The Qumran Paradigm

Thomas

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Taken from an essay available online here. And I note that the proposer of the Groningen Hypothesis has subsequently agreed that the situation, and the question of who are the Essenes, is more clouded than ever.

A ‘Qumran Community’?
The popular understanding of the Qumran Community – an all-male celibate collective, an ideologically, socially and religiously extreme minority group (or sect), possibly (related to) the Essenes, who had segregated themselves and were awaiting the eschaton, believing themselves to be the chosen ones.

This was established very early, and depends on the available evidence (a few early finds), comments in Josephus, but also on the presuppositions of the early researchers – this was the era when the finds were kept under close scrutiny by the Vatican, and there appeared a number of claims that the finds would bring down the Catholic Church, etc.

Nearly ever assumption of the first 20 years has been dismissed or at least notably nuanced by subsequent finds and scholarship.

Current ideas allow for a single community residing at Qumran, to that of manuscripts reflecting more than one community and which were not all written at or in the immediate environs of Qumran. Scholars have developed several models to explain ‘Qumran’ of which three hypotheses about the origins of the Scrolls and their preservers seem to be considered most viable within the field. (There is a fourth 'Sadducean origin' hypothesis, which has engendered the least academic support.)

1. The Essene Hypothesis
2. The Groningen Hypothesis
3. The Multi-Community (Essene) Hypothesis

The Essene Hypothesis
Based on the idea that the Rule of the Community was “a kind of book of regulations for the conduct of members of a brotherhood or sect”.

Scholars made the link between 'the rule' and classical sources about the Essenes. It was assumed the entirety of manuscripts that formed the Dead Sea Scrolls were the main library of an Essene community, a sectarian group which resided “on the western side of the Dead Sea, in the vicinity of En-Gedi”.

The identification of the Qumran group with the Essenes primarily rests on what Josephus, Pliny the Elder and Philo's mentions of them. Various scholars have raised critical questions regarding such straightforward identification of Qumran as Essene. Some argue ‘an unknown Jewish Sect’ – Qumran halakha has many similarities with Sadducean halakha.

In particular, Josephus’ account of the Essenes is “thoroughly Josephan, part of the historian’s rhetorical and apologetic presentation of Judaism”. In a comparison of the historical sources, others note that as well as similarities, the ancient reports are not entirely congruous with the Qumran texts. Hence a straightforward identification of the ‘Qumran Community’ with the Essene Movement is not without valid challenges – the evidence of women buried in the cemetery; a latrine inside the Qumran walls is problematic. Notably, the word ‘Essene’ does not occur in the Scrolls.

Many scholars are convinced that the original ‘Essene Hypothesis’ can – in its strict sense – no longer be maintained.

The Groningen Hypothesis
Due to unease with the univocal identification of the Qumranites as Essene, some scholars developed modified or new views of the ‘Qumran Community’ in its pluralistic environment. That the Essene movement was the ‘parent movement’ to the ‘Qumran sect’, while others have argued that the ‘Qumran sect’ gradually parted from the Essene Movement and developed an ideology of its own.

The ‘Groningen Hypothesis’ is a coherent attempt to relate apparently contradictory data in the DSS. Five basic propositions characterise this approach:
1. A clear distinction must be made between the origins of the Essene movement and the origins of the Qumran Community.
2. The origins of the Essene movement lay within the Palestinian apocalyptic tradition (late third-early second century BCE).
3. The Qumran movement originates from a split-off from the larger Essene movement over the teachings of the Teacher of Righteousness. Those who were loyal to the Teacher eventually established themselves at Qumran.
4. The ‘Wicked Priest’ is a collective term and points to the sequence of Hasmonean high priests in a chronological order.

This way, the formative period of the community is placed within a larger perspective, which takes “ideological development, halakhic elements and political conflicts” into account to reconstruct the community’s split and subsequent settlement at Qumran.

The Hypothesis also attempts to explain the dissimilarities between certain core manuscripts, i.e. the Damascus Document (CD/DD) and the Community Rule (1QS). Moreover, it sketches possible reasons behind the community's retreat into the wilderness and provides a model of identity.

Another version of the off-shoot theory is that the Essene movement is ‘Enochic Judaism’ and sees the Qumran community as a radical split-off group from that movement.

The Groningen Hypothesis holds that the ‘Qumran community’ originated from a discordant ‘split-off’ from its Essene parent movement. The basis of a ‘split off’ theory lies in the presupposition that in 1QS and CD/DD different ‘sectarian’ groups are addressed by scholars and there are no simple solutions – Although generally it can be said that both the Essenes and the Qumran Sect are thought to stem from the Palestinian Apocalyptic Tradition.

It is therefore not surprising that recent scholarship has moved towards more complex theories of assembly.

The Multi-Community (Essene) Hypothesis
Due to the publication of the Scrolls since 1991, scholars have developed new theories regarding the identity of the group(s) reflected in the Qumran texts. One proposal is that a larger, more complex movement in which small local groups together form a larger organisation – “an organisation of autonomous, democratic communities with no definite leader alongside community or communities lived in camps and were ruled by authoritative leaders.

Accordingly, the Qumran was a collective of small, local communities, loosely organised by one central governing power, the Many (haRabbim).

More than one scholar puts forward the thesis of small assemblies within a larger umbrella organization”.

The Damascus Document provides for “camps” whose members marry and have children, but also for “men of perfect holiness”, with whom these are in contrast. The Community Rule describes a yahad, which is not a single settlement but an “umbrella union” ... But the Community Rule also describes an elite group,set apart within the yahad, which goes into the wilderness to prepare the way of the Lord.

Finally, the Rule of the Congregation looks to a time in which “all Israel” will follow the regulations of the sect, but still assigns special authority and status to the “council of the community” in the future age.”

Thus an understanding of relationship between groups rather than the “split-off” theory held by the Hypothesis.

Here we have a notion of two orders of Essenes who represented different options within the sect, but are not dissenting factions. An idea not without opponents.

In contradistinction to the satellite proposals of Regev, Collins, Metso and Schofield, Charlotte Hempel has argued that “some of the primitive and small-scale communal scenarios […..] reflect the life of the forebears of the yahad”. Supporters of this thesis argue against an umbrella framework or a central organisation. Rather, the differing traditions are chronological, the texts showing a development of ideas.

Instead of a central organisation and small-scale “communal scenarios”, there are communities who are the forebears of the later yahad, who do not (yet) seem to have separated themselves from others – An emerging community that is more focused on cultic and priestly ideology, but which nonetheless only holds a moderate dissident perspective.

Recent archaeological studies that focus on the Qumran site have discovered same-type pottery between Qumran and the Hasmonean and Herodian palaces in Jericho. Other archaeological studies have suggested an agricultural, secular function of Qumran – after being abandoned as a Hasmonean fortress, Qumran functioned as a regional agricultural trading estate.

These archaeological stud0ies provide evidence that Qumran was “an integral part of the regional economy”.

With emerging evidence demanding the need to re-examine hypotheses and assumptions, what we can say is that “the more archaeological material becomes available, the less unique and isolated Qumran becomes”.
 
Let's see if I can put together something coherent...

The late 1980s and early 1990s was a difficult time in my life, and when I lived most closely to a hermit type lifestyle. That is also the period of time when the DSS came to my attention.

Publication of the scrolls has taken many decades, and delays have been a source of academic controversy. The scrolls were controlled by a small group of scholars headed by John Strugnell, while a majority of scholars had access neither to the scrolls nor even to photographs of the text. Scholars such as Norman Golb, publishers and writers such as Hershel Shanks, and many others argued for decades for publishing the texts, so that they become available to researchers. This controversy only ended in 1991, when the Biblical Archaeology Society was able to publish the "Facsimile Edition of the Dead Sea Scrolls", after an intervention of the Israeli government and the Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA).[496] In 1991 Emanuel Tov was appointed as the chairman of the Dead Sea Scrolls Foundation, and publication of the scrolls followed in the same year.

My recollection, leading up to 1991 was a lot of ongoing back and forth over why the DSS were not being released. I hadn't remembered Strugnell's name until this snippet from Wiki reminded me. The general consensus, and I'm not going to sugar coat this, is that the Catholic Church was stalling over the release. Strugnell was acting on behalf of the Vatican, the wiki politely neglected to mention that. In 1991, facsimiles of the scrolls made the rounds of the universities, and I was fortunate enough to get to see them when presented at the University of Central Florida near Orlando. I didn't understand what I was looking at, but I knew it was of great significance. As soon as an English translation came available, I had one (still do).

Prior, going back to the original finds in the '40s just after Israeli Independence, some early scrolls did come into the conservatorship of the State of Israel, and an English translation of those scrolls has been available long before those under Vatican conservatorship. To this day I do not grasp why the Vatican was blocking access to scholarship for so long, and by the time the scrolls were made available there was a good bit of wondering if there were something the Church wished to hide.

My apologies for any hurt feelings, that is how it was at that time.

I never delved deeply into assessing the scrolls, I've mostly left that to scholarship. I've read a good bit of the English translations, so I have a working knowledge of them, but nowhere near the time and effort I've put into other matters, such as the Bible itself.

I look at Qumran as a kind of monastery, in principle if not in fact. I think scholars all along presumed there were those "lay persons" that were involved, perhaps more peripherally, and that interacted with Judean society in general. Now, I have no way to tell if the Essenes behaved more like an exclusive cult, or if they were just a more stringent sect / interpretation that travelled much of the same ground the Pharisees and Sadducees travelled, but most likely with a good bit less political authority.

How did the Essenes interact with the Temple while it still stood in operation? I don't know, and I have yet to hear if scholarship has drawn a universally accepted point of view on the matter. We just don't know how integrated the Essenes and Qumran were in relation to the greater Judaic society at the time.

I will say it has long been shown to be erroneous to conclude that John Baptist and / or Jesus were monastics *at* Qumran, as I have seen some suggest, in an attempt to somehow connect Christianity with the Essenes. I don't think so, I just don't see it.

The War Scroll, between the Sons of Light and the Sons of Darkness, is a very inspiring document, to me. The Community Rule reads more like summer camp guidelines so everybody plays nice - not to belittle, but it clearly is not a sacred, religious morality play in any sense Jews or Christians are familiar with.

Many of the scrolls disintegrated and blew away before they could even be photographed, so a great deal was lost even as it was found, likely there are things about the Essenes and Qumran that are now lost to history barring time travel. I believe it was the Book of Isaiah that was found complete, circa 100-200 BCE, so already old by the time the Romans destroyed the Temple, and that Book lines up with only very minor differences (I seem to recall one scholar counted a total of 3 diacritical points that differed from the Textus Receptus, which dates approx 400CE, five hundred years later).

I haven't looked into any of this with any great depth, and only glossed over it on my Rome in Transition thread because there was so much other material to cover, and frankly this sect doesn't appear to have been an historic player of significance. I'm not aware if Judaism had anything like a monastic tradition, I don't think they did, then again where did Priests go to learn to become Priests? Probably reasonable to presume some kind of school on the Temple grounds, but that is a presumption on my part...perhaps there were / was an off campus training facility of some kind?

As monastics, Qumran was hyper kosher, but hyper kosher at that time would require time in the Temple. Yet monasticism including Qumran, was about separating from society. Bit of a sticky wicket, and I don't think the matter has been fully resolved among scholars.

I do find it intriguing how the wrath of Rome fell first on Qumran. Was that opportunistic, or deliberate? Rome tended to be quite deliberate in their military actions, so it seems to me there must have been something going on at Qumran specifically that drew the wrath of Tiberius and Nero.
 
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To this day I do not grasp why the Vatican was blocking access to scholarship for so long, and by the time the scrolls were made available there was a good bit of wondering if there were something the Church wished to hide.
My apologies for any hurt feelings, that is how it was at that time.
No apology necessary (from this Catlick, at least).

Why the original scholars sat on the find for so long might well become another mystery. Was it because the Vatican feared something would completely undermine the Faith? I can imagine Vatican bureaucrats thinking that ...

Or was it simply the original scholars wanted it all for themselves?

I dunno. I do know that in retrospect, handing of the materials was scandalous by today's standards, I'm pretty sure the exuberance with regard to deciphering the finds actually led to further damage – but not sure it that's a retro-active criticism.

How did the Essenes interact with the Temple while it still stood in operation? I don't know, and I have yet to hear if scholarship has drawn a universally accepted point of view on the matter. We just don't know how integrated the Essenes and Qumran were in relation to the greater Judaic society at the time.
I think that's a fair reading, from what I've garnered.

I will say it has long been shown to be erroneous to conclude that John Baptist and / or Jesus were monastics *at* Qumran, as I have seen some suggest, in an attempt to somehow connect Christianity with the Essenes. I don't think so, I just don't see it.
Agreed. Too much supposition and the assumption 'they must have' ...

I believe it was the Book of Isaiah that was found complete, circa 100-200 BCE, so already old by the time the Romans destroyed the Temple, and that Book lines up with only very minor differences (I seem to recall one scholar counted a total of 3 diacritical points that differed from the Textus Receptus, which dates approx 400CE, five hundred years later).
I read one Jewish scholar commenting that, for both Jew and Christian, there was no 'canon' at the time, and that any discrepancies between the Qumran materials and the Hebrew Canon is down to different copyists, differing versions, possible errors, etc. But none of that matters. The Scriptures read in the Synagogue are Canonical, any other texts, older of younger, are ... quite simply ... different. So?

It's quite refreshing to hear someone accept that there might be text variations between finds and the existing canon, but it really doesn't matter.

Christians seem a tad more jittery.

And critics of Christianity leap on it like catnip.

I do find it intriguing how the wrath of Rome fell first on Qumran. Was that opportunistic, or deliberate? Rome tended to be quite deliberate in their military actions, so it seems to me there must have been something going on at Qumran specifically that drew the wrath of Tiberius and Nero.
That's interesting ...
 

Seems there's been a good deal of more recent scholarship regarding Qumran, some of it challenging earlier positions.

I didn't see much dispute over scrolls being composed at Qumran, but there are some who suggest not all of the scrolls found in the caves were from Qumran. There is also supported suggestion Qumran may have been either / and a "summer house" for some wealthy family as well as a place for production of pottery. The "monastery" aspect seems not altogether supported by the evidence, apart from the extensive cemetery.
 
Do you know whether there are traces of a community settlement where the scrolls were found? Maybe, some people just hid them there when they saw the Romans destroying the Jewish culture?
 
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Didn't Josephus write about the Essenses in that area?
 
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Didn't Josephus write about the Essenses in that area?
The little I read above in post 5 suggested a fairly solid connection with the Sadducees. I confess to a good bit of scholarly ignorance between the Sadducees and Pharisees, I'm given to understand the Sadducees were the wealthier, upper class, but how that applied to practice and interpretation I am not in a place to say.

As for Josephus, I confess to not having read that part...
 
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Do you know whether there are traces of a community settlement where the scrolls were found? Maybe, some people just hid them there when they saw the Romans destroying the Jewish culture?
If I recall, the caves where the scrolls were found were mostly unoccupied as dwellings. I seem to recall discussion of one cave known to have been where some Jewish soldiers, Bar Kochba era some 40 or 50 years later, holed up until they were found out and slaughtered by the Romans. I don't think there was any specific community in the caves themselves, they were likely more for storage, like foodstuffs and maybe water. Kind of a desert root cellar...in concept.
 
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