(BEING CONTINUED FROM 30/12/16)
On the western shore of the Dead Sea, about eight miles south of Jericho, lies a complex of ruins known as Khirbet Qumran. It occupies one of the lowest parts of the earth, on the fringe of the hot and arid wastes of the Wilderness of Judaea, and is today, apart from
occasional invasions by coachloads of tourists, lifeless, silent and empty. But from that place, members of an ancient Jewish religious community, whose centre it was, hurried out one day and in secrecy climbed the nearby cliffs in order to hide away in eleven caves their
precious scrolls. No one came back to retrieve them, and there they remained undisturbed for almost 2,000 years.
The account of the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, as the manuscripts are inaccurately designated, and of the half a century of intense research that followed, is in itself a fascinating as well as an exasperating story. It has been told many a time, but this fiftieth
anniversary of the first Scroll find excuses, and even demands, yet another rehearsal.1
A BIRD’S-EYE VIEW OF FIFTY YEARS OF DEAD
SEA SCROLLS RESEARCH
News of an extraordinary discovery of seven ancient Hebrew and Aramaic manuscripts began to spread in 1948 from Israeli and American sources.2 The original chance find by a young Bedouin shepherd, Muhammad edh-Dhib, occurred during the last months of
the British mandate in Palestine in the spring or summer of 1947,unless it was slightly earlier, in the winter of 1946.3 In 1949, the cave where the scrolls lay hidden was identified, thanks to the efforts of a bored Belgian army officer of the United Nations Armistice Observer Corps, Captain Philippe Lippens, assisted by a unit of Jordan’s Arab
Legion, commanded by Major-General Lash. It was investigated by G.Lankester Harding, the English Director of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan, and the French Dominican archaeologist and biblical scholar, Father Roland de Vaux. They retrieved hundreds of
leather fragments, some large but most of them minute, in addition to
the seven scrolls found in the same cave.
Three of the rolls, an incomplete Isaiah manuscript, a scroll of Hymns and one describing the War of the Sons of Light against the Sons of Darkness, were purchased in 1947 by the Hebrew University’s Professor of Jewish Archaeology, E. L. Sukenik, who proceeded at full
speed towards their publication. The other four were entrusted for study and eventual publication by their owner, the Arab metropolitan archbishop Mar Athanasius, head of the Syrian Orthodox monastery of St Mark in Jerusalem, to the resident staff of the American School for Oriental Research in Jerusalem, Millar Burrows, W H. Brownlee and J.C. Trever. These three took charge of a complete Isaiah manuscript,the Commentary on Habakkuk and the Manual of Discipline, later renamed the Community Rule. Finally, after the splitting of British mandatary Palestine into Israel and Jordan, at the École Biblique et
Archéologique Française in Jordanian Jerusalem two young researchers, the Frenchman Dominique Barthélemy and the Pole Józef Tadeusz Milik, were commissioned by de Vaux and Harding in late 1951 to edit the fragments collected in Cave I.
Between 1951 and 1956, ten further caves were discovered, most of them by Bedouin in the first instance. Two yielded substantial quantities of material. Thousands and thousands of fragments were found in Cave 4 and several scrolls, including the longest, the Temple
Scroll, were retrieved from Cave II. The previously neglected ruins of a settlement in the proximity of the caves were also excavated by Harding and de Vaux, and the view soon prevailed that the texts, the caves and the Qumran site were interconnected, and that consequently the study of the script and contents of the manuscripts should be
accompanied by archaeological research.
Progress was surprisingly quick despite the fact that in those halcyon days, apart from the small Nash papyrus, containing the Ten Commandments, found in Egypt and now in the Cambridge University Library, no Hebrew documents dating to Late Antiquity were extant to provide terms of comparison. In 1948 and 1949, Sukenik published in Hebrew two preliminary surveys entitled Hidden Scrolls from the JudaeanDesert, and concluded that the religious community involved was the ascetic sect of the Essenes, well known from the first-century CE writings of Philo, Josephus and Pliny the Elder, a thesis worked
out in great detail from 1951 onwards by André Dupont-Sommer in Paris.4 The first Qumran scrolls to reach the public, and the archaeological setting in which they were discovered, echoed three striking Essene characteristics. The Community Rule, a basic code of sectarian existence, reflects Essene common ownership and celibate life, while the geographical location of Qumran tallies with Pliny’s Essene settlement on the north-western shore of the Dead Sea, south of Jericho. The principal novelty provided by the manuscripts consists of cryptic allusions to the historical origins of the Community, launched by a priest called the Teacher of Righteousness, who was persecuted by a Jewish ruler, designated as the Wicked Priest. The Teacher and his followers were compelled to withdraw into the desert, where they awaited the impending manifestation of God’s triumph over evil and darkness in the end of days, which had already begun.
An almost unanimous agreement soon emerged, dating the discovery, on the basis of palaeography and archaeology, to the last centuries of the Second Temple, i.e. second century BCE to first century CE. For a short while there was controversy between de Vaux,who decreed that the pottery and all the finds belonged to the Hellenistic era (i.e. pre-63 BCE), and Dupont-Sommer, who argued for an early Roman (post-63) date. But the finding of further caves and the excavation of the ruins of Qumran brought about, on 4 April 1952, de Vaux’s dramatic retraction before the French Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres. His revised archaeological synthesis, presented in the 1959 Schweich Lectures of the British Academy, while admittedly incomplete, is still the best comprehensive statement available today.5
A third point of early consensus concerns the chronology of the events alluded to in the Qumran writings, especially the biblical commentaries published in the 1950S and the Damascus Document.
The so-called Maccabaean theory, placing the conflict between the Teacher of Righteousness and the politico-religious Jewish leadership of the day in the time of the Maccabaean high priest or high priests Jonathan and/or Simon, was first formulated in my 1952 doctoral dissertation, published in 1953,6 and was soon to be adopted with
variations in detail by such leading specialists as J. T. Milik, F. M.Cross and R. de Vaux.7
As long as the editorial task consisted only of publishing the seven scrolls from Cave I, work was advancing remarkably fast. Millar Burrows and his colleagues published their three manuscripts in 1950 and 1951.8 Sukenik’s three texts appeared in a posthumous volume in 1954-5.9 In the interest of speed, these editors generously abstained from translating and interpreting the texts, and were content with releasing the photographs and their transcription. The best-preserved sections of the Aramaic Genesis Apocryphon followed closely in 1956.10 Even the fragments from Cave I, handled with alacrity and
loving care by D. Barthélemy and J. T Milik, appeared in 1955.11 The secrecy rule of later years, restricting access to unpublished texts to a small team of editors appointed by de Vaux, had not yet been applied.
On my first visit to Jerusalem in 1952, I was allowed to examine the fragments of the Rule of the Congregation (1QSa), as may be seen from the inclusion in the final edition of a reading suggested by me to the editors.
The scroll fragments, partly found by the archaeologists, but mostly purchased from the Arabs, who nine times out of ten outwitted their professional rivals, were cleaned, sorted out and displayed in the so called Scrollery in the Rockefeller Museum, later renamed the
Palestine Archaeological Museum, to become after 1967 once more the Rockefeller Museum. If the mass of material disgorged by Cave 4had not upset the original arrangements, the scandalous delays in publishing in later years need never have happened.
To deal with Cave 4, Father de Vaux improvised, in 1953 and 1954,a team of seven on the whole young and untried scholars. Barthélemy opted out, and the brilliant but unpredictable Abbé J. T. Milik, who later left the Roman Catholic priesthood, became the pillar of the new group. He was joined by the French Abbé Jean Starcky, and two
Americans, Monsignor Patrick Skehan and Frank Moore Cross. John Marco Allegro and John Strugnell were recruited from Britain, and from Germany, Claus-Hunno Hunzinger, who soon resigned and was replaced later by the French Abbé Maurice Baillet.
It should have been evident to anyone with a modicum of good sense that a group of seven editors, of whom only two, Starcky and Skehan, had already established a scholarly reputation, was insufficient to perform such an enormous task on any level, let alone to
produce the kind of ‘last word’ edition de Vaux appears to have contemplated. The second serious error committed by de Vaux was that he wholly relied on his personal, quasi-patriarchal authority, instead of setting up from the start a supervisory body empowered, if necessary, to sack those members of the team who might fail to fulfill their obligations promptly and to everyone’s satisfaction.
Yet before depicting the chaos characterizing the publishing process in the 1970s and 1980s, in fairness it should be stressed that, during the first decade or so, the industry of the group could not seriously be faulted. Judging from the completion around 1060 of a
primitive Concordance, recorded on handwritten index cards, of all the words appearing in the fragments found in Caves 2 to 10, it is clear that at an early date most of the texts had been identified and deciphered. The many criticisms advanced in subsequent years,
focusing on these scholars’ refusal to put their valuable findings into the public domain, should not prevent one from acknowledging that this original achievement, in which J. T. Milik had the lion’s share, deserves unrestricted admiration.
After the publication of the Cave I fragments in 1955, the contents of the eight minor caves (2-3, 5-10) were released in a single volume in 1963.12 In 1965 J. A. Sanders, an American scholar who was not part of the original team, edited the Psalms Scroll, found in Cave II in
1956.13 Finally, with its typescript completed and dispatched to the printers a year before the fatal date of 1967, the first poorly edited volume of Cave 4 fragments saw the light of day in 1968.14
(TO BE CONTINUED )
1For the story of my personal involvement with the Dead Sea Scrolls,
see Providential Accidents: An Autobiography, SCM Press, London,
and Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, Md., 1988.
2E. L. Sukenik, Megillot genuzot, 1, Jerusalem, 1948; W. F. Albright,
Bulletin of the American Schools for Oriental Research 110 (April
1948), 1-3; G. E. Wright, ‘A Sensational Discovery’, Biblical
Arcbaeologist (May 1948), 21-3.
3Cf. the interview with the discoverer reported by John C. Trever, The
Dead Sea Scrolls: A Personal Account, Grand Rapids, 1979, 191-4.
4Cf. Observations sur le Manuel de discipline découvert près de la
Mer Morte, Paris, 1951 His major synthesis in English is The Essene
Writings from Qumran, Oxford, 1961. For the latest survey, see G.
Vermes and Martin Goodman, The Essenes According to the
Classical Sources, Sheffield, 1989.
5Archaeology and the Dead Sea Scrolls, Oxford, 1973.
6Les Manuscrits du désert de Juda,Tournai and Paris, 1953;
Discovery in the Judean Desert, New York, 1956.
7J. T. Milik, Dix ans de découvertes dans le désert de Juda, Paris,
1957 (English translation: Ten Years of Discovery in the Wilderness
of Judaea, London, 1959); F. M. Cross, The Ancient Library of
Qumran and Modern Biblical Studies, New York, 1958; R. de Vaux,
op. cit. (in note 5 above).
8The Dead Sea Scrolls of St Mark’s Monastery, I, New Haven, 1950;
II/2, New Haven, 1951.
9The Dead Sea Scrolls of the Hebrew University, Jerusalem, 1954-5.
10N. Avigad and Y. Yadin, A Genesis Apocryphon, Jerusalem, 1956.See now J. C. Greenfield and E. Qimron, ‘The Genesis Apocryphon
Col. XII’, in Studies in Qumran Aramaic, edited by T. Muraoka (Abr-
Nahrain Suppl. I), Louvain, 1992, 70-77.
11Discoveries in the Judaean Desert, I: Qumran Cave I, Oxford, 1955.
12M. Baillet, J. T. Milik and R. de Vaux, Discoveries in the Judaean
Desert of Jordan,III: Les petites grottes de Qumrân, Oxford, 1962.
13J. A. Sanders, Discoveries in the Judaean Desert of Jordan,IV: The
Psalms Scroll of Qumran Cave II (IIQPsa), Oxford, 1965.
14J. M. Allegro and A. A. Anderson, Discoveries in the JudaeanDesert
ofJordan,V: I (4Q158-186), Oxford, 1968. A re-edition of this volume
by George J. Brooke is planned.