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date: 17 October 2019

Introduction: Current Issues in Dead Sea Scrolls Research

Abstract and Keywords

The Dead Sea Scrolls were found near the site of Qumran, at the northern end of the Dead Sea, beginning in 1947. Despite the much-publicized delays in the publication and editing of the scrolls, practically all of them had been made public by the time of the fiftieth anniversary of the discovery. This book seeks to probe the main disputed issues in the study of the scrolls. For indeed, many issues remain in dispute, despite the apparently impressive syntheses at the turn of the millennium. There has been lively debate over the archaeology and history of the site, the nature and identity of the sect, and its relation to the broader world of Second Temple Judaism and to later Jewish and Christian tradition. The book aims to reflect on diverse opinions and viewpoints, highlight the points of disagreement, and point to promising directions for future research.

Keywords: Dead Sea Scrolls, Qumran, Second Temple Judaism, Christian tradition, archaeology

The Dead Sea Scrolls were found near the site of Qumran, at the northern end of the Dead Sea, beginning in 1947. Despite the much publicized delays in the publication and editing of the scrolls, practically all of them had been made public by the time of the fiftieth anniversary of the discovery. That occasion was marked by a spate of major publications that attempted to sum up the state of scholarship at the end of the twentieth century. These publications included The Dead Sea Scrolls after Fifty Years: A Comprehensive Assessment, edited by Peter W. Flint and James C. VanderKam (1998–1999), the Encyclopedia of the Dead Sea Scrolls, edited by Lawrence H. Schiffman and James C. VanderKam (2000), and The Dead Sea Scrolls Fifty Years after Their Discovery: Proceedings of the Jerusalem Congress, July 20–25, 1997, edited by Lawrence H. Schiffman, Emanuel Tov, and James C. VanderKam (2000), to mention only the more ambitious undertakings. These volumes, especially the first two, produced an authoritative synthesis to which the majority of scholars in the field subscribed, granted disagreements in detail.

A decade or so later, the Oxford Handbook of the Dead Sea Scrolls has a different objective and character. It seeks to probe the main disputed issues in the study of the scrolls. For indeed, many issues remain in dispute, despite the apparently impressive syntheses at the turn of the millennium. There has been lively debate over the archaeology and history of the site, the nature and identity of the sect, and (p. 2) its relation to the broader world of Second Temple Judaism and to later Jewish and Christian tradition. It is our intention here to reflect on diverse opinions and viewpoints, highlight the points of disagreement, and point to promising directions for future research.

The Nature of the Corpus

Perhaps the most fundamental question to be asked about the scrolls is the nature of the collection. Most scholars have assumed that the manuscripts hidden in the caves were the library of a religious community that lived at the site.

Frank Moore Cross entitled his classic study of the scrolls The Ancient Library of Qumran and Modern Biblical Studies (1958; third edition 1995). The term ‘library’ has often been invoked in the scholarly literature, but the implications of what that might mean have seldom been discussed. Hartmut Stegemann's book, Die Essener, Qumran, Johannes der Täufer und Jesus : Ein Sachbuch (1993) appeared in English as The Library of Qumran: On the Essenes, Qumran, John the Baptist, and Jesus (1998). He did not explain what he meant by ‘library’, but he clearly thought of it in terms of the various uses of the manuscripts, as he divided the collection into master manuscripts, scrolls for general use, works for special studies and items of current interest, and worn‐out and discarded manuscripts (1998: 80–85). An exception is the ‘imaginative reconstruction’ of the partial contents of the library by a learned librarian. According to Katharine Greenleaf Pedley the men who curated the collection were librarians, bibliothecarii, who prepared the leather or papyrus for copying, and preserved and stored the scrolls on bookshelves that were divided into the shape of a ‘nest’ (Latin: nidus) or ‘pigeon hole’ (1959; cf. Roitman 1997: 60).

Other possibilities have always been entertained. Dissident scholars, of whom the most vocal is Norman Golb (1995), have always maintained that scrolls in this number could only have originated in Jerusalem, and that they were taken to the desert for hiding. Khirbet Qumran was no monastic‐like centre; it was a military fortress that belonged to the nexus of defensive posts guarding the eastern front of Judaea. The scrolls then are a random sample of the Jewish literature of the time. In that case, their proximity to the ruins of Khirbet Qumran was mere coincidence. Golb raised important questions about the nature of this collection of scrolls. Was it really one collection? Did it belong to the community that lived nearby at Khirbet Qumran? And was this an Essene community? His own ‘Jerusalem hypothesis’, however, has not had many followers. Most scholars feel that the proximity of some of the caves to the site cannot be coincidental. Moreover, the archaeological site, with its large cemetery, was unlikely to have been a fortress as its water supply was (p. 3) unprotected (Lim 1992). Many of the scrolls are notably critical of the Jerusalem priesthood. They include multiple copies of rule books for distinct associations, and other literature of a sectarian character. They conspicuously lack literature that could be identified as Pharisaic, and only one text, the ‘Prayer for King Jonathan’ (4Q448) can be construed as pro‐Hasmonean (and even that is disputed). While the scrolls contain many texts, including the biblical ones, that circulated widely, the collection as a whole has a sectarian character.

But even if the scrolls are a sectarian collection, it does not follow that they were all composed and used at Qumran. They could have been brought there from other sectarian communities, for safe keeping in the face of the advance of the Roman army. The fact that different editions of the sectarian rule books, both the Damascus Rule and Serekh ha‐Yaḥad, have been found at Qumran, and that older editions of the rules were apparently copied after newer editions had been made, suggests that these scrolls, or at least the rule books, were not read side by side in the same community, but were rather preserved in different sectarian communities (Schofield 2009). A further complication is now raised by the suggestion that the scrolls were not all deposited in the caves on the same occasion. It has often been noted that the great majority of the scrolls were copied in the first century BCE. The average age of the scrolls in Caves 1 and 4 is considerably older than that of the scrolls in the other caves (Stökl Ben Ezra 2007). So it has been suggested that some scrolls were deposited in the caves already around the turn of the era. If indeed scrolls were hidden at the site on more than one occasion, that would strengthen the argument that they were related in some way to a community that lived at the site during this period. Whether this in fact was so, however, remains in dispute.

It is now widely agreed that not all the scrolls were composed within a sectarian movement. The biblical texts were obviously not peculiar to a sect, but many other texts found at Qumran lack sectarian characteristics. Much, but not necessarily all, of the non‐sectarian literature dates from a time before the rise of the movement described in the sectarian rule books. This seems to be the case with much (but not necessarily all) of the literature composed in Aramaic (Berthelot and Stökl Ben‐Ezra, 2010). Most of the disputed issues discussed in this volume concern the sectarian scrolls, and the movement they reflect, but many also concern the implications of the corpus for our broader understanding of the Judaism of the day.

The Archaeology

No topic related to the Dead Sea Scrolls has been more controversial than the archaeology of Khirbet Qumran. The classic view of the site was articulated by the original excavator, Roland de Vaux (1973). On this view, there had been a military (p. 4) fort at the site in the late Iron Age, but it was rebuilt in the mid‐second century BCE as a religious settlement. After an interruption in the late first century BCE it was reoccupied by the same community, down to the war with Rome. After the destruction of the site, the Romans partially occupied it as a look‐out post. This view of the site has been defended vigorously by Jodi Magness (2002), although she dates the Hasmonean reoccupation of the site to the early first century, rather than to the second, and also modifies de Vaux's interpretation at other points.

Over the last two decades or so, a plethora of alternative theories have been proposed. Golb argued that the site was a fort. This view has been taken up by Yizhar Hirschfeld (2004), by Magen and Peleg (2006), and most recently by Robert Cargill (2009). These scholars, however, argue that the site was a fort only in the Hasmonean period, and subsequently put to other use. Hirschfeld argues that it became a manor house, Magen and Peleg a pottery factory, and Cargill a religious settlement. Jean‐Baptiste Humbert (2003) has also argued that the character of the site changed after the fall of the Hasmoneans. In his view, it was initially a country house, and was later taken over by the Essenes.

In his judicious survey of the debate, Eric Meyers recognizes that some valid points have been made. For example, it is now agreed that Qumran must be viewed in the larger context of its regional environment. It is unrealistic, and contrary to the archaeological evidence, to see it as an isolated settlement with no contact with outside society. Nonetheless, Meyers finds most of the revisionist views unsatisfactory. Regional contacts do not rule out the possibility of a sectarian settlement. Any interpretation must account for the unique character of the site, especially for the multiplicity of immersion pools and the large cemetery. It is also unrealistic to leave out of account the scrolls that were found in the virtual backyard of the settlement.

Within the debate over the archaeology, special importance has attached to the cemetery, and the presence of female burials. In recent years, wildly different claims have been made, some maximizing the number of female skeletons, others maintaining that most if not all of the female instances were intrusive Bedouin burials from a much later time. As Rachel Hachlili notes, ‘recent research and reexamination of the bones have not resolved the controversy and riddle of the Qumran community, because of the small number of tombs excavated, and the even smaller number and poor condition of human remains. The recent excavations at Khirbet Qazone cemetery, with similar shaft tombs, add fervor to the debate.’ In Hachlili's view, however, the burials were noticeably different from the burial customs of ordinary Judaism in this period. She concludes that the community that used the cemetery ‘was a specific religious group, a separate Jewish sect, who fashioned their own divergent practices as well as some typical Jewish customs. The separate and isolated cemetery and the burial practices, which deviate from the regular Jewish tradition of family oriented tombs, show a distinctive attitude to death and burial customs’. This conclusion does not require that the community was Essene, but it does not rule out that possibility either. (p. 5)

The Identification and History of the Sect

Most scholars today still follow the Qumran–Essene identification as a working hypothesis. This identification was suggested independently by Eliezer L. Sukenik and Millar Burrows almost immediately after the discovery of the first scrolls, and it was expounded at length by André Dupont‐Sommer. The theory was developed in its classical form by Frank M. Cross (1958), J. T. Milik (1959), and Geza Vermes. These scholars argued that ‘the Qumran community’ was led by Zadokite priests, who seceded from the Jerusalem temple in the mid‐second century BCE, when the Hasmoneans usurped the High Priesthood. This theory was grounded, on the one hand, in the statement in the Damascus Document, col. 1 that the movement arose 390 years after the destruction of Jerusalem (hence in the early second century BCE) and in the references in the Pesharim, or biblical commentaries, to a Wicked Priest, who was identified as either Jonathan (Vermes, Milik) or Simon Maccabee (Cross). It was thought to derive support from de Vaux's dating of the resettlement of Qumran to the mid‐second century BCE.

All aspects of this theory have come under scrutiny in recent years. John Collins noted that the communities described in the scrolls are not adequately identified as ‘the Qumran community’ (2010). The Damascus Document refers explicitly to people who live in ‘camps’ throughout the land, and who marry and have children. The passage in question, in CD 7, implies that this was not true of all members of the movement of the new covenant, but it does not clarify how the others lived. The Community Rule says nothing about women or children, but it says that wherever there are ten members of the yaḥad, there should be a priest. This would seem to imply that the yaḥad was not one settlement, whether at Qumran or elsewhere, but rather an association made up of multiple communities. One passage in the Community Rule, col. 8, prescribes a retreat to the desert, to prepare the way of the Lord, but adds that this is the study of the Torah. Whether this passage can be taken to refer to the founding of the Qumran settlement is uncertain. The identity and history of the yaḥad, then, cannot be inferred simply from the archaeology of Khirbet Qumran.

The identification of the yaḥad with the Essenes was suggested by the fact that Pliny the Elder refers to an Essene settlement near the Dead Sea, ‘above’ (north of?) Ein Gedi, and by notable similarities between the yaḥad, as described in the Community Rule, and the Essenes as described by Josephus and Philo, with respect to their admission procedures and common life. Both Josephus and Philo say that the Essenes were dispersed in multiple settlements, so in this respect their accounts match the evidence of the scrolls. Much of the controversy about the Essene hypothesis has centred on the question of celibacy. Philo, Josephus, and Pliny all (p. 6) emphasize the celibacy of the Essenes, although Josephus also says that one order of the sect allowed marriage. The reference in the Damascus Document to people who married and had children has been referred to ‘the marrying Essenes’ (Vermes), but even the Community Rule does not prescribe celibacy. Besides, Steve Mason (2007) has argued that Josephus would not have eulogized people who held the apocalyptic views that we find in the scrolls.

Joan Taylor, in this volume, gives an exceptionally comprehensive account of ancient references to the Essenes. She takes note of the problems with the Essene identification, but remarks that ‘it is not as if we have in Second Temple Judaism an array of highly educated Jewish schools/orders from which to choose’. She also observes that ‘the maleness of the yaḥad may be affirmed while still acknowledging the presence of women and children in the “world” of the Serekh texts, whether these men of the yaḥad were married or not’ (Taylor 2007). An all‐male council of scribes or priests does not require total isolation from women, which Taylor regards as a logical absurdity. Her argument entails a nuanced, revisionist, understanding both of the Essenes and of the yaḥad, but she concludes that the Essenes were the only people we know of in Second Temple Judaism who demonstrate the kinds of concerns and lifestyle reflected in the rule books from Qumran.

The consensus view that the sectarian movement began in the second century BCE has recently been defended by Hanan Eshel (2008). Eshel's book can be read as a counterpoint to the article of Michael Wise in this volume. Wise sees the connection of the scrolls to the site of Qumran as tenuous, and notes that several considerations point to the texts' origin outside of Qumran. Moreover, neither archaeology nor palaeography require a date for the Teacher in the mid‐second century BCE. The vast majority of the sectarian manuscripts are dated to the first century BCE by their editors. The 390 years of the Damascus Document are universally recognized as a symbolic number, derived from Ezekiel 4: 5. In any case, Jews in this period had no reliable knowledge of the chronology of the Persian period. Wise approaches the history of the Teacher and his movement from an analysis of the Teacher Hymns in the Hodayot, which reflect a conflict over the interpretation of the Law and the Temple service. This conflict is also reflected in 4QMMT and the Pesharim. Wise locates this conflict after the death of Alexander Jannaeus, when his widow, Salome Alexandra, switched the allegiance of the Hasmoneans to the Pharisees. The Wicked Priest would then be Hyrcanus II (as proposed long ago by Dupont‐Sommer). Wise's reconstruction of the history departs sharply from the consensus that has dominated Qumran scholarship, but it should be noted that all the clear historical allusions in the Pesharim point to the first half of the first century BCE.

Other contributors to this volume challenge other aspects of scrolls scholarship that have long enjoyed the status of consensus. While Joan Taylor noted that we do not have a great variety of Jewish sects to choose from, Martin Goodman reminds us that our knowledge of ancient Judaism is dependent on the accidents of (p. 7) transmission, and by no means complete. Goodman questions whether the evidence of the scrolls requires that the yaḥad have cut itself off from the Temple. He refers to ‘the helpful advice to be found in MMT on how to run the Temple’, but denies that it is the polemic of a group that has cut itself off from the Temple (see now Goodman 2009). (Incidentally, Taylor also denies that the Essenes, according to Philo and Josephus, had rejected the Temple). Goodman does not deny that the authors of the scrolls were unhappy with the way the Temple was being run, but he notes that the Pharisees and the Sadducees both frequented the Temple despite strong disagreements. In a similar vein, Sacha Stern questions whether calendrical disagreement would necessarily require that the yaḥad withdraw from the Temple cult. He argues that the 364‐day calendar ‘should be regarded as just one of many peculiarities of the Qumran literature and perhaps community’, but denies that it is a polemical issue. Whether Goodman and Stern will succeed in shaking long‐established assumptions of scholarship remains to be seen, but the attempt to reexamine the bases of these assumptions is surely salutary.

The Scrolls and Other Strands of Judaism

Long‐established theories are not the only ones that require critical examination. James VanderKam examines the theory propagated by Gabriele Boccaccini that the sect known from the scrolls originated as a splinter movement from Enochic Judaism. While VanderKam accepts that there was a strand of Judaism that may be called Enochic, he questions whether Enochians could not at the same time be Zadokites or Sapientialists. Could people not find value in a variety of literary traditions? He also questions the identification of the Enochians with the Essenes, and notes that Boccaccini has modified his views on this point. The books of Enoch do not show much similarity to the classical accounts of the Essenes. The hypothesis that ‘the Qumran community’ originated as a splinter group also plays a part in the Groningen Hypothesis of Florentino García Martínez and Adam van der Woude. VanderKam argues that while there is evidence in the Damascus Document of opposition between the Teacher and the figure called the Liar, there is no evidence that they were ever members of the same community, despite frequent assertions to the contrary in recent scholarship. Neither is there any evidence that the Teacher and his followers separated from a larger Essene movement.

The relation of the sectarian movement to the Enoch literature is related to the broader question of whether it can be appropriately described as ‘apocalyptic’. Michael Knibb notes the ambiguity of the term ‘apocalyptic’, since material may resemble what (p. 8) we find in apocalypses in some respects and not in others. The sect was influenced by the eschatological ideas of Enoch and Daniel, but its view of the world was not shaped only or primarily by concern about the eschaton. (This point has been acknowledged by scholars who still refer to the sect as ‘an apocalyptic community’). Apocalyptic concerns must be balanced against other interests, especially the correct interpretation of the Law. Knibb affirms the expectation of two messiahs in the scrolls, although there are also texts that only mention one. He suggests that the development of dualism, and to some extent of eschatology, was a way of coping with the fact that the sect's interpretation of the Torah was not accepted by other Jews.

Also related to the Enoch literature is the question of mysticism in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Mysticism admits of different definitions. James Davila understands it ‘as the use of ritual practices to experience an ascent to heaven in which one undergoes a temporary or permanent transformation into an angelic being who may be enthroned on high or who may participate in the angelic liturgy. An aspect of this experience is a fascination with detailed descriptions of the heavenly realm’. The evidence for ascent to heaven lies primarily in one notoriously fragmentary and difficult text, the so‐called Self‐Glorification Hymn. While this is arguably a case of ascent mysticism, the interpretation remains in dispute. Davila finds evidence of vibrant mysticism, however, in the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice, which he understands as a liturgical text. The mystical aspects of the scrolls constitute one of the ways in which these texts anticipate developments in later Judaism and Christianity (see, however, Schäfer 2009: 350).

The apocalyptic and mystical traditions typified by the Enoch literature are one important strand of influence in the scrolls, but not the only one. Armin Lange reviews the substantial corpus of wisdom texts found in the scrolls. He regards most of this corpus as non‐sectarian, and as representative of the development of Jewish wisdom in the Hellenistic period. He emphasizes the rise of Torah wisdom, and the increased interest in eschatology. While most of these texts (with at least one exception) were of non‐sectarian origin, they show how wisdom traditions were received and incorporated in sectarian thought. So, for example, the Treatise on the Two Spirits (which Lange regards as pre‐sectarian) was incorporated into the Community Rule, and there are many allusions to Musar le Mevin in the Hodayot. A quite different strand of influence is explored by Albert de Jong. Zoroastrian influence on the dualism of the scrolls has been suggested since the early days of Qumran research. This topic is clouded by the difficulty of dating the Persian traditions. The similarities are most striking in the Treatise on the Two Spirits. De Jong notes differences as well as similarities, and argues that there is a ‘structural dilemma’ in the Treatise, because of the tensions between the dualistic worldview and biblical traditions. The description of the two spirits is almost wholly parallel to what we find in Iranian texts. De Jong also notes other points of Persian influence that are uncontroversial, such as the use of some Persian words and the Persian setting of the story in 4Q550, sometimes referred to as ‘Proto‐Esther’.

(p. 9) The Character of the Sect

The character and core values of the sect are at issue in the articles of David Lambert and Jonathan Klawans. Lambert questions whether the sectarian movement can be appropriately categorized as a penitential movement, if this is understood by analogy with penitential movements in the Middle Ages. The scrolls attest to a deterministic worldview, in which one is acted upon by divine grace. They do not emphasize the feelings of remorse for past deeds that are later associated with repentance. Klawans notes the increased interest in ritual purity in Jewish Studies in general, and in Qumran studies in particular, over the last two decades. The dominant understanding of purity in the scrolls posits a meaningful and logically coherent sectarian purity system by following the interconnections among the various texts and correlating them with archaeological evidence. Klawans finds merit in this view, but questions whether all the evidence fits together so well. He proposes an alternative interpretation for discussion. In this view, the sect would not have claimed to constitute an adequate substitute for the temple. Many of the laws were formulated with an eye to a utopian future rather than immediate practice. Some acts may have been performed despite their incomplete effect. It should be noted that Klawans' discussion is predicated on the assumption that the scrolls are the library of the community at the site of Qumran; hence his concern for correlation between the scrolls and the archaeological evidence. It is not clear how this discussion would be affected if the scrolls were related more broadly to a movement of which only a small segment lived at Qumran (assuming that Qumran was indeed a sectarian community).

Another characteristic of the Qumran community, according to the consensus view, was that its membership consisted of celibate men. In recent years, the issue of women's presence in the community has been raised. The discussion, such as the seminal studies of Eileen Schuller, has focused on the role of women in the Qumran community: were they wives and daughters or full members of the sect? After critically reviewing Qumran scholarship and its focus on the Essene hypothesis, Tal Ilan takes a broader perspective on the gender reading of the biblical, apocryphal, and sectarian scrolls. She weighs up the variants in these texts, arguing that they are not exegetical but textual variants that attest to previously unmentioned women, their activities, and gender ideology. For Ilan, the absence of not only Esther, but also Judith and Susannah, from the scrolls' corpus is significant indication of the dominant male ideology of the community. She also finds gender as a useful tool for analysing the female personification of Jerusalem in certain biblical (Lamentations, 4Q179) and sapiential texts (4Q184, 4Q185, 4Q525, 4QInstruction and Wisdom of Ben Sira). She also discusses from the female perspective the halakhic regulations, those long known and more recently come to light, concerning polygyny, divorce, incest, oaths, the prospective bride, and endogamous marriages. (p. 10)

The Scrolls and Later Judaism

Some aspects of religious life in the scrolls are discussed here with reference to their relation to later Judaism. This is the case with the discussion of mysticism, and also with the understanding of religious law, which was arguably the most important defining feature of the sectarian movement. Aharon Shemesh examines an important difference between the Qumranic and rabbinic stance on halakhah. He argues that what is missing in the Qumran scrolls is maḥloket or explicit dispute. Whereas rabbinic literature names rabbis and reports their different opinions, the Qumran scrolls are silent on halakhic disputes. He argues that this difference is explicable by the source of authority of the halakhah: Qumran's halakhah is based upon the premise of divine authority, whereas the rabbinic legal rulings are predicated on the idea of human autonomy and reason.

There are also significant continuities between the scrolls and the rabbinic corpus in relation to liturgical practice. These are explored by Daniel Falk. He is careful to note that similarity is not identity, and does not always require a linear relationship. For example, although both the scrolls and the rabbinic writings share the concept of appointed times for prayer, neither the times nor the rationale are necessarily the same. Falk's essay also highlights the importance of new methodologies, specifically ritual studies, for understanding the scrolls. He calls for a nuanced understanding of prayer that distinguishes between the surface meaning of the language and its rhetorical and ritual functions.

Another area that cries out for comparison is the Dead Sea Scrolls' relationship to medieval Karaism. After all, one of the foundational texts of the Qumran community, the Damascus Document, was discovered in the Cairo Genizah. Stefan Reif compares the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Cairo Genizah as sectarian collections by analysing not only the commonalities and divergences with respect to the literary remains of the Hebrew Bible, biblical interpretation, Hebrew grammar, and the masorah, Jewish law and liturgy, but also curatorial (disposal, survival, accessibility, location of the holdings), palaeographical, and codicological issues. He focuses on the preservation of four texts (the Damascus Document, Wisdom of Ben Sira, Aramaic Levi Document, and Tobit) in both collections and suggests that while it has to be admitted that the preservation of both collections was serendipitous, the corpora testify to the importance of the literature preserved in them and the extent of literacy in both periods. He concludes that the connection between the two collections is undeniable, and that Karaism owed a great debt to the religious ideas found in the Dead Sea Scrolls. (p. 11)

The Scrolls and the Hebrew Bible

As mentioned above, the heterogeneous collection of scrolls found in the eleven caves is not sectarian in the sense that it included only works that were written by the community. Some one quarter of all the scrolls are biblical texts. These attest to the fluidity of the biblical text, which had not yet been standardized when the scrolls were written. Ronald Hendel critically reviews the post‐Qumran text‐critical theories of Frank Cross, Shemaryahu Talmon, Emanuel Tov, and Eugene Ulrich, delving into their philosophical assumptions. He argues that the differences may in part be explained by the classic, epistemological contrast between realism and nominalism. Thus, while one text‐critic might see a coherent family or group of texts, another might see only a collection of individuals. Hendel sees value in the post‐Qumran textual theories and extracts features from each of them in presenting an alternative model. Using the Exodus manuscripts from Qumran as a case study, Hendel puts forward an eclectic and multidimensional (though he could only represent two dimensions on the page) stemmatic model that includes multiple classificatory layers of editions (from Ulrich), locales (from Cross), social setting (from Talmon), and textual groups (from Tov).

It is, however, not only for textual criticism that the scrolls are important. The issue of ‘canon at Qumran’ is discussed by Timothy Lim. He first critically reviews the methodological and terminological issues raised by Eugene Ulrich and John Barton before proposing an approach to authoritative scriptures based on what the Qumran community actually cited in the pesharim and other sectarian texts rather than what they had in their ‘library’. He engages previous studies, especially those of Ian Eybers and James C. VanderKam, and suggests that the sectarian community had a broadly bipartite canon of the Hebrew Bible, including a closed Torah and an open‐ended collection of prophetical books. There is no evidence for a third division of Writings (the evidence of 4QMMT being questioned), although the Psalms were recognized as a collection.

Early Biblical Interpretation

The collection of scrolls found in the caves also included a number of exemplars of early biblical interpretations. Some quote the biblical texts explicitly and provide their sectarian interpretation, while others rewrite the biblical texts that they presumably had before them. Molly Zahn discusses the genre of ‘Rewritten Bible’ which has been at the centre of much intensive research. Considering the lack of a fixed canon of the Bible at this time, she prefers the terminology of ‘Rewritten Scripture’ and explains how Jubilees, the Temple Scroll, Genesis Apocryphon, and Reworked Pentateuch fall (p. 12) along a continuum with the biblical texts. In fact, Reworked Pentateuch is probably not ‘Rewritten Scripture’ at all, but an expansion of the Pentateuch. Zahn has shown that it is probably better to think of the biblical scroll/biblical interpretation divide as different points along a continuous sequence that also includes translations; although she would argue that ‘Rewritten Scripture’ is a genre that can be defined by its function and purpose, such as the implicit claim of authority in the very act of rewriting scriptural texts which she would see as essentially exegetical.

If ‘Rewritten Scripture’ blurs the boundary between biblical text and post‐biblical interpretation, then this seems not to be so in the case of the Pesharim. The Pesher is without doubt the quintessential form of sectarian exegesis that on the face of it distinguishes clearly between the lemma that is cited and the interpretation that follows; although, in its alteration of the biblical quotations, the pesher too crosses the exegetical line (Lim 1997). In the past, this type of exegesis has been characterized as a straightforward identification of a biblical element X with an interpretative comment Y. Bilhah Nitzan, however, shows how simplistic and misleading is such a characterization of the genre. Using a comparative approach to biblical interpretation in the Qumran scrolls and rabbinic literature she discusses the variegated exegeses of the continuous, thematic, and isolated pesher in relation to rabbinic exegeses, especially of the targumim and midrashim. She argues that the pesher is to be distinguished from other types of exegeses, at Qumran, in the Apocrypha, or in midrashic literature, by its emphasis upon revelation.

Using the technical term pesher, this sectarian exegesis seeks to unravel new divine revelations hidden in the prophetic oracles. It must be recognized that there is a range of interpretative approaches collected under the category of pesher. The continuous pesher is lemmatic and follows the sequence of the biblical texts; the thematic pesher combines a primary lemma with secondary proof‐texts around a theme; and the isolated pesher, individual exegeses embedded within non‐pesher texts, leads with an opening rule and is most similar to midrashic exegesis. Nitzan discusses a representative sampling of exegetical techniques, analyses its hermeneutical stance and social function, and concludes that while the pesher shares exegetical techniques with rabbinic midrash, its apocalyptic wordview, characterized by dualism, makes it distinctive. This dualism is marked by struggles that are both political (against the Pharisees and Sadducees on the one hand and the Greeks and Romans on the other) and eschatological (against wickedness).

Languages of the Scrolls

Jan Joosten discusses the languages of the scrolls, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, from diachronic and synchronic perspectives. He provides a brief sketch of the history of the languages and outlines, for Hebrew and Aramaic, their typological (p. 13) features. Qumran Hebrew represents a stage between biblical and mishnaic Hebrew. It was influenced by archaizing tendencies, especially by the Hebrew of the biblical texts, and the syntax, morphology, and vocabulary of Aramaic. Under this overlay of borrowings and influence, Joosten argues that there is a living substratum which attests to the active use of Hebrew. Some 14 per cent of the scrolls were written in the Aramaic language. These texts come from the Middle Aramaic phase of the language and the linguistic variation may be attributed to the different ages of the texts and to the personal preference of the author. The few, badly mutilated Greek scrolls reflect the language of the Septuagint.

The Scrolls and Early Christianity

One of the most contested areas of research, which receives disproportionate attention in the media, is the relationship of the Dead Sea Scrolls to early Christianity. In a review of previous scholarship, Jörg Frey critically assesses all the historical (e.g. John the Baptist, Essene Gate), ideological (e.g. dualism, messianism) and terminological (e.g. ‘works of the law’) links that have been suggested between the scrolls and the New Testament. He concludes that while theories of direct influence between the two do not stand up to critical scrutiny, the scrolls nonetheless constitute an invaluable source of information for the wider Jewish background of the New Testament.

One contribution of the scrolls to a better understanding of the Jewish background of the New Testament is on the central subject of Christology or, as Larry Hurtado prefers to call it, Jesus‐devotion. Using the scrolls (especially the Songs of the Sabbath, 11QMelchizedek, 1 Enoch, the War Scroll) together with other Jewish texts, Hurtado argues that Jews in the Second Temple period were firm monotheists who believed in the one God, but who also held that there were powerful, exalted figures of principal angels who acted as God's deputies. It is from this context that the binitarian pattern of early Christian devotion should be understood. This early devotion emerged from the Jewish matrix, but it also innovated in portraying Jesus as the unique agent of creation and redemption, and in according him cultic devotion.

The exegesis of the biblical texts is a defining characteristic of the scrolls and the New Testament, and from the early days of scrolls scholarship the similarities and differences have been noted. George Brooke provides an update of the research by discussing three key issues: textual fluidity, types of biblical interpretation, and exegetical methods. He provides three worked examples of shared exegetical traditions between the scrolls and the Gospels: Isaiah 35 and 61 in 4Q521 and Q; Isaiah 5 in 4Q500, Mark and the synoptic parallels; and Psalms 2 and 82 in 4Q246, Luke and (p. 14) John. For Brooke, the shared exegetical traditions do not prove direct borrowings. Rather, they are to be explained by the common exegetical tendencies of the sectarians and those belonging more broadly to Judaism of the Second Temple Period.

New Approaches to the Scrolls

Complementing the historical and thematic studies of the scrolls are new approaches that use the analytical questions and methods of other disciplines in the humanities and social sciences. It is premature to speak of a chastened historical criticism, but the scrolls are not exempt from the challenges of postmodernism. Maxine Grossman provides a brief, perspicuous overview of the insights of Roland Barthes, the emphasis upon the implied author and the meaning generated by different readers, before arguing that the different portrayals of the Teacher in 4QMMT and the Hodayot are literary fictions, made meaningful by the afterlife of these sectarian texts and the different audiences that read them. She argues that there is no fixed textual meaning and no consequent fixed historical knowledge in the scrolls or in any text.

Carol Newsom advocates the use of rhetorical criticism in investigating the interplay between the role of the speaker, the use of language, and the reception of the audience. Newsom begins by providing a potted history of rhetoric from classical antiquity to the present, including a summary of the application of rhetorical criticism to the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. Then, she analyses two case studies of the rule texts and the Thanksgiving Psalms or Hodayot. By attending to the techniques, strategies, and tone of the speaker, Newsom concludes that the admonition in the Damascus Document is more initimate, reinforcing as it does the community's identity within the history of Israel. By contrast, the Community Rule is highly formalized and rather impersonal, and its motivational introduction is intended to transform the outsider Jew to the insider sectarian.

When scholars use sociology to describe the Qumran community as sectarian, they are often unaware of the contexts of the discourse from which the concepts and terminology are taken. Jutta Jokiranta argues that this usage has often been reductionist, focusing as it does on definition and leaving out features highlighted by the sociology of sectarianism (e.g. character formation of the virtuoso personality, conversion). It is also largely uninformed, sometimes mixing different theoretical frames of reference. Grounding her discussion in five case studies, she puts forward two sociological approaches, focusing on the individual sectarian character, and the type of community and its relationship to society. Among other insights, her (p. 15) sociological approaches highlight the characteristics of the ideal sectarian ‘hero’, the tendency for self‐assertion (moderated by the hierarchical structure), the development of the community's revolutionary, utopian response into the introverted concerns for the sectarian's purity and holiness, the closeness of the Damascus Document and Community Rule when analysed by Stark and Bainbridge's scale of tension, and the importance of rituals with respect to conversion.

Finally, the article of Hector MacQueen considers the implications of scrolls scholarship for an important contemporary legal issue, the definition of authorship for purposes of copyright. The issue was crystallized by the lawsuit brought by Elisha Qimron against Hershel Shanks, for the unauthorized publication of the reconstructed text of 4QMMT. The Israeli court that tried the case in effect declared that Qimron was the legal author of the reconstructed composite text.MacQueen describes how the judgment in the case of Qimron v. Shanks has been a watershed in this much contested area. Providing basic background information on the history and concepts of copyright law and updating the dicussion with the subsequent case of Sawkins v. Hyperion Records Ltd (2004), MacQueen suggests that copyright should protect the reconstruction of a composite text from discontinuous fragments, which can only be imperfect as regards the presumed Urtext. He concludes that this will promote rather than stifle scrolls scholarship. The judgment in Qimron v. Shanks does not give rise to any new method of studying the scrolls, but it has important implications for how the resulting studies are published and how Qumran scholars refer to and rely on the reconstructed text. The composite text is not the putative original text of MMT, if there was only one such text (see now Weissenberg 2009), and Qimron is not ‘the author’ of MMT in the conventional sense of the word, but the editor of a reconstructed version of it.


It is in the nature of scholarship that results are seldom if ever definitive. New evidence comes to light. New perspectives change our perception of old problems. The study of the Dead Sea Scrolls enjoyed a remarkable consensus for a long time, roughly from the mid‐1950s to the mid‐1990s. That consensus viewed the scrolls as the library of a quasi‐monastic settlement that lived at Qumran. It was formed on the basis of a much smaller corpus of scrolls than what is now available. Inevitably, the new evidence would reopen old questions and give rise to new ones. It is not the case that all aspects of the old consensus were necessarily wrong. Most scholars still believe that Qumran was a sectarian site, and that the people who occupied it were most probably Essenes. But even if these elements of the (p. 16) consensus prevail, the scrolls can no longer be viewed only in the context of the Qumran settlement. The sectarian movement was more widely dispersed, and there is much in the scrolls that relates more broadly to the Judaism of the day. It is apparent that the scrolls have more to say about the role of women than was initially supposed, on the basis of a too facile reading of the Essene hypothesis. While the early decades of scrolls scholarship were largely concerned with the implications of the scrolls for Christianity, the last quarter of a century or so has seen great advances in the understanding of how they relate to rabbinic Judaism. As yet there has been relatively little work done on the relation of the scrolls to the wider Hellenistic–Roman world. Here too there is room for scholarship to expand.

No doubt, many more questions about scrolls scholarship can be raised than are discussed in this volume. We trust, however, that the essays brought together here are sufficient to show that little if anything is definitively settled in the study of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and that they are likely to remain a source of vibrant debate for generations to come.


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