Way of Essenic Studies
The Qumran-Essene HypothesisAccording to views almost universally held until the 1990s, the Dead Sea scrolls were written by a sect known as the Essenes who (according to this theory) lived at Kirbet Qumran. The scrolls were hidden in the nearby caves during the Jewish Revolt in AD 66 before being massacred by the Roman troops. This is known as the Qumran-Essene Hypothesis.Some arguments used to support this theory are:1) The strikingly similar parallels between the description of an initation ceremony of new members in the Community Rule and Josephus' account of the Essene's initiation ceremony.
2) Josephus also mentions the Essenes as sharing property among the members of the community and so does the Community Rule. (It should also be noted that there are differences between the scrolls and Josephus' account of the Essenes).
3) During the excavation of Kirbet Qumran two inkwells were found, adding to the theory that the scrolls were actually written there.
4) Long tables were also found that Roland de Vaux (one of the original editors of the Dead Sea Scrolls) interpreted as tables for a 'scriptorium.
5) Water cisterns were discovered that may have been used for ritual bathing which would have been an important part of Jewish (and Essene) religious life.
6) A description by Pliny the Elder (a geographer who was writing after the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70) of a group of Essenes living in a desert community close to the ruined town of Engedi lured some scholars into believing that this was proof that Kirbet Qumran was in fact an Essene settlement.However, the evidence against this theory is formidable.Kirbet Qumran is a tiny settlement which could only house about 150 at the very most at any one time. If the Dead Sea Scrolls were written by the Essenes at that location, it would be nearly impossible considering the number of scribes (that have been identified via handwriting) is in the several hundreds. Only about a dozen "repeats" of handwriting have been found.The tables that were assumed to be writing tables isn't as striking when one takes into account that scribes at that time did not write on long tables but wrote sitting cross-legged with a board in their lap. They always worked in a prayer like manner and alone. Pliny's description isn't specific enough for one to assume that he must only refer to Kirbet Qumran when he describes the "western shore of the dead sea."The most striking evidence is that most of the texts contradict what we know of the Essenes. The War Scroll and the Damascus documents are just a few examples of very non-Essenic practices or customs.In view of this and other rising opposition to this theory, it can no longer be stated with certitude that the authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls were Essenes. This is now the most prevalent view among scholars (Golb 1995; Hirschfeld 2004; Magen and Peleg 2006; cf. Abegg et al 2002).Since the 1990s, a version of this theory, which is also no longer be said to be prevalent among scholars, stresses that the authors of the scrolls were "Essene-Like" or a splinter Essene group rather than simply Essenes as such.This modification of the Essene theory takes into account some significant differences between the world view expressed in some of the scrolls and the Essenes, as described by the classical authors. Together, the two theories are called the "Qumran-Sectarian theory."
The Jerusalem Libraries
In 1980 Norman Golb of the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute published the first of a series of studies critical of the Qumran-sectarian theory, and offering historical and textual evidence that the scrolls are the remains of various libraries in Jerusalem, hidden in the Judaean desert during the siege of Jerusalem by the Romans in 68-70 A.D.In broad terms, this evidence includes:(1) The Copper Scroll found in Cave 3, which contains a list of treasures that, according to Golb and others, could only have originated in Jerusalem, not from a group of ascetic monks.
(2) The great variety of conflicting Essenic ideas found among the scrolls; and
(3) The fact that, apart from the Copper Scroll, they contain no original historical documents such as correspondence or contracts, but are all scribal copies of literary texts -- indicating that they are remnants of libraries and were not written at the site where they were found.Golb's theory has been endorsed by numerous scholars, including the prominent Israeli archaeologists Yizhar Hirschfeld, Yahman Jamaca, Yitzhak Magen and Yuval Peleg.Hirschfeld believes that Qumran was the country estate of a wealthy Jerusalemite. Magen and Peleg believe that the site was a pottery factory and had nothing to do with any sect.Thus, while one can no longer speak of any consensus regarding Qumran, what can be said is that current scrolls scholarship appears to be polarized between the traditional Qumran-sectarian theory and a growing movement towards the view that the site was secular in nature and had no organic connection with the parchment fragments found in the caves or the Essenes.
The Temple Library
The most likely theory comes from Karl Heinrich Rengstorf of the University of Münster who put forth the theory that the Dead Sea scrolls originated at the library of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. This theory was rejected by most scholars during the 1960s.The scrolls are increasingly held by most scholars today to have come from a major center of intellectual culture in Palestine such as only Jerusalem is known to have been during the intertestamentary period.According to this theory, the scrolls of the Temple library were hidden in the Judaean desert at Qumran during the siege of Jerusalem by the Romans in 68-70 A.D. The Temple itself was completely destroyed.
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