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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Neil Godfrey : The Dates of the Dead Sea Scrolls

The Dates of the Dead Sea Scrolls

by Neil Godfrey

As set out in a previous post, when the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered they were dated on palaeographical (handwriting) analysis before the time of King Herod (37 to 4 BCE) or at least not later than the earlier years of Herod — before 20 BCE. We saw in the same post how the various scripts were subsequently recalibrated so that they brought the Dead Sea Scrolls into line with the Jewish Revolt of the late 60c CE. The handwriting styles of the Dead Sea Scrolls were aligned so that many of them were fresh and hidden in caves around 68 CE.
But how valid are the dates assigned on those palaeographic script charts? Not all scholars accept that recalibration as the final word.
 A first observation is that the small number of decades separating mid-first century CE from the time of Herod is barely greater than acknowledged  margin of error, but that is not the important point.
The important point is the circularity in which scribal hands of texts from Qumran’s caves were defined after 1951 as dated as late as the first century CE because those defining the palaeographic sequences believed Qumran scroll deposits at the time of the First Revolt had been firmly established archaeologically. No information in the years since has materially altered this epistemological circularity. Radiocarbon dates on Qumran texts that have been done until now have not altered this picture.
— Doudna, Gregory L. 2017. “Dating the Scroll Deposits of the Qumran Caves: A Question of Evidence” in The Caves of Qumran: Proceedings of the International Conference, Lugano 2014, edited by Marcello Fidanzio. Brill, Leiden, Boston. 
It was believed that a script belonged to the time of the Jewish revolt (66-70 CE).
Therefore the script was formally dated in the chart to the time of the Jewish revolt.
And the chart thereby became the standard for dating the scripts.
Here is how Frank Moore Cross chronologically aligned the different scripts of the Hebrew letter he, ה, referencing very early Aramaic texts, the Dead Sea Scrolls and later scripts.

In a future post I will set out in more detail than previously the evidence that would seem to me to knock out of the water this neat alignment of scripts with those dates.
For those interested in the allusion above to problems with radiocarbon dating of the Dead Sea Scrolls. . . .
Space limitation prevents discussion here of radiocarbon datings (see Doudna, “The Sect,” 108–112) [– also posted on Bible and Interpretation]. Suffice it to say that the existence of first-century CE Qumran texts can be established through radiocarbon dating in really only one of two ways.
First, by obtaining individual Qumran text radiocarbon dates whose calendar date possibilities after calibration entirely postdate first century BCE at 95% confidence and exclude (by rechecking) that those results are from statistical variation or a contaminated sample.
Or second (requiring a greater number of datings and a higher order of statistical analysis), by obtaining enough repeated radiocarbon dates of Qumran texts whose calendar date possibilities after calibration entirely postdate first century BCE at the weaker but narrower 68% confidence interval, even if first century BCE is not excluded at 95% confidence in any of the individual datings.
Neither of these criteria have been met in the existing radiocarbon data. A reasonable assessment of the existing radiocarbon data is that of J. van der Plicht and K. Rasmussen: “The dates suggest a possible range from the third century BC to the first century AD for texts from caves near Qumran, with a strong concentration of probable dates in the second or first century BC” (Johannes van der Plicht and Kaare L. Rasmussen, “Radiocarbon Dating and Qumran,” in Holistic Qumran: Trans-Disciplinary Research of Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls; Proceedings of the NIAS-Lorentz Centre Qumran Workshop 21–25 April 2008 [STDJ 87; ed. J. Gunneweg, A. Adriaens, and J. Dik; Leiden: Brill, 2010], 111).

Cross Jr, Frank M. 1955. “The Oldest Manuscripts from Qumran”, Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 74, No. 3. pp. 147-172,
Doudna, Gregory L. 2017. “Dating the Scroll Deposits of the Qumran Caves: A Question of Evidence” in The Caves of Qumran: Proceedings of the International Conference, Lugano 2014, edited by Marcello Fidanzio. Brill, Leiden, Boston.


Dead Sea Scrolls — All Well Before Christ and the First Jewish War

by Neil Godfrey

A paper presented last the Caves of Qumran 2014 conference at Lugano, Switzerland, by Gregory L. Doudna argues that
the traditional dating of the scroll deposits of the caves of Qumran to as late as the time of the First Revolt [66-70 CE] is supported by neither evidence nor plausibility. (Doudna 2017, p.238)
Doudna’s paper makes its case through the following steps:
  1. All historical references within the Dead Sea Scrolls pertain to the second and first centuries BCE; there are no allusions to any persons or events after Herod’s taking of Jerusalem in 38 BCE.
  2. The common view that on the basis of palaeography that the scrolls date up to the time of the first Jewish revolt against Rome has been based on circularity and flawed assumptions.
  3. Flawed assumptions about the contemporaneity of two classes of phenomena: “scroll jars and scroll deposits on the one hand, and first-century CE refugees or fugitives’ fleeting use of caves on the other.”
  4. Jars of the type that contained scrolls and palaeographic dates “provide no basis for confidence that those texts were first century CE.”
  5. Biblical texts found at sites other than Qumran, between Herod and the Jewish revolt, all contain carefully copied exact-Masoretic text type (i.e. were carefully and exactly copied in agreement with the basis of our Old Testament books) yet the Qumran biblical texts are varied in their copying (i.e. they followed no standard text). The simplest explanation is that the Qumran texts represent a pre-Herodian time when the text was not standardized.

That last (fifth) point surprised this amateur. I had not been aware of the evidence that the Masoretic (Hebrew) text of the “Old Testament” was stabilised so early. As Doudna remarks, on the assumption that the Gospel of Matthew was composed in the first century,
Once this is realised, no longer will the saying of Matt. 5:18 referring to iotas and keraias in the writing of scribes scrupulously copying the books of Moses with letter-perfect accuracy, and, alluding to the decorative keraias of the most developed formal hands, be regarded as anachronistic. Matt. 5:18 may become recognised as a realistic allusion to scribal practice and ideology before the destruction of the temple, yet postdating the latest texts of Qumran. (Doudna, p. 246)
Doudna suggests that the I would like to revisit some of my recent thoughts and posts arising from Eva Mroczek’s The Literary Imagination in Jewish Antiquity to consider whether this data has implications for some aspects of just how loose were the concepts of “sacred scriptures” and “canon” in the Second Temple era.
In this post I would like to take time to grasp Doudna’s first point about the historical references and allusions in the scrolls all pertaining to the pre-Christian era. With new ideas I’m a slow and painstaking learner so to help me grasp the point I followed up the following in Doudna’s paper:
A 2003 study of Michael Wise remains the most comprehensive attempt to inventory the historical allusions in the Qumran texts. Wise counted what he defined as “first-order” allusions, and not “second order” allusions (allusions that depend on the correctness of a prior allusion identification), which Wise suggested would have increased — perhaps doubled — the numbers if that were done. Wise counted 6 allusions in the second century BCE, rising dramatically to 25 in the first century BCE ending at 37 BCE. Then, 0 for the first century CE, 0 for second century CE, etc. Other studies have found this same pattern of distribution. (Doudna, p. 239)
Off to JSTOR to locate Wise’s article, then: “Dating the Teacher of Righteousness and the Floruit of his Movement,” JBL 122 (2003): 53-87.
Wise demonstrates the history of uncertain and contradictory results from paleographic dating and writes:
Paleographic dating is imprecise because it is inherently subjective. (Wise, p. 57)
There’s an entire post there just to draw out the substance of that claim. Wise further points out the evidence against the once popular idea that there was a single community of scribes responsible for the copying of all of the scrolls.
The presence of hundreds of different hands seems inexplicable unless the majority of the scrolls originated elsewhere than at Qumran. (Wise, p. 59)
The following table is a précis of Wise’s more detailed data:dead
 # Historical References Date Manuscript Translation Notes
The high priesthood of Onias III
174 B.C.E.
Pseudo-Daniel (4Q245) i 9, in an apparent list of high priests
“and Onias”
Onias IV is also possible
he taking of Jerusalem by Antiochus IV Epiphanes
170/169 B.C.E.
Pesher on Nahum (4QpNah; 4Q169) 3-4 i 3
“and God did not give Jerusalem] into the power of the kings of Greece from (the time of) Antiochus until the rulers of the Kittim arose.

The high priesthood of Jonathan Maccabee
161-143/2 B.C.E
4Q245 i 10, in the same list of high priests noted above (no. 1)

The high priesthood of Simon Maccabee
143/2-135/4 B.C.E.
4Q245 i 10, in the list of high priests (no. 1)

One or more events involving John Hyrcanus I
135/4-104 B.C.E. 
4QpapHistorical Text C (4Q331) 1 i 7
“Yohanan to bring to [”
Also possibly referring to John Hycanus II
John Hyrcanus I as a false prophet
135/4-104 B.C.E.
4QList of False Prophets (4Q339) frg. 1 line 9
“[Yohanan son of Sim]on”

The reign of Alexander Jannaeus
103-76 B.C.E.
4QApocryphal Psalm and Prayer (4Q448) ii 2 and iii 842
“over Jonathan the king” and “for Jonathan the king”
Two distinct allusions here.
One or more events of the reign of Alexander Jannaeus
103-76 B.C.E.
4QJonathan (4Q523) frgs. 1-2 line 2 (
translation very uncertain
This manuscript is so fragmentary that any ideas about it are perforce extremely tentative.”
The coming of Demetrius III Eucaerus to invade Jerusalem at Pharisee invitation
88 B.C.E.
Pesher on Nahum (4QpNah; 4Q169) 3-4 i 2
the true interpretation concerns Deme]trius, king of Greece, who sought to enter Jerusalem on the counsel of the Seekers of Accommodation”

The crucifixion of Pharisee supporters of Demetrius III by Alexander Jannaeus
88 B.C.E. (
Pesher on Nahum (4QpNah; 4Q169) 3-4 i 7-8
“ven]geance against the Seekers of Accommodation; for he used to hang men [from a tree while] (still) alive, [as it was done] in Israel of old.”

The crucifixion of Pharisee supporters of Demetrius III by Alexander Jannaeus
88 B.C.E.
Pesher on Hosea (4QpHosb; 4Q167) frg. 2 lines 1-7
the true interpretation con]cerns the final priest, who will stretch out his hand to smite Ephraim”
Ephraim is elsewhere a cipher for the Pharisees.”
An unidentifiable event involving the Hasmonean queen, Alexandra (Hebrew name Shelamzion)
Presumably during her reign, 76-67 B.C.E.
4QHistorical Text D (4Q332) ii 4
foundation/secret counsel (?), Shelamzion came … “

A second unidentifiable event involving Alexandra
Presumably 76-67 B.C.E.
4QpapHistorical Text C (4Q331) 1 ii 7

Shift of control of temple ritual activities from Jannaeus’s faction to the Pharisees
During the reign of Alexandra, 76-67 B.C.E.
Pesher on Nahum (4QpNah; 4Q169) 3-4 ii 4-6
The true interpretation concerns the rule of the Seekers of Accommodation; never absent from their company will be the sword of the Gentiles, captivity, looting, internal strife, exile for fear of enemies. A mass of criminal carcasses will fall in their days, with no limit to the total of their slain-indeed, because of their criminal purpose they will stumble on the flesh of their corpses!”
That these lines describe Pharisaic dominion in Jerusalem in the days of Alexandra is generally acknowledged by scholars. Dominance in the political realm equated with control over the temple rituals. The Phar-isees were now able to begin enforcing their interpretations of dis-puted passages of biblical law.”
Hyrcanus II flees to the Nabateans for asylum and to seek support for a planned rebellion against Aristobulus II
67 B.C.E.
4QHistorical Text D (4Q332) frg. 2 line 1
to] give him honor among the Arab[s”
Hyrcanus II rebels against Aristobulus II
67 B.C.E.
4QHistorical Text D (4Q332) frg. 2 line 6
“…. Hyrcanus rebelled [against Aristobulus”
The reading of [-rnr] is uncertain, but even if it is mistaken, the line rep-resents an allusion to the time of a “Hyrcanus,” presumably Hyrca-nus II, since the related 4Q331 elsewhere refers to Hyrcanus I as “Yohanan” (see on no. 5 above).”
Civil war breaks out between Aristobulus II and Hyrcanus II
67 B.C.E.
4Q183 i 2 1-3
“their enemies, and they defiled their sanctuary [. . .] from them, and they advanced to battles, each man [against his brother . .. those who were faithful] to his covenant, God delivered and [they] escaped [to the land of the north.”
The war arose as a result of certain practices in the Jerusalem temple; the text’s description might easily apply to the situation in 67 B.C.E., or, as Kister believes, that of Jannaeus’s time, 94-88 B.C.E.”
An action-presumably of a hostile sort-taken against Aristobulus II
67-63 B.C.E.
Olim 4Q323 frg. 3 line 6
“and against Ari[stobulus”

The coming of the Romans to Palestine under Pompey the Great
63 B.C.E.
CD 8:11-12
“‘The poison of vipers’ is the head of the kings of Greece, who came to wreak vengeance on them.”
Since arguably it can be deduced that the cipher “kings of Greece” was used by the pesharists as a broad rubric that might embrace the Romans (see no. 20 below), the allusion is reasonably understood as a reference to Pompey. He marched on Jerusalem in 63 B.C.E. with auxiliary troops furnished by, among others, the Seleucid “Greeks” (Josephus, Ant. 14.48). He was thus a “king of the Greeks.” The pesharist saw Pompey’s attack as God’s vengeance upon the powers in Jerusalem for their treatment of the Teacher and his followers in the preceding years.”
The fall of Jerusalem to Pompey’s Roman army
63 B.C.E.
Pesher on Nahum (4QpNah; 4Q169) 3-4 i 3
“but God did not give Jerusalem] into the power of the kings of Greece from (the time) of Antiochus until the rulers of the Kittim arose”
. . . . the correlative grammatical construction […], which makes the Romans “kings of the Greeks” just as much as Anti-ochus was one.”
The defeat of Aristobulus II and his faction at the hands of Hyrcanus II, his faction (including the Pharisees), and his Roman allies
63 B.C.E.
Pesher on Nahum (4QpNah; 4Q169) 3-4 iv 3
“The true inter-pretation concerns Manasseh in the final era, for his kingdom shall be brought low in Is[rael.”
“Manasseh” in the pesharim is often understood to refer to the Sad-ducees, but this construction is too narrow. The reference is rather to the entire faction of Aristobulus II, as no. 22 makes clear. This faction doubtless included some Sadducees, but other groups as well.”
The exile of Aristobulus II, his family, and selected followers to Rome, and the execution of many of the leaders of his faction by the Romans
63 B.C.E.
Pesher on Nahum (4QpNah; 4Q169) 3-4 iv 4
his women [sc. Manasseh], his infants, and his children shall go into captivity; his war-riors and his nobles [shall perish] by the sword.”

A massacre of Jews involving a Roman general who served under Pompey, M. Aemilius Scaurus
63-61 B.C.E.
4QHistorical Text E (4Q333) frg. 1 lines 3-4
“[On the first (or, the second; or, the third) day of (the service of the priestly course of) J]ehezkel, which is [the twenty-ninth (or, the thirtieth; or, the thirty-first) day of the sixth month, the Day] of the Massacre of Aemilius.”

A second murder or massacre involving Scaurus
63-61 B.C.E
4QHistorical Text E (4Q333) frg. 1 lines 7-8
“the fourth day of (the service of the priestly course of) Gamul, whi]ch is [the fifteenth day of the seventh month, is the Festival of Booths; on that day,] Aemilius murdered …”

Exaction of tribute by the Romans beginning in the period after the war
63 B.C.E. onward
Pesher on Habakkuk (1QpHab) 6:6-7
“the true interpretation is that they impose the yoke of their taxes-this is ‘their food’-on all the peoples yearly”

The establishment of Roman soldiers in Jerusalem after the war
63-57 B.C.E.
Pesher on Nahum (4QpNah; 4Q169) 3-4 i 1
the true interpretation concerns Jerusalem, which has become] a dwelling place for the wicked of the Gentiles”

The rule of the Jews by a succession of rapacious Roman governors
63-40 B.C.E.
Pesher on Habakkuk (1QpHab) 4:10-13
“the true interpretation [con]cerns the rulers of the Kittim, who pass-by the counsel of a guil[ty] faction-one after the other; [their] rulers come, [ea]ch in his turn, to destroy the la[nd”

A massacre or battle involving Peitholaus
55-51 B.C.E.
4QHistorical Text F (4Q468e) 2-3
to kill the multitude of me[n] … Peitholaus”
This tiny fragment of three lines seems to allude to violent actions taken by Peitholaus, a Jewish general who was a party to warfare and massacres in the mid-first century B.C.E. Peitholaus at first allied him-self with the Romans and helped punish Jewish rebels who supported Aristobulus’s wing of the Hasmoneans (Josephus, Ant. 14.84-85; J. W 1.162-63). Later, he switched sides and became an ally of those same partisans. In this role he was involved in a battle with the Romans wherein, again, many Jews lost their lives (Ant. 14.93-95; J.W 1.172). Shortly thereafter he himself suffered execution at Roman hands (Ant. 14.120; J.W 1.180). “
Hyrcanus II taken prisoner by the Parthians
40 B.C.E.
Pesher on Habakkuk (1QpHab 9:9-12)
the true interpretation refers to the Wicked Priest. Because of the crime he committed against the Teacher of Righteousness and the members of his party, God handed him over to his enemies, humiliating him with a consuming affliction with despair, because he had done wrong to his chosen.”
The identity of the “Wicked Priest” has long been a vexed issue in Dead Sea Scrolls research, but as Andrd Dupont-Sommer first observed, Hyrcanus II is certainly one of the viable candidates.72 Indeed, given the first-century time frame evident elsewhere in the pesharim, he seems the best candidate. When the Parthians invaded Judea in 40 B.C.E. and supported Antigonus as king, Hyrcanus was put at their disposal as one of the backers of the failed Herod. His ears were cropped to render him permanently unfit to serve as high priest (a possible interpretation of the “consuming affliction”), and he was taken back to Parthia as a prisoner. When he was released several years later, Herod, by now installed as Roman client king, arranged his murder.”
Hyrcanus II taken prisoner by the Parthians
40 B.C.E.
Pesher on Psalms (4QpPsa; 4Q171) 1-10 iv 9-10
but as for [him (sc. the Wicked Priest), God will] recompense him by giving him into the power of violent Gentiles, to work [vengeance] upon him.”

The plunder of Jerusalem by the Roman army under Sosius
37 B.C.E.
Pesher on Habakkuk (1QpHab) 9:4-7
the true interpretation con-cerns the later priests of Jerusalem, who will gather ill-gotten riches from the plunder of the peoples, but in the Last Days their riches and plunder alike will be handed over to the army of the Kittim”
After the city of Jerusalem fell to Herod and his Roman allies in 37 B.C.E., the Roman army was unusually violent and unrestrained in their plundering of the city. Josephus attributes this attitude to their anger at the five-month length of the siege.”
Wise’s conclusion from the above data is worth quoting at length:
But what can one say of the period after 30 B.C.E.? The writers of the Dead Sea Scrolls, whether sectarian or nonsectarian, seem to have nothing to say about the years 30 B.C.E.-70 C.E. Surely this puzzle requires explanation.
From a modem standpoint these years represent perhaps the most tumultuous and significant century in ancient Jewish history — all passed over in silence. The scrolls contain no recognizable reference to any of the signal events of Herod the Great’s reign, although Josephus portrayed that period as a watershed in his people’s history.
  • Herod’s building of a Greek theater and amphitheater in Jerusalem finds no mention anywhere.
  • Neither is there any allusion to Herod’s rebuilding of Samaria.
  • Nor do the scrolls concern themselves, even by a passing reference, with Herod’s dismantling of the Hasmonean temple in Jerusalem in order to replace it with his own.
Indeed, consider a few of the other matters of the years 30 B.C.E. to 70 C.E. that go unmentioned:
  • the War of Varus;
  • appointment and dismissal of high priests at will;
  • planned installation of the image of Caligula in the temple at Jerusalem;
  • the reign of Herod Agrippa I, a follower of the Pharisees;
  • various freedom fighters, prophets, and millenarian leaders who appear in Josephus, including John the Baptist;
  • high priestly families battling in the streets of Jerusalem in the years 62-64 C.E.;
  • the outbreak and events of the First Revolt itself.
These are the same kinds of events — involving temple purity and political leadership, war and foreign invasion — about which the writers of the scrolls were downright voluble for the first century B.C.E. . . . . 
. . . .
One possible explanation is that the apparent absence of new writings is merely that-apparent, fortuitous. On this view, the Teacher’s movement did continue to produce literature, but by sheer bad luck no identifiable portion of those later writings survived. This is a kind of argument from silence, useful to potential advocates to counter what they would, no doubt, brand as itself an argument from silence. Although conceivably correct, the problem with their approach is that it amounts to saying that the best argument is no argument. In fact, historians dealing with antiquity always face the problem that only a small percentage of the evidence has survived. The usual practice-and few would dispute that it is the best practice-is to draw provisional conclusions on the basis of what has survived.
In any case, we are in a better situation here than such advocates would have one believe. To draw an inference from the total absence of allusions to the first century C.E. in the Dead Sea Scrolls is really not an argument from silence. The situation is rather akin to that of the hound in the Sherlock Holmes story “Silver Blaze”: this is a dog that should have barked. The most natural conclusion from the silence is that the dog could not bark: it was either sick, or it was dead. By the beginning of the common era, it seems, the Teacher’s movement had lost vitality, perhaps even ceased to exist. No more than a rivulet survived to flow into the first century C.E.8
(Wise, pp. 85-6, my bolding and formatting)
Hope to post more as opportunity permits.

Doudna, G.L. 2017. “Dating the Scroll Deposits of the Qumran Caves: A Question of Evidence.” In The Caves of Qumran: Proceedings of the International Conference, Lugano 2014, edited by Marcello Fidanzio, 238-246. Leiden, Boston: Brill.
Wise, M.O. 2003. “Dating the Teacher of Righteousness and the Floruit of his Movement,” JBL 122 (2003): 53-87.


How Dating the Dead Sea Scrolls Went Awry — #1

by Neil Godfrey

For this post I am returning to Gregory Doudna’s 2014 conference paper, Dating the Scroll Deposits of the Qumran Caves: A Question of Evidence.
In the 1990s Doudna raised the question of whether the Qumran cave scrolls had been deposited as late as the first century CE. This was the first time since the excavation of the Qumran settlement in 1951 that the question had been raised.
In this post I want to attempt to set out Doudna’s explanation of how dating the scrolls went (in his view) so wrong.

1947 – Discovery and the first dating

When the scrolls were first discovered they were dated by Solomon Birnbaum and William F. Albright to the mid first century BCE.
This period was based on palaeographic analysis of the script.

1949 – the first dating confirmed

Cave 1 was excavated in 1949 and Albright dated jars and lamps associated with the scrolls before the second half of the reign of Herod when “Romanization” influences began to dominate. Since Herod ruled 37 to 4 BC that places the pottery before ca 20 BCE.
Dating this time was based upon ceramic typology. Items assessed were “scroll jars” and two “hellenistic” lamps.

There was a small quantity of later Roman domestic pottery and lamps but this was regarded by all as “intrusive and later, not associated with the scrolls and scroll jars.”
Albright’s conclusion:
We may rest assured . . . not a single piece [fragment of scroll] found in the cave is later than the early years of the Herodian Age at latest. (Albright, W.F. 1950. “The Dead Sea Scrolls of St. Mark’s Monastery,” BASOR, 118: 6)

1951, Nov-Dec. – Excavation of the Qumran “settlement” 

The Qumran “settlement” is a little over 1 km south of Cave 1.

The term “settlement” is misleading since it implies a permanent domestic habitation. As we have seen in the previous two posts there are very good reasons for understanding occupation of Qumran was seasonal and that it was generally deserted every summer.
But the significant point for this post is that with the excavation of 1951 the dating of the scrolls changed dramatically.
A jar identical to the one found in Cave 1 was found embedded in the floor of “Locus 2” of Qumran. Locus 2? For those who are as finicky as I am and want a clear grasp of the details here is a map I located from somewhere(?): I have highlighted what looks to me like Locus 2 —

Other pottery in the same room was identical to the domestic pottery in Cave 1. Recall that that domestic pottery in Cave 1 had originally been regarded as “intrusive”, later than the scrolls and scroll jars and lamps there.
Coins dated to the first century CE up to time of the Jewish revolt 66-70 CE were also found in Locus 2 and nearby loci.

It followed (so it seemed) that the scroll jars and scroll deposits of Cave 1Q were first century CE. (Doudna, p. 240)
For someone like me who is very new to this discussion I find it helpful to set it out graphically:

The conclusions drawn from the Qumran 1951 excavation trumped the previous BCE conclusions. The palaeographic datings had been assessed to be BCE but the archaeological evidence appeared to put those behind the eight ball.
Excavation of the settlement at Khirbet Qumran has established beyond doubt that all of the material was deposited in these caves in the late first century AD. (Harding, G.L. 1955. “Introductory, the Discovery, the Excavation, Minor Finds,” in Qumran Cave 1 (DJD 1; ed. D. Barthélemy and J. T. Milik; Oxford: Clarendon Press, 4)
Albright and others fell in line with the new chronology.

Recalibrating the palaeography to fit 

So what of the contradictory (earlier) dates based on palaeography?
The typologically most developed formal hands among the Qumran texts were redefined with later dates than previously published, ending at the time of the First Revolt. (Doudna, p. 240)
Frank Moore Cross, Jr. revised the stages of progression of the types of scripts, assigning to each typology its own date range, so that the scrolls from Cave 1 ended at the time of the Jewish Revolt in the mid/late 60s CE.

Other types of script had since been discovered further south at Wadi Murabba’at. These new scripts were far advanced over the Qumran texts and bore similarities with the much later Masoretic Text. Since the Qumran text was now said to fill out the first century CE up to the time of the Jewish War, the Murabba’at texts were consequently dated after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE.
This culminated in Cross’s well known study of 1961 which has been the standard used for palaeographic dating ever since.11 On this basis all of the non-Qumran biblical scrolls then known (from Wadi Murabbaʿat and Naḥal Ḥever) were dated post-70 CE and their scribal hands named “post-Herodian formal,” in Cross’s 1961 reconstruction.12
11 Frank M. Cross, “The Oldest Manuscripts from Qumran” JBL 74 (1955): 147–72; idem, “The Development of the Jewish Scripts,” in The Bible and the Ancient Near East: Essays in Honor of William Foxwell Albright (ed. G. E. Wright; Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1961), 133–202.
12 Cross, “The Development of the Jewish Scripts,” 174, 199, n. 136a.
(Doudna, p. 240)
So the palaeographic typology that in the 1940s assigned the cave texts to BCE was after 1951 and the excavation of Qumran shifted to CE and up to the Jewish War.
Doudna emphasises the point:
To repeat and to be clear: the focus on the First Revolt as the date of the latest Qumran texts began as an archaeological correction in the dating of the scroll jars and scroll deposits in the caves. Then the palaeographic datings were secondarily adjusted to be in alignment. That was the specific direction of the logic. The archaeological correction of the scroll deposits to the First Revolt was the basis for fixing the palaeographic dates of the latest Qumran cave texts to the first century CE, and the dates of the biblical texts postdating the Qumran caves’ latest to later than 70 CE. (p. 240)
Sounds simple enough? But not so fast.
That resetting of the palaeographic dates to conform with artefacts in Qumran was based on three assumptions, all of which were “deeply flawed.”


Dating the Dead Sea Scrolls — #2

by Neil Godfrey

This post needs to be read in conjunction with How Dating the Dead Sea Scrolls Went Awry — #1. We concluded in that post with: “the resetting of the palaeographic dates to conform with artefacts in Qumran was based on three assumptions, all of which were “deeply flawed.”
Assumption 1: 
All pottery more recent than the Iron Age (age of Assyria, Babylonia, etc) was the product of a settlement in the first century CE era.
The second excavation (1953) uncovered activity from the first century BCE.
Recall that jar embedded in the floor of Locus 2 — it was of the same kind found in Cave 1 with the scrolls.

Coins were found there from the time of Antigonus Mattathias, 40-37 BCE, one right beside that jar.
That jar in Qumran’s Locus 2 was now re-dated to the first century BCE. That is, that room was now BCE, not CE.
But the first century CE date held for the Qumran “community” by arguing that the room was swept clean and re-used through the first century CE by the “community” or people who would be related to the scrolls.
That is, despite the discovery of BCE setting, the CE date for the scrolls failed to budge. 1951 saw the date revised and that revision uncritically held fast despite the new archaeological discoveries.
Although excavator of the site Roland de Vaux belatedly acknowledged in a public lecture that the scroll jars in the caves were indeed from the first century BCE (1959) and eventually published the same point (1962) he never provided specific details. I can imagine that such vagueness did little to prod a critical reevaluation of the widespread acceptance of the first century CE date for the scrolls.
Two other assumptions filled the gap left by the awareness of evidence that there was BCE settlement activity and the site was not exclusively CE.
Assumption 2: 
(a) A single group controlled and inhabited Qumran throughout the period 150 BCE to 68 CE. (Apart from a short hiatus around the turn of the century.)
(b) Scrolls would have continued to be deposited throughout the entire duration of that settlement — that is, they would have continued to be deposited up to the time of the Jewish War. 
This assumption likewise began to crumble:
As is well known, many archaeologists have rejected this second foundational assumption. That is, they reject a Ia/Ib or Ib/II continuity in people and function at Qumran (e.g. Bar Adon, Humbert, Hirschfeld, Magen, Peleg). (Doudna 2017, p. 241)
The following table gives us the idea:

Other models propose a non-sectarian community in the final phase up to 68 CE (Bruce and Pfann); and previous posts have set out Stacey’s view that site was a seasonal industrial area linked to Jericho.
Of particular significance is that a number of archaeologists believe the evidence points to the scrolls having been deposited in the caves prior to the first century CE. The scrolls were tucked away in the caves before the time of the occupants of the Qumran site in the first century CE.
Each of these last-named (de Vaux, Bruce and Pfann, Stacey) suppose the latest inhabitants of first-century CE Qumran ending at the First Revolt postdated the major scroll deposits of Cave 1Q, Cave 4Q, etc. In this way a notion of discontinuity in principle between earlier scroll deposits and different, later, non-cave-scrolls-related first-century CE people and activity at the site before the destruction of the First Revolt has been present from the beginning in some de Vaux-aligned archaeological  interpretations of Qumran (e.g. de Vaux), even though this point has not generally been appreciated.
In any case, the variety of archaeologists’ conjectures concerning which of Qumran’s pre-70 CE occupants were and were not involved with the deposits of scrolls in the caves betrays the arbitrary nature of such reconstructions. (Doudna 2017, p. 242)
Assumption 3:
The refugees or fugitives who left domestic pottery and jars in the caves at the time of the Jewish War (ca 68 CE) were also responsible for depositing the scrolls. 
This assumption represents a classic instance of the association fallacy.
But as has often been pointed out, there are countless examples of caves with relics of human activity from different eras of time unrelated to each other in the same cave. No good argument has been set forth for excluding this interpretation — so common in other caves — in the case of scroll-bearing caves of Qumran which also had domestic pottery from the time of the First Revolt (e.g. the scroll jars and scroll deposits date late first BCE; refugee activity dates ca. 60s CE/First Revolt). (Doudna 2017, p. 242)
Continuing. . . . 

Doudna, G.L. 2017. “Dating the Scroll Deposits of the Qumran Caves: A Question of Evidence.” In The Caves of Qumran: Proceedings of the International Conference, Lugano 2014, edited by Marcello Fidanzio, 238-246. Leiden, Boston: Brill.


Qumran Not a Sectarian Community (Essene or Otherwise): Argument from Archaeology – #1

by Neil Godfrey

Fundamentally people will continue to accept an interpretation of the site that best satisfies their own psyche, although I hope that they will take into account my redating of its development. — David Stacey
I have frequently heard of doubts that the Qumran (the site of the Dead Sea Scrolls) consisted of Essenes or even of any sectarian community at all, but until today I have not taken time out to read some of the relevant studies. Today I have come across many arguments denying that Qumran was ever a long-term site for a religious community of any kind, and certainly not a monastic-type of sectarian one. Not even Essenes set up base there. So I’ll set out here a subsection of those arguments. I’ve been reading articles, papers and chapters that cried out for my attention directly and indirectly as a result Gregory Doudna’s 2014 conference paper, “Dating the Scroll Deposits of the Qumran Caves: A Question of Evidence” (published 2017 in the conference proceedings, The Caves of Qumran) — see the previous post — and what follows is taken from the chapter by archaeologist David Stacey in Qumran Revisited: A Reassessment of the Archaeology of the Site and its Texts, and that he has helpfully placed online at academia.
I set out here Stacey’s argument that is based entirely on the archaeological evidence without any reference to the contents of the scrolls. Of course some may object that this is not fair since the contents of the scrolls are also part of the archaeological finds and they, too, need to be taken into account. So if we read in the scrolls evidence that they were written by a sectarian community, one vehemently opposed to the Jerusalem Temple establishment, for instance, then that information cannot be ignored. Bear with me. By the time we have finished these posts we may be wondering if some of us have rather been reading stories of a sectarian and anti-priesthood community into, not in, the scrolls. One step at a time.
Compare Steve Mason, Josephus, Judea and Christian Origins, p. 240:
Such a circular method — we interpret Josephus’s statements about the Essenes in light of the DSS and then use the alleged parallels to prove the identity of the two groups — could not generate stable results.
David Stacey begins by noting the circularity of the argument that the Qumran site was a base for Essenes.
Concepts found in the sectarian literature of the scrolls, and in references to Essenes by various classical authors, were freely used to interpret aspects of the archaeology of Qumran, and these interpretations then used, in a circular argument, to ‘prove’ that the site was ‘religious in character, with special ritual observances of its own’ (de Vaux 1973: 87). (Stacey, p. 71. My own bolding and formatting in all quotations)
Stacey’s background as an archaeologist is in studying sites nearby Qumran (e.g. Jericho) from the same general period. His conclusion is that the Qumran site was for most of the two centuries either side of the BCE/CE dividing line a seasonally occupied malodorous site producing leather, glue and dyes for wool. It was deserted every summer when it became “unendurably hot” for both humans and flocks.
Not a very romantic picture, is it. Stacey better have some good arguments if we wants to shatter illusions of a scholarly community happily withdrawn from the outside world and dedicated to writing and studying scrolls.
The concept of a community of poor sectarians isolated in the desert and busily writing scrolls has some obvious appeal for scholars labouring in the ivory tower of academe, or for theologians sequestered within their own esoteric communities.
Furthermore it is the romantic, mystical aura that has been generated around Qumran that sells semi-popular books, fills lecture halls, and brings in the tourist, not the unremarkable ruins themselves.
Any indication that the site may have existed solely to play a small part in the local regional economy will be resisted as an altogether too mundane concept. (p. 71)

Not so isolated

The isolation of the site has been stressed by those who believe it was occupied by a monastic type of sect. For example on BiblePlaces.com we read:
10 miles south of Jericho, Qumran was on a “dead-end street” and provided a perfect location for the isolationist sect of the Essenes to live.
Stacey suggests that the sense of isolation at the time of the discovery of the scrolls in nearby caves was magnified by the geo-political situation at the time:
The modern geo-political situation at the time of the excavations meant that Qumran was exaggeratedly isolated, being close to a border between hostile modern states. Although the actual border between Jordan and Israel was, until 1967, some kilometres to the south (to the north of Ein Gedi) the ruggedness of the terrain south of Ein Feshka meant that Qumran was very much a border post. When I hitch-hiked to Qumran in 1964 the only vehicles in the vicinity of Qumran were military, the few people one saw were soldiers, and there were signs warning of imminent mine fields further south. Similar warnings could be seen, I later noticed, on the other side of the border, immediately north of Nahal David in Ein Gedi. This apparent isolation at the time of the excavations added artificial weight to the concept of a secluded community that had been gleaned from both the sectarian scrolls and the classical authors. (p. 7)
Stacey discusses in detail the site’s administrative and economic links to Jericho and further, quoting a line from Yizhar Hirschfeld, writes:
Qumran was only one of several sites along the western littoral of the Dead Sea to be developed during the Hasmonean period, most probably by Jannaeus [103-76 BCE], who, eventually, gained control of land to the north-east of the Dead Sea where he established a fortress at Machaerus, c. 90 BCE (War  7.6.2). Harbour installations were built at Rujm el Bahr and at Qasr el-Yehud/Khirbet Mazin (Bar-Adon 1989) and a large structure at En el-Ghuweir was built (Bar-Adon 1977).37  Further south Ein Gedi continued to be a thriving settlement. Qumran was thus ‘a  veritable maelstrom of activity rather than an isolated ascetic site’ (Hirschfeld 2004b: 213).
Similar scenarios are depicted for the later Herodian period.
To give some background to that preceding quotation notice what the Qumran tower indicates.

The tower

We don’t have firm evidence for the date the foundation of the tower was laid but “it was probably built by Alexander Jannaeus (103-76 BCE)” who was for his entire reign engaged in war, both foreign and internal. One of his attempted conquests, that part of the Nabatean kingdom abutting the Negev, backfired and he found his kingdom of Judea invaded in turn.
In Jericho, Jannaeus felt so insecure that he buried the existing palace beneath the spoil from a 7 m deep moat with which he surrounded it (Netzer 2002: 3-4). On top of this artificially created hill he built a much smaller ‘Fortified Palace’. The fragile political situation would have demanded the hurried erection of a watch-tower in Qumran from which warnings could be given of attempted excursions into the Buqe’ah particularly via the track that wound up the rift behind the site. It also overlooked the path to Ein Gedi (Porat 2006) and the whole of the northern end of the Dead Sea. It was not intended as a defendable fort – the track to the Buqe’ah could more easily be defended by a handful of troops judiciously placed on high ground, from where they could roll boulders and missiles down on the necessarily single file of any attackers toiling up the switch-back track. (p. 36)
So we have the context for the earlier quotation regarding Qumran being one of several sites developed by Jannaeus and being “a veritable maelstrom of activity rather than an isolated ascetic site”.
The tower at Qumran would have played a small part in the establishment of control over the lower rift valley and the Negev.
The control of water supplies, particularly in the desert, has always been a demonstration of political power. In the time of Jannaeus, the pressure on the limited available water supplies in both Jericho and Ein Gedi, for domestic use but especially for the irrigations of crops, the processing of which were so lucrative (Stacey 2006: 191-202, Porath 2005), would have encouraged the exploitation of the alternative water resources of Qumran, which must be considered an integral, though outlying, part of the Jericho estate.39 With the expansion of Jannaeus’ sphere of control east of the Jordan the strategic military importance of Qumran was reduced, but the increased security allowed the industrial activities to expand. (p. 36)
We will see in the next post the nature of those “industrial activities”.

Dam, aqueduct and “ritual baths”

Requiring vast amounts of water for their daily purification rites, the Essenes had to channel the water from the wadi during the infrequent winter storms.
This dam helped to divert the water into an aqueduct which led to the site which in turn had dozens of cisterns, mikvot and pools.
That dam was not the kind of structure that a reclusive religious community was likely to construct. For it to work it needed a concrete core like other dams from the first century BCE (the time of Herod):
Roman concrete was made utilising pozzolana or volcanic ash, a raw material not found in Palestine, which would have been imported from Italy. It has been estimated that between 100 and 150 large shiploads of pozzolana had to be imported for the harbour at Caesarea alone (Oleson 2005) so it is logical to suppose that most of the few ‘concrete’ structures known in Palestine, including the Qumran dam, were constructed during the same period as the Harbour, c. 20-15 BCE. ‘These typical Roman materials are very rare in the East of the Imperium Romanum and they can only be explained by conscious and expensive importation resulting from a close relationship with Rome‘ (Lichtenburger 2009: 42, and see 50-52).23
I will address that footnote #23 in a moment.
Stacey informs us that there were “only two other dams . . . known in Second Temple Judea, both of which have been attributed to Herod.” Herod was known to have been an importer of Roman technological know-how, such as the arcaded aqueducts. The dams were constructed to feed water to aqueducts to Caesarea and Jerusalem, and feeding the aqueduct to Qumran was likewise the function of the aqueduct to Quram.
In the Encyclopedia of the Dead Sea Scrolls (and here we return to footnote #23) we read that
The aqueduct bringing water to the site is short but highly sophisticated, and required the use of Roman measuring instruments and technology.
Herod was hardly likely to have been dedicated to supporting an isolated community of devouts, so how does the article explain this unexpected piece of data?
The structure at Qumran and the meager finds unearthed there also show that the people of Qumran were not poverty-stricken. The midrashim [scroll writings] preserve the memory of . . . a group that emerged from the wealthy class in Judea (Safrai, 1979, p. 46). . . .  [T]the members of the groups that broke away from Jerusalem were wealthy individuals. Those who joined the sect came primarily from the elite strata of Judean society, and when they joined the Qumran community, they brought with them considerable funds and means of production. The aforementioned ostracon discovered in Qumran in l996 attests to a propertied new member who gave over his possessions to the community. The supposition that those joining an ascetic community came from the ranks of the wealthy may be surprising. Throughout history, however, members of the elite strata have been the ones to initiate many social revolutions, from the monastic movement to the Communist movement in Europe. . . . . (232) Safrai, Z. and Eshel, H. (2000) Economic Life. Pp. 228-33 in L. Schiffman and J. VanderKam (eds.) Encyclopedia of the Dead Sea Scrolls. OUP, Oxford.
As for those ritual baths (miqva’ot), scholars attached to the Essene hypothesis concede that they are not the normal size miqva’ot and overlook a more direct or simpler explanation for them. The water supply was elevated above the Qumran structures so the simplest way of accessing water was to dig large cisterns into which water could be channeled with the assistance of gravity.
The large pools in Qumran . . . which have often been identified as miqva’ot (ritual baths) despite the fact that they ‘are considerably larger than most  contemporary miqva’ot’ (Collins 2010: 189), were primarily cisterns, the pragmatic equivalent of rock hewn cisterns elsewhere but requiring far less effort to construct as they were dug into the marl. Their mistaken identification as miqva’ot is often used, in circular argumentation, to bolster the case for Qumran being a religious, sectarian settlement (Magness 2002: 158; Collins 2010: 196). (p. 18)
What, then, was the state of water supply before the time of Herod? According to Stacey’s article,
The water supply of Hasmonean Qumran was meagre, consisting only of the cisterns L110, L117 and L118, and would only have supported limited occupation of the site during the winter season, when what water there was at its freshest and most abundant. (p. 34)
The diagrams below are taken from pages 35 and 26 of Qumran Revisited; the yellow outline portrays the layout during the Hasmonean period. I have added the pointers to the three cisterns mentioned above. (I understand that rainwater was stored in underground cisterns.)

The politics of water access need consideration as much as the economics.
The control of water supplies, particularly in the desert, has always been a demonstration of political power. In the time of Jannaeus, the pressure on the limited available water supplies in both Jericho and Ein Gedi, for domestic use but especially for the irrigations of crops, the processing of which were so lucrative (Stacey 2006: 191-202, Porath 2005), would have encouraged the exploitation of the alternative water resources of Qumran, which must be considered an integral, though outlying, part of the Jericho estate.39  With the expansion of Jannaeus’ sphere of control east of the Jordan the  strategic military importance of Qumran was reduced, but the increased security allowed the industrial activities to expand. (p. 36)
Likewise at a later time we can scarcely imagine Herod allowing a religious sect to maintain a monopoly control of water in such a location.
Notice a missing detail in the above model if we are indeed looking at a long-term community habitation. There are no dedicated living quarters.
There are no dedicated living quarters anywhere at Qumran in this period yet this phase lasted from c. 100 BCE until at least 31 BCE. The lack of living space and the limited water supply indicates that the site was only used seasonally for a few months in the winter.
Qumran was not the ‘”closed settlement” having  … but little contact with the outside world’ (Harding  1952: 105) as envisaged by the early excavators. Although in a marginal area, for a few weeks in the winter, it played a small but important part in the regional economy being a centre for various industrial activities. (p. 37)

Dining hall or storeroom?

This long room was used for communal meals.  Three rows of tables were apparently in place where the Qumranites ate in silence.
In the next room over, more than 1000 complete vessels were found including 708 cups, 210 plates and 108 salad bowls.  All of these were serving vessels as they were never fired.
Stacey suggests otherwise:
De Vaux, influenced by the concept of Qumran as a communally-eating, sectarian settlement, extravagantly identified this room as a ‘refectory’ and ‘a place where the president of the assembly would have taken his stand’ (de Vaux 1973: 11), although evidence from Masada, already available to de Vaux before his death, shows that such long, comparatively narrow, rooms were used as storerooms (Yadin 1966: 86-105). Similar storerooms have since been found at Herodium (Netzer 1981: 21-25) and Jericho (Netzer 2001: 131-32, Plan 14). (p. 41)
The long room L77 he identified as a ‘refectory’ although the many parallels that have been  excavated since indicate that it was a typical storeroom.109 . . .
#109 Unless the similar c. twenty ‘storerooms’ at Masada were separate dining rooms for twenty different sects!
(p. 66)

Qumran Not a Sectarian Community – #2

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by Neil Godfrey

Continuing from Qumran Not a Sectarian Community #1 . . . .

Industrial activities

There was no lack of raw materials suitable for industrial uses in the region and we even have evidence for production of commercial resources but scholars have generally tended to downplay such activities as being only minor side-pursuits of otherwise occupied scribes. We pick up from the previous post by noting the kinds of industrial activities that one might reasonably have expected to see at Qumran as an integral extension of the Jericho royal estate and subsequently under Herod.
Keep in mind what such a list would mean for any scribe or monastic sectarian wanting to lodge there.

Leather and parchment

Qumran would have helped meet the high demand for leather sandals and aprons generated by the “intensive building programme of the Hasmoneans and, in particular, Herod.” Winter saw flocks brought into the area where aged animals and surplus male lambs and kids would have been slaughtered for their skins.
The production of leather was a malodorous and fly-ridden process. Not only was there the blood from the butchered beasts but the hair was removed from the hides by being soaked in dung and urine. The mid-second century CE author Artemidorus, a native of Ephesus, wrote:
‘The tannery is an irritant to everyone. Since the tanner has to handle animal corpses, he has to live far out of town, and the vile odour points him out even when hiding… The vultures are companion to the potters and the tanners since they live far from towns and the latter  handle dead bodies’ (Interpretation of Dreams I: 54; 2:20).
In the Mishnah it was written that both pottery kilns and tanneries should be at least 50 cubits from a town (Baba Bathra 1:10, 2:9); Qumran was considerably further than that from the Palaces of Jericho! Although the tanner was viewed negatively because his handling of dead animals, and the use of urine and dung in the preparation of hides, would cause him to be ritually unclean (Jeremias 1969: 301-12), nevertheless his products, from water skins to sandals and phylacteries, were in demand and the specialist preparation of parchment on which sacred texts could be written was regarded as an honourable profession. (pp. 53-4)
Early archaeologists conducted scientific tests on at nearby Eini Feshka for the possibility of a tanning operation for the production of parchment but apparently with negative results. No-one bothered with similar tests at Qumran, however, because . . . .
Analyses looking for residues from tanning were carried out at Ein Feshka but not at Qumran itself because, it was assumed, ‘the community would have been too strict to permit’ tanning there (Poole and Reed 1972: 151– 152; de Vaux 1973: 78-82). (p. 71)
Firm belief that a scribal sectarian community occupied Qumran has blinded scholars to the evidence, according to Stacey:
Although Poole and Reed contended that ‘in neither of the two “industrial” quarters has a tannery been  recognised’, they accepted that ‘many of the constituent rooms have pits, vats or cobbled floors (suggesting that wet work was carried out there)’. They recognized that water was a ‘valuable commodity’, but concluded that it  could not ‘have been spared for tanning purposes’ and that ‘the community would have been too strict to permit’ (Poole and Reed 1972: 151 –2) tanning, a conclusion clearly reached not by scientific investigation, as they only did tests in Ein Feshka, but by accepting the prevailing theory of a permanent sectarian community. Perhaps they should have stuck to their scientific guns and concluded that the limited water supply and the nature of the tanning process meant that it was unlikely that any ‘sectarian community’ ever lived at the site, and insisted that analyses were carried out on sediments at Qumran. (p. 54)

Remnants of bones and offcuts of hides that had been boiled are evidence of glue and/or gelatin manufacture.
This is a large stride removed from those who have interpreted them as remnants of sacrificial meals. Some no doubt were remains of meals, but Stacey refers to Henry Hodges’ book on early technologies to support the
strong probability that many were remnants not of meals79 but of glue or gelatin making, a smelly process which turned the otherwise wasted by-products of animal slaughter into a valuable commodity. During excavations at En Boqeq, an oasis at the south-western end of the Dead Sea, ‘animal fat residues were found in our chemical analysis of soil samples taken from floors and the vicinity of ovens’ (Fischer, Gihon and Tal, 2000: 100). This fat was assumed to derive from animal bones and helped identify the site as a centre for the production of medicinal and aromatic unguents. Unfortunately such tests were not carried out at Qumran. (p. 55)

Wool preparation

A pair of shears found at Qumran points to shearing there. Wool needed to be treated to remove its lanolin or natural oils and a very old and common material used for this scouring has been old (broken down) urine. Several jars at Qumran appear not to be used for drinking water (no dippers found with them) and their short necks and wide mouths were ideal for the collection of urine.
Of significance for the view that Qumran was a scholarly retreat:

Most dyeing processes produced strong, offensive smells. (p. 57)

Dyeing works (along with tanning processes) as a rule were based well away from urban areas.
Urine (recall the pots in the section above) was also needed as a mordant to fasten dyes to the wool. Dye pots need to be kept on the boil, and what was possibly a large bronze vessel over a furnace would have been ideal for dying.
Sources of vegetable and other dyes nearby:
  • red dye from:
    • madder
    • henna
    • sumach
  • blue dye from:
    • woad
  • black dye
    • bitumen floating on the Dead Sea
  • royal purple
    • murex shells  from the Mediterranean coast — shells have been found at Herod’s palace in Jericho
Materials used for dyeing were also useful for producing other types of commodities:
Locally available plants and minerals would have been utilized for the extraction of tannins, perfumes and medicines.
  • Henna, for example, could be used for both tanning and dyeing but also had anti-fungal properties;
  • date palms are an important food source but also have tannic and many traditional medicinal properties, while ropes can be made from palm-frond fibres;
  • sumac has both tannic and dyeing properties and could be added as a spice to food.
  • The acacia tree could produce tannins, perfumes, an astringent medicine, and gum-arabic (which was used as a paint or ink base).
  • Honey from bees that have fed on its flowers is considered a delicacy.
  • Moreover, acacia is thought to be the source of ‘shittim’ wood used for the construction of the Ark of the Covenant (Exodus 25: 10; 30: 1).
  • A black dye could be produced from bitumen, but it was also, according to Josephus, an ingredient in many medicines (War 4: 481).
(p. 57)


Dried dung would have been a major source of fuel. There was also an abundance of fire-wood from bushes much more prolific in the past than today.

Potters would have made a year’s supply of pottery for the local market in just a month or two before leaving to escape the summer heat.
Certain pottery remains have been interpreted through cultic assumptions. Magness, for example, believes the pottery was produced locally at Qumran to avoid ritual contamination, and this motive explains the very plain and uniform character of all the cups, bowls and plates. Stacey, on the other hand, is reminded of his experiences in India where cups were produced en masse for single use only:
The many different religions, castes, and sub-castes of India, the members of which would regard any sharing of vessels with castes not their own as defiling, meant that it was expedient to discard these cups, after a single use, in large heaps besides the tracks. It seemed that the Jericho vessels had accumulated for some similar reason. (p. 64)

Medicines and perfumes

As we saw above there were many medicinal and aromatic plants in the vicinity of Qumran. Stacey cites several works addressing these in depth but singles out two for special mention:
  • mallow — its leaves and flowers used for fomentations and poultices
  • second-grade balsam — was produced at Qumran using trimmings from Ein Gedi either by boat or by pack animals. Balsam being a royal monopoly the final sale would have been in Jericho.
Rope making
Shipping on the Dead Sea called for considerable quantities of rope and palm fibre rope has been found attached to “Roman” anchor near Ein Gedi.
Flax retting
The linen “scroll wrappers” in Cave 1 were a local product. Flax was produced in abundance at Jericho but needed to be treated to by threshing and soaking. The calcareous water of Jericho was not at all suitable for the process. As with dyeing process it is necessary to use the fresh soft rain water such as was stored at Qumran.
Basketry and mat making
Stacey has a quite extensive discussion of these processes. I refer interested readers to the original article.
Other seasonal activities 
Possibilities include:
  • collection of bitumen and salt
  • lye production from local plants
  • date wine
  • grinding mill, perhaps for production of beer

The Work: busy, seasonal, male dominated

Many terracotta balls, unfired, with varying numbers of holes in them, have been found at Qumran, some near a coin dated 10 CE. These balls
may well have been tallies given out as acknowledgement for work done, similar to, but far simpler than, ostraca (c.f. Cross 2007). The frequency with which they were found indicates a busy workforce. (p. 61)
Of the above industries there is positive evidence for pottery making and tanning (and less certainly for rope). Many are deduced from a combination of the local products and the needs of nearby Jericho and its royal monopolies. All require ample water supply, and some especially require soft rain water. And most of the above industries would have come alive at Qumran in the winter months following the rains.
All of the industries stank, or were “malodorous” as Stacey more delicately writes. Many would have produced smoke and smuts.
In such an environment, seasonal, unpleasant, few women would have been present. There is no need to postulate celibacy ideals as the reason for the gender imbalance.

No place for a Ben Sira

It follows that Qumran was not the place for the refined intellectuals seeking a quiet and inspiring place for meditation and learning:
As the industrial processes of Qumran were malodorous, it is unlikely that any scrolls were composed or copied in the polluted atmosphere where the slaughter of animals and the use of dung and urine in processing their by-products would have rendered all present ritually impure. Writing scrolls was painstaking, skilled work and scribes would have required the best possible conditions in which to work to minimise mistakes. As members of an educated elite, it is unlikely that any would choose to move to Qumran for the short period that fresh water was available to work in the unpleasant atmosphere created by the industrial processes carried out there. Apart from the problems with ritual pollution associated with animal slaughter, the stench, the smoke, and the smuts which were unavoidable consequences of the processes, together with the swarms of flies and mosquitoes attracted by them, would not have been conducive to undisturbed concentration on writing. (p. 63)

Not a closed settlement

What is certain is that Qumran was not a closed settlement with little contact with the outside world. A flaw made by almost all previous scholars is the assumption that any time that Qumran was occupied it was by a permanent year-round population, which encourages the tendency to see the site as having a single over riding function, either, for example, as a ‘monastery’, a villa rustica (Donceel-Voûte 1994), a fortified manor house (Hirschfeld 2004b), the villa of an agricultural estate (Humbert 1994), or a customs post (Cansdale 1997).
Although it served as a watchtower it was scarcely a strongly defended fortress (Golb 1995). Hasmonean Qumran could not have been permanently inhabited; rather the site was in an ecologically marginal area which would have been exploited seasonally, following winter rains, for various functions under the impetus of the nearby Royal Estate. Because the work was seasonal there would have been little incentive to build permanent dwellings and indeed there are no signs of any purpose-built living quarters in Hasmonean Qumran. (p. 62)

Scriptorium or tannery?

On the basis of inkwells and “writing benches” found in this room, archaeologists have suggested that the second story room of this building was the place where scrolls were copied.
No scrolls were found in this room or in the ruins of the site itself.  But the same type of unique pottery was found both on site and in the caves with the scrolls, helping to connect the two.
Or. . . .

De Vaux identified two of the new rooms using monastic terms, unfortunate anachronisms as Christian monasticism did not begin to develop before the fourth century CE. . . . An upper floor above L30 became a ‘scriptorium’ similar to ‘rooms in monasteries of the Middle Ages'(!) (de Vaux 1973: 30) , on the grounds that some plastered mud-brick structures were identified as tables on which scrolls were written, and the discovery of two inkwells. The mud-brick structures were reconstructed on wooden frames in the Rockefeller Museum to look like a modern picnic table. The reconstruction (de Vaux 1973: Pl XXIa) was inaccurate; the ‘table and bench as exhibited bear no true relation to the original structures’ (Clark 1963:  63). Moreover it was quickly pointed out that ancient scribes did not sit at tables but sat cross-legged on the floor resting their writing tablet on their knees (Metzger 1958-59). Several sculptures from Egypt show seated scribes cross-leged dating back as far as 2,500 BCE (e.g. ‘The Seated Scribe’  in the Louvre) and that posture remained typical for scribes in the east until at least the 17th century CE (‘The Bearded Scribe’ Isfahan, dated 1626, Canby 2009: 199).  The ancient leather specialists, Poole and Read, suggested that the tables were used for the final preparation of parchment (Poole and Read 1961: 115). They may even have been used as trestles to support skins during the de-hairing process, a messy process most likely carried out in the open air. It is, however, far more probable that they were used during one of the several industrial processes suggested for Qumran than for the writing of documents.110

Since the unearthing of the two inkwells, one of bronze and one of clay, several more pottery inkwells have been found (e.g. Magen and Peleg 2007: Pl 5.5) but this is not surprising as at least one (found at Ein Feshka) was ‘locally made at Qumran’ (Gunneweg and Balla 2003:  13). As ink wells were made in the Qumran kilns it is not surprising that several would be found near by. De Vaux, of course, saw the inkwells as proof that the scrolls were written here. However it is wrong to equate signs of literacy with the writing of religious scrolls rather than with normal administrative work. It is true that inkwells are unusual finds on excavations but it would be dangerous to assume that the lack of inkwells found in the Royal Palaces at Jericho, Herodium, or from Masada, was evidence for the illiteracy of the courts of the High Priests/King. More recently at least five inkwells have been found at a site, dated between the two Jewish Revolts, at Shu’afat, north of Jerusalem (Sklar-Parnes 2005),111  but it would be foolish to suggest that they were proof that scrolls were written there. (p. 66)

After Herod

I skip over Stacey’s discussion of further developments under Herod and the fate of Qumran’s infrastructure after Herod’s death and the changing regional security situation. (I have also bypassed his discussion of the depositing of the scrolls in surrounding caves.)
Stacey’s paper, addressing as it does the way much of the data has been interpreted through presumptions of an Essene or similar sectarian community, and the problem of some very unscientific workflows and processes in the early days of excavation, and how bias has led to interpretations that overlook and set aside key data, — all of this keeps reminding me of René Salm’s investigations into the history of archaeological work on the Nazareth site.
But we know facts alone rarely change opinions, and I liked one of Stacey’s concluding remarks:
Fundamentally people will continue to accept an interpretation of the site that best satisfies their own psyche, although I hope that they will take into account my redating of its development. . . .
My intimate knowledge of the regional archaeology tells me that Qumran, for a large part of its active life, could not have supported year-round occupation, and it satisfies my psyche to view Qumran as a predominantly seasonal site, producing, by processes that were unpleasant, articles that were necessary; a place bustling with activity for a few weeks in the year, but, during the harsh heat of summer, lying empty and abandoned to the thirsty, desiccating sun. (pp. 71, 73)


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