Books in Brief
Reclaiming the Dead Sea Scrolls
Lawrence H. Schiffman
(Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1994) 529 pp., $34.95.
Reclaiming the Dead Sea Scrolls would have been an original and creative contribution to the study of the Qumran discoveries had it not been somewhat spoiled by complacency and carelessness. The opening paragraph of the Preface speaks for itself. “This book aims to correct a fundamental misreading of the Dead Sea Scrolls. For some forty-five years, the scholars publishing and interpreting the scrolls have focused almost single-mindedly on the scrolls’ significance for our understanding of early Christianity. This is the first work ever written to explain their significance in understanding the history of Judaism [italics added].” This is, needless to say, a twisted version of the truth, for serious writers have always maintained that the scrolls testify first and foremost to late Second Temple Judaism, and that their relevance to Christian origins is but secondary. It is true that in the wake of the Temple Scroll, and more recently of MMT (Miqsat Ma‘ase ha-Torah or Halakhic Letter), the halakhica aspects of Qumran have gained greater prominence. However, the change is merely quantitative, since the Damascus Document, the Community Rule and other similar texts published in the early stages of scrolls research have already revealed the law-centered or nomocentric nature of the religion of the Dead Sea sect.
Another quotation summarizes Professor Schiffman’s judgment on the work of his predecessors. “Almost all the numerous books that have appeared promote impossible theories about the origins of the scrolls, and more books like these are sure to come [italics added].” He is clearly on the warpath, but has failed to cover his flanks and see to it that contradictions and factual errors have all been eliminated from Reclaiming the Dead Sea Scrolls. Thus, the first Qumran discovery was made by two shepherds looking for a goat on p. xviii, but by one searching for a sheep on p. 6. Chronological data are slipshod, too. Just to give a few examples, Frank Moore Cross’s influential paleographical analysis was published in 1961, not in 1958. John Allegro issued his edition of the Copper Scroll in 1960, not in 1955. Pierre Benoit resigned the general editorship of the scrolls in 1986, not in 1984. Such carelessness in elementary matters may cause some readers (no doubt unjustly) to wonder whether the author can be better relied on in complex and difficult issues.
Be this as it may, Reclaiming the Dead Sea Scrolls possesses many praiseworthy qualities. First and foremost it demonstrates a thorough familiarity with the Qumran material, both published and unpublished. Schiffman has made a name for himself in the field of Qumran law; he is well acquainted with the Temple Scroll and MMT, and his expertise enables him to identify features in the scrolls that prefigure rabbinic legislation of subsequent centuries. The book includes also a substantial number of black-and-white illustrations (their reproduction quality is poor by current standards, however); it has a useful detailed bibliography and 40 pages of reference notes that allow readers, especially in the domain of recent research, to discover the original proponents of many a thesis and hypothesis anonymously introduced in the main part of the book.
Since his book was written after the “liberation” of the scrolls in 1991, Schiffman could avail himself of a broader manuscript base than many of his predecessors. As a result, the descriptive sections of the book, “To live as a Jew in Qumran,” “Mysticism, Messianism, and the end of days” and “Sects, the schism, and consensus,” are improvements on many previous introductory works to the scrolls. The outlines of the sect’s theological ideas, spirituality (prayers, etc.), messianism and of the place of Jerusalem in their religious thought may also be strongly commended.
On the other hand, Schiffman’s evaluation of the Biblical manuscripts from Qumran is debatable. He claims that, anticipating the attitude of the later rabbis, the copyists of the Biblical Dead Sea Scrolls had a definite preference for the proto-Masoreticb genre. This claim is based on a one-sided and, in my view 008mistaken, interpretation of the statistical figures published in 1992 by Emanuel Tov in his Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible. According to Schiffman, not only 60% of the Biblical manuscripts found in the caves are proto-Masoretic (as Tov maintained), but so are the further 20% that Tov originally classified as belonging to the peculiar Qumran scribal style, which would bring the proto-Masoretic score to 80%. Of the rest, according to Schiffman, “a few” are Samaritan or Septuagint type, and “a few” non-aligned to any of the previous categories. But in a recent paper, printed in Time to Prepare the Way in the Wilderness—known to Schiffman, as it is part of a volume of which he is the co-editor (with Deborah Dimant; Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1995)—Tov has revised his statistical evidence. Tov had reduced the proto-Masoretic share of the total from 60% to 40%; the separate Qumran category, distinct from the proto-Masoretic class, now stands at 25% instead of 20%. The Samaritan-type and Septuagint-type remain at 5% each, and the non-aligned class has now risen to 25%. In short, the generally held opinion of scroll scholars regarding the non-Masoretic identity of the majority of the Qumran scriptural texts (60% of the total, according to the latest Tov analysis) is therefore plainly vindicated. It seems that Professor Schiffman will have to think again.
The chief originality of the present work lies in its extensive use of MMT in identifying the founders of the sect as proto-Sadducees. Here Schiffman is no doubt right, but it should be recalled that the “Sadducean” thesis is not altogether new; ever since the 1950s, a link between the Sadducees and the Zadokite priestly leaders of the Qumran sect has been argued by many, including myself. The principal evidence furnished by MMT is that two or three among more than twenty halakhotc listed there are attributed by the later rabbis to the Sadducees. On the whole, it is reasonable to think that the founding fathers of the Qumran sect were “dissonant” (p. 68, or should one rather read, dissident?) Zadokite or Sadducean priests who, after failing to persuade the early Hasmoneans and the Jerusalem Sadducees of the rightness of their halakhah, withdrew to Qumran and started a new movement. But even here matters are more complicated than Schiffman’s book suggests, for it takes no account of the Cave 4 evidence relating to the Community Rule, although he lists in his bibliography the publication in which it is discussed. In fact, two Qumran fragmentary copies of the Community Rule (4QSb,d or 4Q256 and 258) omit the mention of the Sons of Zadok. This omission appears to imply that an original nucleus of priests and lay Jews (alluded to in the Damascus Document 1:7 as “a plant root from Israel and Aaron”) preceded the full formation of the sect, which only followed the arrival of the Teacher of Righteousness and a Zadokite takeover of the leadership of the community. In short, Schiffman’s contribution to early Qumran history, though clearly appreciable, leaves some of the deeper issues untouched.
At this juncture, I feel I must make at least a passing reference to the identity of the sect. For more than 40 years the Essene theory, first mooted by E. L. Sukenik and fully worked out by André Dupont-Sommer, has generally been accepted as a serious and sound hypothesis, and as far as I am concerned, Schiffman’s cavalier attempt at dismissing it (in the course of which he seems to pay scant attention to the arguments of his opponents) is unlikely to shake it. Neither is it seriously threatened by any of the recent anti-Essene theories identifying the Qumran ruins with a fortress, or a luxury villa, or a Qumran “Hilton” furnished with a library (my replacement headline for a recent articled), providing rest and entertainment to Dead Sea and Judean desert travelers.
Finally, a brief comment on the basic purpose of Schiffman’s book: the reclamation of the Dead Sea Scrolls for Judaism, and the consequent rejection of their “Christianization.” As has already been agreed, the 010essentially Jewish nature of the Qumran writings and their primary bearing on the history of Judaism are beyond contest, and their “Christianization” proper (i.e., a claim that Qumran and its literature are to be put in the same bag as the New Testament and the early Church) has always been considered as preposterous by the near totality of scholars, Jews, Christians and agnostics alike. On the other hand, it would be a gross mistake to ignore certain genuine parallels between the New Testament and Qumran just in order to strengthen the connections between the scrolls and rabbinic literature. In fact, in some specific respects, such as eschatological mentality and the pesher-typee fulfillment interpretation of prophecies, the Qumran community is closer to Judeo-Christianity than to rabbinic Judaism. Hence scholarly wisdom commends a middle course. Recognition of the scrolls’ interest in halakhah must go hand in hand with an emphasis on the centrality of apocalypticism and eschatology at Qumran.
Lastly, may I draw attention to the equivocal nature of Schiffman’s use of the term “Christianizing.” For him, one of the first chief culprits who presented “a Christianized interpretation of the scrolls” (p. 416) was André Dupont-Sommer. Those of us who knew this eminent French orientalist, professor at the Sorbonne and at the College de France, and Secrétaire perpétuel of the Académie des Inscriptions until his death in 1983, can testify that he was a self-confessed anti-Christian who must be turning in his grave on being called a Christian interpreter of the scrolls by Larry Schiffman. There is not the slightest doubt that Dupont-Sommer intended to “Qumranize” Christianity and not to Christianize Qumran! This anecdote just shows that scroll veterans still know a thing or two that is beyond the ken of the young lions of today.
The Hidden Scrolls: Christianity, Judaism, and the War for the Dead Sea Scrolls
Neil Asher Silberman
(New York: G.P. Putnam, 1994) 320 pp., $24.95
When the Dead Sea Scrolls were finally opened to the wider community of scholars three years ago, some immediate consequences were perhaps inevitable. The international team that had long treated the scrolls as their personal intellectual property expanded their ranks with chosen outsiders, hoping to expedite publication while maintaining much of their old monopoly. But a few scholars, seizing the opportunity, swept in and published their own transcriptions and interpretations of these documents from a pivotal time in the history of Judaism and early Christianity. Whether this was recklessness or refreshing freedom, it was open season on the conventional reading of the scrolls’ origins and significance.
According to that interpretation, which emerged soon after the first scroll discoveries of the Qumran caves in 1947, these were the writings of the pious Jewish sect of Essenes from the second century B.C.E. through much of the first century C.E. The Essenes, rebelling against the prevailing Judaism, retreated to a wilderness monastery where they could practice what they believed was the true Biblical faith. Some of their beliefs—the prominence of messianism, ritual bathing and communal life—bore a superficial resemblance to early Christianity. But the scholars on the official team that first assessed the scrolls, all Christians, insisted that the appearance was deceptive; the documents were remnants from a dissenting sect, not from the fountainhead of Christianity.
Stirrings of revisionism preceded the opening of access to the scrolls. Archaeological evidence called into question the Essene connection; the supposed monastery ruins at Qumran could as well have been a fortress or trade depot. A 1991 book, The Dead Sea Scrolls Deception,f spread accusations of an Israeli-Vatican conspiracy to suppress the scrolls because, it was charged, they contained material embarrassing to Judaism and Christianity. Such a conspiracy theory was, if nothing else, a compelling reason for more openness in scrolls scholarship.
Neil Asher Silberman, an American archaeologist and writer who has authored several books on Israeli archaeology, has now produced a book that surveys in arresting detail the struggle to break the international team’s lock on the scrolls. He has interviewed many of the principals, including the tragic John Strugnell, the team’s editor-in-chief who was ousted for anti-Semitic remarks. Strugnell, now a lonely old figure writing his own memoirs, recalls the good old days in Jerusalem, when he and a few others had the scrolls to themselves. Though one of the “heavies” in the story, Strugnell impressed the author with his “historical erudition and witty self-deprecation.”
Indeed, one of the book’s strengths is its review of the passing parade of personalities who had a hand in the discovery of the scrolls and subsequent research and dispute. The author has even interviewed Archbishop Samuel, the Syrian Orthodox prelate who purchased some of the first scrolls. He also spoke with some people who figured prominently in Edmund Wilson’s The Scrolls from the Dead Sea, the popular book that called attention to the possible revolutionary import of the documents, which was being glossed over by the scholars.
Silberman is carrying forward with considerable passion a political interpretation of the scrolls first essayed by Wilson, although he cannot compare to Wilson as a stylist. As explained at the outset, his book offers “an alternative version of the Dead Sea Scrolls story.” The scrolls, he contends, “must not be read solely as purely religious writings, but also as a powerful message of rage against empire—a direct and timeless challenge to the injustices and inequalities imposed by the powers that be.”
It does seem reasonable to examine the scrolls in the light of the political-religious turmoil of first-century Judea. The original interpreters of the scrolls were specialists in deciphering ancient texts, not historians. They were little interested in whether the scrolls gave expression to the aspirations of an increasingly radicalized people, leading to the revolt against the occupying Romans from 66 C.E. until the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. and the fall of Masada in 74 C.E.
In those tumultuous times, notes Silberman, people might well have hoped for “a glorious time of redemption, to be ushered in by the appearance of God’s messiahs.” Such themes appear in some of the scrolls and support the author’s thesis of a “shared national feeling of resistance” that energized the swelling dissent. It was a time of charismatic prophets and the public executions of would-be saviours. It was the time in which Jesus of Nazareth preached. “And there is good reason to believe,” Silberman writes, “that the early followers of Jesus were…active participants in this movement as well.”
Silberman views the Dead Sea Scroll authors as fervently nationalistic. This thesis is based in large part on the work of Robert Eisenman, a professor of Middle Eastern religions at California State University, an outspoken exponent of these political interpretations of the scrolls. As Silberman acknowledges, Eisenman’s theories and his sometimes abrasive personal style have not endeared him to scrolls scholars, many of whom dismiss him with a roll of the eyes. It is thus courageous of Silberman to cast his lot with Eisenman.
“Certainly many of Eisenman’s proposed connections are based on intuitive leaps rather than on demonstrated textual evidence,” the author writes, “but I maintain that they offer an intriguing challenge to conventional wisdom—seeing Qumran not as an isolated, nonpolitical monastery in the wilderness but 012as a center of a movement of Jewish national resistance to the Roman imperial administrators in Judea—and to the self-serving Jewish aristocracy in Jerusalem who made fortunes for themselves as willing agents of that exploitative regime.”
In both content and tone this statement reflects Silberman’s approach to the scrolls. Insofar as his emphasis on the political context is viewed as diminishing the spiritual uniqueness of Christianity, this book will doubtless draw fire from some quarters. But he is correct in noting that the New Testament has undergone centuries of ecclesiastical editing and so cannot be accepted uncritically as a contemporary record of events.
As a journalist and not a historian of religions, I cannot judge the validity of the Eisenman-Silberman thesis. But as one who covered the revolt against the international scroll team’s monopoly, I am still waiting for the book on this important subject that will present a balanced assessment of the many different interpretations of the scrolls. When the scrolls editors are more forthcoming with the fruits of their research, perhaps other scholars will restrain their impulses to broadcast hasty conclusions. Only if this is possible, will the bitter struggle for open access to the Dead Sea Scrolls truly advance the cause of scholarship.
Who Wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls?
(New York: Scribner, 1994) 446 pp., $25
Norman Golb thinks the whole world is against him, but it really isn’t.
Almost all of this overly long book is devoted to a detailed description of an alleged scholarly conspiracy to control the interpretation of the Dead Sea Scrolls despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary provided by Golb. Almost everybody is in the conspiracy, except Golb and his student Michael Wise. Thus it includes all of the scholars who initially interpreted the scrolls 40 years or so ago, as well as the 60 or 70 scholars now on the official editing team, their students and the Israel Antiquities Authority.
This formidable group, according to Golb, was joined in 1992 by the literary critic Robert Alter, who wrote an article in Commentary on why, in his view, the scrolls are unimportant. Golb devotes 16 pages to a minute dissection of Alter’s semi-popular article, which, says Golb, “reveals considerable bias [on Alter’s part]…passe[s] in silence over the preponderance of evidence” and, in the end, “alter[s]” Golb’s interpretation of the scrolls and their context in order to serve Alter’s own purposes. Whether Golb intended the pun on Alter’s name is unclear.
Golb does not believe that the scrolls comprise an Essene library. Rather, he says, they consist of various “Jerusalem libraries and personal collections” hidden in the Qumran caves in anticipation of the Roman attack on Jerusalem in 70 A.D., which left the city in flames.
This is not a bad suggestion. But instead of arguing for his position, Golb spends most of his time painfully following every flow and eddy of the debate over the scrolls in order to construct a conspiracy to suppress differing opinions such as his. According to Golb, the Essene theory was formulated in the early days of scholarly research on the scrolls and today virtually the entire corps of establishment scroll scholars is committed to the theory despite Golb’s efforts to educate them. Indeed, the refusal to allow access to the scrolls, according to Golb, was part of “an increasingly adamant attempt to impose” the Essene hypothesis on the public.
By now, the Library of Congress and the New York Public Library, which recently mounted highly successful Dead Sea Scrolls exhibits, have also been enlisted in the conspiracy, in Golb’s view. The curator of exhibits at the New York Public Library, for example, tried “to brainwash the public.” The catalog of the exhibit, prepared by Ayala Sussmann and Ruth Peled of the Israel Antiquities Authority, comes in for especially harsh criticism. The authors of the catalog, Golb charges, have attempted “to impose a bankrupt historical idea upon the lay public.” They are guilty of nothing less than “flagrant misrepresentation,” which, according to Golb, “misled the public [and] also damaged the reputation of Israeli scholarship.”
To a certain extent Golb creates straw men, which he then proceeds to knock down. He writes as if the establishment position was that all the scrolls were written by the community of Essenes living at Qumran and that therefore all the scrolls represent Essene views. This is a caricature of the establishment position. Every scholar recognizes that not all the scrolls were written at Qumran. Many of the scrolls even pre-date the settlement at Qumran. All scholars also recognize that many of the other scrolls are not Essene documents—for example, the more than 200 Biblical scrolls.
Golb and the establishment scholars tend to part ways, however, in that the establishment scholars believe that a group of the scrolls do represent the thinking of a particular Jewish sect or group, usually identified as Essenes. There are arguments within the group of establishment scholars, however, as to which scrolls are sectarian and which are not. No one contends that all the non-Biblical scrolls represent exclusively sectarian or Essene ideology. Moreover, Golb himself admits that “some” of the scrolls are in effect sectarian, that is, they “reflect the ideas of writers evidently sharing awareness of a common background of opposition to ruling powers in Jerusalem…. The Manual of Discipline [for example] reflects one distinct radicalizing trend within this group of texts, emphasizing an apocalyptic mode of brotherhood initiation, strict spiritual dichotomies, heightened metaphorical interpretation of Torah-mysteries, and overriding purity-discipline.” There thus appears to be considerable common ground between Golb and the establishment scholars he excoriates, more, it seems, than Golb would like to acknowledge.
But Golb goes further. He claims that the Qumran settlement is a fortress, having nothing to do with the scrolls, and that the scrolls were imported from Jerusalem.
The idea that the Qumran settlement is a fortress is basically a one-man theory that is rejected by every archaeologist I know who has expressed a view on the matter.g Most scholars find it extremely difficult to separate the scrolls from the settlement. The cave with the most scrolls (Cave 4) is virtually part of the settlement.
Nevertheless, the idea that this vast collection of documents came from Jerusalem is appealing. The problem with it is that many of the documents seem in opposition to the Jerusalem authorities, so it is unlikely that the Temple authorities in Jerusalem would hide their scrolls in the territory of their opponents. Yet all admit that some of the scrolls were brought to Qumran from outside. And it seems unlikely that a small isolated religious community would have such a large library of its own out there in the desert.
No theory adequately accounts for all the known facts. I think the scrolls may well have come from Jerusalem. They could have been brought to Qumran by an Essene group in Jerusalem—near the Essene Gate?—rather than by Temple functionaries carrying their library to the desert for safekeeping. Whoever collected these documents, however, did not select only manuscripts of a particular sect. That much is clear. Besides, there were great areas of overlapping customs and beliefs among the various groups of Jews vying for influence at this time.
For this reason, it may not be that important that the scrolls came from Jerusalem. The collection of scrolls is certainly eclectic. This is nowhere more evident than in the Biblical scrolls. Why not in the non-Biblical scrolls?
There is clearly room for argument over 086whether the scrolls represent the views of a particular sect, which may or may not be the Essenes.
But Dead Sea Scroll scholars are not the straight-jacketed group that Golb describes. Vigorous debate characterizes every aspect of scroll scholarship today. Norman Golb is welcome to participate in it. He diminishes himself and his scholarship when he alleges a conspiracy to exclude him and his ideas. It is doubtless true that he is not always welcomed at colloquia of establishment scholars who want to share ideas with like-minded colleagues; it is also true that an occasional scholar transgresses the bounds of civility (the former curator of the Shrine of the Book in Jerusalem is the principal one Golb identifies) in addressing Golb and his ideas. But Golb has many avenues to air his ideas; and he has used them, including the book under review.
In this book Golb makes a number of insightful observations, although they are often buried in convoluted analyses of other scholars’ contributions. He would do well to argue his position affirmatively, supporting it with all the available evidence, instead of obscuring it with analyses of why everyone else is out to get him. Golb is a brilliant scholar. He has much to contribute to scroll scholarship, even when he’s wrong. He could do it much more effectively than he has in this book, however.
In part of his last chapter, Golb nicely summarizes the importance of the scrolls to our understanding of the roots of nascent Christianity as well as rabbinic Judaism. He discusses specific texts—such as the Messianic text catalogued as 4Q521,h the “Son of God” texti and the “King Jonathan” text.j Golb’s discussion is not really very different from the discussion of these texts elsewhere, including in the pages of BAR. The interpretation of these texts does not hinge on whether or not they are Essene documents. No one has argued that these documents are exclusively or peculiarly Essene. No one has argued that they have either importance or even special significance because they are Essene.
The scrolls are important to an understanding of early Christianity and Judaism regardless of whether some of the documents are the heritage of the Essenes. All agree, as Golb argues, that Second Temple Judaism was far more varied and complex than previously thought. Whether the background that the scrolls provide—a rare, unexpected window onto Second Temple Judaism—is filtered through an Essene lens in the case of some documents, is secondary. Norman Golb’s discussion of the collection as a whole illustrates this. It is a welcome addition to the ongoing scholarly conversation.
Reclaiming the Dead Sea Scrolls
Lawrence H. Schiffman
(Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1994) 529 pp., $34.95.