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Archive for the 'Qumran' Category

A Couple New Books on the Dead Sea Scrolls

24th February 2007

fields_dss.jpgA couple new books on the Dead Sea Scrolls came to my attention recently and appear to be quite interesting.

  • Weston W. Fields
    The Dead Sea Scrolls — A Short History
    (Brill, 2006; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com)
  • Edna Ullmann-Margalit
    Out of the Cave: A Philosophical Inquiry into the Dead Sea Scrolls Research
    (Harvard University Press, 2006; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com)

Fields’s brief work provides a sketch of the history of the Dead Sea Scrolls for a popular audience. Ullmann-Margali’s book, on the other hand, isn’t about the scrolls per se, but rather is about scrolls research. She examines the debates surrounding the scrolls, in particular the Qumran-Essene hypothesis.


Posted in Dead Sea Scrolls, Qumran, Reviews & Notices | 1 Comment »

More on the Qumran Latrines

23rd February 2007

Michael Pitkowsky alerted me to another article on the Qumran latrines in The Forward, a national Jewish newspaper.

The article, by Katharina Galor and Jürgen Zangenberg, critiques the view of Joseph Zias and James Tabor that the latrines provide additional evidence for the Qumran-Essene hypothesis. The article, “Led Astray By a Dead Sea Latrine,” raises some important points and is worth a read.


Posted in Dead Sea Scrolls, Discoveries, Qumran | Comments Off

More on the Qumran Latrines

22nd December 2006

Ha’aretz has an article on the Qumran Latrines by Ran Shapira (“The hidden latrines of the Essenes“) that is worth a gander. Here is an excerpt:

Anthropologist Joe Zias, of the Hebrew University Science and Archaeology Department, recently found positive evidence of the Essenes’ adherence to these rituals. Together with Dr. James Tabor, Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina and parasitologist Stephanie Harter-Lailheugue of the CNRS Laboratory for Anthropology in Marseilles, France, Zias found the latrines that were used by the Essenes in Qumran. The three researchers say that, in addition to shedding a great deal of light on the unique culture of the Essenes in Qumran, the discovery represents an archaeological bonanza: Additional proof that the Essenes wrote the scrolls. Zias explains that when feces are left on the desert floor, exposure to sun and wind quickly annihilates intestinal parasites. But when feces are buried in the earth, intestinal parasites may survive for many months and their eggs may be preserved for as long as 2,000 years, as in the case of Qumran.

The presence of the eggs of intestinal parasites, typically present in human intestines, in a relatively limited area, in the place described in the scrolls and by Josephus, led researchers to conclude that they discovered the bathroom of Qumran’s ancient residents. “Only ascetic members of a sect that paid such close attention to hygiene would bother to walk hundreds of meters beyond their camp to relieve themselves, and invest the necessary energy to dig a pit in which to bury their waste,” Zias concludes.

For what it is worth, I agree with Joe Zias. I find the non-Essene hypotheses that disconnect the scrolls from the community not as plausible as a modified Essene hypothesis. See here and here for other posts on this discovery.



Posted in Ancient Potties, Archaeology, Dead Sea Scrolls, Discoveries, News, Qumran | Comments Off

More on Potties: Qumran, World Toilet Expo, and Princess Diana

16th November 2006

I bet you’re wondering what could Qumran, Expos, and Princess Diana possibly have in common?! Well, a Google search on the “Dead Sea Scrolls” brings up the following:

  • More information available on the latrines found at Khirbet Qumran is provided by James Tabor at his Jesus Dynasty blog — including a number of pictures that show the latrine’s location.
  • Reuters has a new piece on the The World Toilet Expo and Forum just got underway in Bangkok. — gee, and I have to go to Washington for the SBL. Bummer! (haha! so punny)
  • The Spoof.com has a — you guessed it — spoof on the whole Qumran latrine business the connects it with Princess Diana: “Diana Fountain ‘modelled on Dead Sea Scrolls latrine’” — is nothing sacred?! (I mean poking fun at Qumran, not Diana).

Posted in Ancient Potties, Dead Sea Scrolls, Humour, Qumran | 1 Comment »

Going Potty at Qumran: Evidence of Latrines Discovered (GPAT 4)

13th November 2006

A recent news release on Eureka Alert summarizes a forthcoming article in Revue de Qumran on a remote latrine site discovered at Khirbet Qumran.

This is the fifth in a series of posts (some more serious than others) on “Going Potty in the Ancient World.� My other posts include:

All posts in this series may be viewed here.

The international team of scholars, including James Tabor, Joe Zias, and Stephainie Harter-Lailheugue, did a number of soil samples outside of the Qumran settlement and discovered a latrine site.

Here is an excerpt:

Visiting Qumran, Tabor noted an area approximately 500 meters to the northwest of the settlement which seemed likely because it was sheltered from view by a bluff. Tabor also noted that the soil in the area appeared to have a significantly different coloration from other soils in the Qumran environs, a fact which was subsequently confirmed by Zias using high-resolution aerial photographs.

“I started thinking that in the scrolls they have these very explicit descriptions of where the latrines have to be,” Tabor explained. “It has to do with religious ritual purity — the latrines have to be located in a place that the ancient texts designate as ‘outside the camp’. That’s a phrase used in the Torah, where Moses tells the ancient Israelites ‘build your latrines outside the camp.’ When you go to the toilet, take a paddle or a shovel with you and use the toilet and then cover it up,” he said, explaining that the ancient practice appears to have been revived at Qumran.

“This group is very strict and they observe this practice rigorously — in one text it says go 1000 cubits, and in another text, 2000 cubits — and they specifically state ‘northwest’ in the scrolls. Josephus, in talking about the Essenes, mentions it as a point of admiration or piety – he says that these people are so holy, that on the Sabbath day they won’t even use the toilet, because on the Sabbath one can’t go outside the settlement,” he said.

“It turns out, if you go northwest from Qumran you get to this bluff – a large natural plateau separated from further cliffs – and if you go around it, it hides you from the camp. One of the things Josephus says is that they also believe that their latrines should shield them from view of the camp, so I thought ‘this is getting really good, if I can just find some evidence for toilet practices.’”

Tabor suggested investigating the area to Zias, who took four random soil samples at the site as well as six other samples for control — 4 from surrounding desert areas, one from an area that was known to be Qumran’s stable (to test for animal parasites), and one from an area on the opposite side of the city, essentially covering other outside-the-settlement areas that could have been used as latrines.

On the basis of earlier research that has shown that intestinal parasites can be preserved in arid, sub-surface conditions, Zias sent the samples to Harter-Lailheugue at CNRS for analysis. Three of the four samples from the suspected latrine area yielded four species of preserved worm eggs and embryophores that were all identified as human intestinal parasites – Ascaris SP. (human roundworm), Taenia SP. (a human tapeworm), Trichuris SP. (a human whipworm) and a human pinworm, Enterobius vermicularis, that had not previously been reported in the ancient Near East. The soil sample from the stable contained the eggs of Dricrocoelium SP., a common parasites of ungulates. The control samples from the surrounding desert areas contained no parasites, human or animal.

“Frankly, I was surprised,” said Zias. “A parasitologist I talked to told me that my chances of finding something were just about nil. Finding evidence of parasites would be easy in a latrine, but in the middle of the desert… But small things like parasite eggs in feces can hang around for thousands of years. At the Dead Sea, we have hair and hair combs with desiccated lice in them because of the dryness.”

“The evidence shows conclusively that the area was a toilet,” Zias noted. “The samples contained eggs from intestinal worms that are specific to humans. These things had to come from human feces. The presence of eggs in three out of four 100-gram samples indicates heavy and continual use of the specific site suggested by Tabor.”

Since the other sites did not yield human parasites, the team concluded that the latrine site was most likely the area specified in the Scroll passages. Because of the remoteness of the Qumran environs, they concluded that the latrine could only be associated with Qumran, the only settlement in the area.

The scroll texts that provide the directives for going potty at Qumran which the article alludes to are found in the War Scroll and the Temple Scroll. The latter scroll contains the directives to build the latrines “outside the city” חוץ מן העיר (see 11QT 46.13), while the former gives further directions about the latrines and that they should be in discrete and private locations (1QM 7.7; see also 4Q491 frg 1, 3.7) (see also Deut 23:12-13).

This discovery accords well with the reported bathroom habits of the ancient Essenes and may be another piece of evidence supporting the Essene hypothesis, which has come under attack in recent years (see, for instance, my post Khirbet Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls). The discovery of a latrine site also makes sense of the fact that only one toilet was found in the actual Qumran site (see my initial post on the Qumran toilet in GPAT 1).

The rest of the press release goes on to highlight some of the implications about the unsanitary conditions at Qumran on the health of the inhabitants and their apparent short lifespan as illustrated by the remains at the cemetery.

I am looking forward to the full article in Revue de Qumran. In the meantime, take a gander at the news report.

This discovery has also hit the major internet news sources, including the NY Times, MSNBC, the Jerusalem Post, Nature.com, among others.
(HT Archaeologica News)


Posted in Ancient Potties, Archaeology, Dead Sea Scrolls, Discoveries, Qumran | Comments Off

Dead Sea Scrolls Confirm Bible?

26th October 2006

According to Billy Graham, the Dead Sea Scrolls “repeatedly confirm the accuracy of the Bible.” In his Q&A column in the Kansas City Star and elsewhere, Graham gave the latter answer to an inquirer who told about a friend “who says that the Dead Sea Scrolls disprove Christianity.”

While I certainly agree that it is utter nonsense to argue that the scrolls somehow disprove Christianity, I found Graham’s comment on the reliability of the texts of the Hebrew Bible a bit misleading. Here’s an excerpt:

Many contain books of the Old Testament and have repeatedly confirmed the accuracy of the texts of our Bibles. Other scrolls show that many people were eagerly looking for the coming of the Messiah.

While the largest group of biblical manuscripts found at Qumran are proto-Masoretic (i.e., they are of the same tradition as the modern text of Hebrew Bible) and in this sense they underscore the antiquity of our biblical text, the Dead Sea Scrolls also give witness to a significant textual plurality. They also raise many issues about the nature of the biblical “canon” (to use the term anachronistically) before the time of Jesus. That being said, I don’t think this new understanding of the development of the biblical text has many implications to the authority of the biblical text, it does complicate things dramatically.

For more discussion of the text of the Hebrew Bible, see my series of posts on the Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible, especially the one on the Dead Sea Scrolls. You may also want to check out my Dead Sea Scrolls Resource pages.

On another related note, there is an article in the Chicago Tribune about Norman Golb‘s theories separating the scrolls from the remains at Khirbet Qumran. The article doesn’t really provide any new evidence; it just refers to an article in the September 2006 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review that I had already blogged on here. See Jim Davila’s comments on this most recent article here.


Posted in Archaeology, Dead Sea Scrolls, Qumran | 8 Comments »

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.


Posted in Archaeology, Dead Sea Scrolls, News, Qumran | 2 Comments »