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Khirbet Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls

15th August 2006

The New York Times has an article (based on a BAR article) that challenges the connection between the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Qumran settlement entitled, “Archaeologists Challenge Link Between Dead Sea Scrolls and Ancient Sect.” Chris Weimer has also posted on this news article over at Thoughts on Antiquity, as has Jim Davila at PaleoJudaica; I thought I’d throw in my two cents worth as well.
Here is an excerpt from the article:

But two Israeli archaeologists who have excavated the site on and off for more than 10 years now assert that Qumran had nothing to do with the Essenes or a monastery or the scrolls. It had been a pottery factory.

The archaeologists, Yizhak Magen and Yuval Peleg of the Israel Antiquities Authority, reported in a book and a related magazine article that their extensive excavations turned up pottery kilns, whole vessels, production rejects and thousands of clay fragments. Derelict water reservoirs held thick deposits of fine potters’ clay.

Dr. Magen and Dr. Peleg said that, indeed, the elaborate water system at Qumran appeared to be designed to bring the clay-laced water into the site for the purposes of the pottery industry. No other site in the region has been found to have such a water system.

By the time the Romans destroyed Qumran in A.D. 68 in the Jewish revolt, the archaeologists concluded, the settlement had been a center of the pottery industry for at least a century. Before that, the site apparently was an outpost in a chain of fortresses along the Israelites’ eastern frontier.

While it is difficult to assess the strengths of their arguments based on a newspaper article, I’m not quite sure how finding significant pottery fabricating remains leads to the conclusion that the scrolls are not related to the site as well — especially considering that Magen himself thinks that the pottery associated with the scrolls came from Qumran.

The article’s conclusion is also a bit overstated:

Despite the rising tide of revisionist thinking, other scholars of the Dead Sea scrolls continue to defend the Essene hypothesis, though with some modifications and diminishing conviction.

If you want to read further, you can check out the BAR article here (subscription required to read the full article) or read Magen and Peleg’s more detailed essay in The Site of the Dead Sea Scrolls: Archaeological Interpretations and Debates, edited by Katharina Galor, Jean-baptiste Humbert, and Jürgen Zangenberg (Studies on the Texts of the Desert of Judah 57; Brill, 2006; Buy from Amazon.ca | Buy from Amazon.com).

For more reseources on the Dead Sea Scrolls, you may want to check out my resource pages.


2 Responses to “Khirbet Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls”

  1. Chris Weimer Says:

    Hey Tyler,

    Absolutely the last paragraph is “overstated”, as even Jim Davila notices. It should read “Despite the tide of revisionist thinking, the majority of scholars of the Dead Sea Scrolls…” which would be both fair and accurate. Although when faced with this new evidence, I think it may be difficult for some scholars to switch shifts now and abandon the Essene hypothesis. Not to say they’re doing it on purpose (never!) but that it might be too risky to do research into hypothesis B if they spent so much time and still have so much evidence for hypothesis A. I guess time will tell!

    best and warmest regards,

    Chris Weimer

    Ps – Did you see the forum conversation?

  2. Charles Says:

    Contrary to what you say, I think the last paragraph is quite appropriate. That there is indeed “diminishing conviction”, is seen in the fact that there have been no vitriolic attacks against Magen the way there were against Golb. How do you measure what “most” scholars think, or (not that they’re doing it on purpose) claim to think? Wilford seems to have a good sense of what’s going on, and carefully avoids getting into that kind of game. The fact of the matter is that the smug certitude as to the Essenes, of thirty years ago, has collapsed — Golb is no longer a “voice in the wilderness”, and his views will not simply be “forgotten when he dies”.