's Jesus.

The article also says that a manuscript of a work from the Apocrypha is part of the exibit, but doesn't say which. Presumably it's either Ben Sira or Tobit, but I can't find any information about it at the exhibition's website.