Thursday, August 20, 2015

Catching up with the Dead Sea Scrolls

1. I'm trying to ease back into scholarship as I transition back to teaching. Yesterday I was trying to catch up a little on some Dead Sea Scroll scuttlebutt. Last time I taught Intertestamental Literature was in 2009, just as I was transitioning to become Dean.

I knew that Jodi Magness had caused some tremors in the force, that James VanderKam was going to have to revise The Dead Sea Scrolls Today at least a little. I bought John Collins' Beyond the Qumran Community and Hanan Eshel's, The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Hasmonean State and left them there on my shelf to collect dust.

2. So here's my update. It seems like everyone now is pretty much on board that 1) the scrolls go with the site of Qumran, 2) the community that goes with the scrolls was Essene, 3) that the Essenes were significantly bigger than the Dead Sea community, and 4) that many of the scrolls were produced elsewhere and brought to Qumran. Pretty much dead are Schiffman's Sadducee hypothesis and Norman Golb's Jerusalem library hypothesis (for a bizarre chapter here concerning his son, see here).

3. It looks as if Magness has well nigh convinced the DSS scholarly community that there is no real evidence for the community being at the site before the first century BC. She largely supports Roland de Vaux's 1950s analysis of the site, but with a few modifications. The denial of any occupation there before the first century is her biggest change.

Probably because of the numbers in a document called Covenant of Damascus, de Vaux identified an early phase of the site in the second century. But we now have some 50 years unaccounted for between the majority view of when the Essenes started and when we have any evidence of a group at Qumran.

4. Into this gap step Michael Wise and John Collins. The majority seems unmoved in its sense that the Teacher of Righteousness was active in the mid-second century BC and that Jonathan Maccabee was the proto-Wicked Priest of the pesharim in the scrolls. But of majorities, Collins says, "Such is the power of the received scholarly consensus" (95 n.27).

Collins suggests rather that there is no evidence that the Teacher of Righteousness squabbled over the priesthood at all. While he accepts that the Essene community must have formed in the late second century BC, he dates the TR's engagement with the Wicked Priest to the reign of Hyrcanus II (60s BC).

I have always found Collins extremely judicious, someone whom you can tell doesn't have an ax to grind but is really out for the most likely answer. That makes his reassessment something that must be taken very seriously indeed. Of course for me these things are just frustrating. Frustrated at how the early decades of a subject wobble. Frustrating that I am not up on the arguments enough to have a firm position.

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