Wednesday, July 24, 2013


While I still have notes on the conference on Peter that I will continue posting, I would like to start sharing some notes from the International SBL, which was held at St. Andrews, Scotland.

The opening lecture was actually a set of five short lectures covering the status quaestionis on several topics.  It was entitled, 'What biblicists need to know about....,' and covered the topics of Qumran, the Samaritan Pentateuch, the Septuagint, Rabinnic Judaism, and New Testament Textual Criticism.

Here, I am going to focus on the first lecturer, Carol Newsom of Emory, who discussed Khirbet Qumran.  She began her brief lecture by reviewing five points of consensus from the early days of Qumran excavations and study following the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls.  Briefly,
  1. The site of Qumran and the scrolls are related
  2. Both the site and scrolls are related to the Essene sect
  3. Occupation at the site began in the mid 2nd c. BCE, probably with the usurpation of the temple by one whom they viewed as an illegitimate priest (perhaps Jonathan or John Hyrcanus of the Hasmonean dynasty)
  4. Pharisees are the enemy of the Essene sect
  5. Qumran was the center of the Essene movement
The proximity of the site to the caves makes the relationship between the two apparent.  While some of the caves (follow link for a list of caves) are found north of the site, half a dozen are found in the immediate vicinity of Qumran.  The early excavators and scholars of the site, primarily Fr. Roland de Vaux of Ecole Biblique, very quickly saw this relationship and, based on readings of sectarian literature in the scrolls, identified the inhabitants as members of the Essene Jewish sectarian group.  It was asserted that the separatists encamped in the wilderness because of what they considered to be the illegitimate temple leadership in Jerusalem.  Perhaps, even, the usurpation was the displacement of their own teacher (the Teacher of Righteousness) by a member of the Hasmonean dynasty (perhaps Jonathan or John Hyrcanus).  From Josephus and the sectarian literature found in the caves, such as the Damascus Document and the Community Rule, one gets an understanding of the Essene sectarian group.  It is understood that they had very specific concerns regarding purity, Jewish law (halakhah) and the calendar regulating religious festivals and observance.  These concerns put them at odds with the Pharisees regarding differences in halakhah and calendar.  Due to these disputes with both the priests and the pharisees, the Essenes retreated to the wilderness and settled down in a communal life in Qumran.  

Prof. Newsom then turned to the more recent discussions regarding the site.  Much of her lecture was shaped by the work of UNC's Jodi Magness and Yale's John J. Collins.  In more recent discussions, some of the original five conclusions need revision, while others have been rejected.  
Cave 4. Photo by Isaac M. Alderman
  1. The assertion that site and the scrolls are related remains unsuccessfully challenged.  The proximity of the majority of the caves to Qumran makes it very difficult to those who claim they are unrelated.  In fact, the cave with the greatest number of fragments found is cave 4 (pictured here), a man made cave which is accessible only by passing through the site.
  2. The conclusion that the site and the scrolls are related to the Essenes is also still the consensus.  Some, however, prefer not to call them the Essenes, but the more generic term, the Qumran Community.  
  3. The third point, that the community's objection was temple leadership, no longer enjoys consensus status. The major issues are now viewed more likely to be disputes about halakhah and the calender.  Also, primarily due to the work of Jodi Magness, the dates of occupation of the site has been down dated, which would steer them clear of some of the earlier disputes over temple leadership.  
  4. It is still consensus that the primary opponents of the Essenes were the pharisees. In fact, this may be strengthened by the previous point, the added emphasis on halakhah and calendar.
  5. Finally, Qumran is no longer seen as the center of Essene movement.  Rather, it is now believed that the movement was dispersed throughout the region and not concentrated in the wilderness.  
It was a very interesting lecture, due primarily to how succinct and pithy it was. While I was familiar with most of its content, it was so clearly expressed that I immediately realized that utilizing these five points is how I will be covering this topic in my classes this fall. 

Below is a slideshow of my own photos from Qumran. 






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