Wednesday, August 16, 2006


There's always been some question, but some are casting new doubtson the link between the Qumran settlement and the Dead Sea Scrolls:
two Israeli archaeologists who have excavated the site on and off for more than 10 years now assert that Qumran had nothing to do with the Essenes or a monastery or the scrolls. It had been a pottery factory.

The archaeologists, Yizhak Magen and Yuval Peleg of the Israel Antiquities Authority, reported in a book and a related magazine article that their extensive excavations turned up pottery kilns, whole vessels, production rejects and thousands of clay fragments. Derelict water reservoirs held thick deposits of fine potters’ clay.

Dr. Magen and Dr. Peleg said that, indeed, the elaborate water system at Qumran appeared to be designed to bring the clay-laced water into the site for the purposes of the pottery industry. No other site in the region has been found to have such a water system.

By the time the Romans destroyed Qumran in A.D. 68 in the Jewish revolt, the archaeologists concluded, the settlement had been a center of the pottery industry for at least a century. Before that, the site apparently was an outpost in a chain of fortresses along the Israelites’ eastern frontier.

“The association between Qumran, the caves and the scrolls is, thus, a hypothesis lacking any factual archaeological basis,” Dr. Magen said in an article in the current issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

But if the residents of Qumran didn't write them, whence did they come?
For years, Dr. Golb has argued that the multiplicity of Jewish religious ideas and practices recorded in the scrolls made it unlikely that they were the work of a single sect like the Essenes. He noted that few of the texts dealt with specific Essene traditions. Not one, he said, espoused celibacy, which the sect practiced.

The scrolls in the caves were probably written by many different groups, Dr. Golb surmised, and were removed from Jerusalem libraries by refugees in the Roman war. Fleeing to the east, the refugees may well have deposited the scrolls for safekeeping in the many caves near Qumran.

The new research appears to support this view. As Dr. Magen noted, Qumran in those days was at a major crossroads of traffic to and from Jerusalem and along the Dead Sea. Similar scrolls have been found at Masada, the site south of Qumran of the suicidal hold-out against the Romans.

Of course, where the scrolls originated matters a great deal in our understanding of their context. There will be critics of these critics, too, certainly, but the evidence seems to be going against Qumran.

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