The Dead Sea Scrolls: Conjectures

Posted on May 20, 2010. Filed under: Learning and Retirement, Learning in Retirement, Retirement Learning, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , |

I am prompted to make these following comments resulting from my reading of the January 2010 issue of Smithsonian, “Who Wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls?” by Anthony Lawler. I will not treat the title question of who wrote the scrolls or where or when they originated…there is much information available on those questions and there is much contention on those questions. Rather, I shall make comment on the following questions:

• Do the scrolls have any significant linkage to the cult of the Essenes , an ascetic cult believed to have inhabited locations near where the scrolls were found ?
• How did the scrolls come to be deposited in caves on the western edge of the Dead Sea?

To the first question, I argue there is no evidence that the Essenes had a role to play in either the origin of the scrolls or of their deposit in the caves. The only nearby known ancient human habitat in the vicinity of the scroll caves is a hill-top excavation known as Qumran.

Some scholars believe the Qumran site contains the ruins of a perfume factory; others think it was the site of a wealthy estate or, even, a fort. From the Smithsonian: “Two millenia ago, there was a thriving commercial trade in the region; numerous settlements dotted the shore, while ships plied the sea. Springs and runoff from the steep hills were carefully

engineered to provide water for drinking and agriculture, and date palms and plants produced valuable resins used in perfume. And while the heavily salinated sea lacked fish, it provided salt and bitumen, the substance used in ancient times to seal boats and mortar bricks. Far from being a lonely and distant community of religious nonconformists, Qumran was a valuable piece of real estate—a day’s donkey ride to Jerusalem, a two-hour walk to Jericho and a stroll to docks and settlements along the sea.”

Thus, the argument that Qumran was an ascetic Essenes commune is subject to question. And when I consider the location of the caves and their accessibility…see below…I have additional reason to doubt a linkage of the Essenes to the caves and their scrolls.

To the second question, I argue that the scrolls were placed in the caves by agents of the Temple priesthood to safeguard them from the ravages of the Roman army.

From Wikipedia: “The first Jewish Revolt began in the year 66 initially because of Greek and Jewish religious tensions but grew with anti-taxation protests and attacks upon Roman citizens….By the summer of 70, the Romans had breached the walls of Jerusalem, ransacking and burning nearly the entire city. … The Temple was destroyed on 30 July 70.”

Thus, I conjecture that the priesthood, fearing for the preservation of the holy Torah and its antecedents (i.e., the historic scrolls dating back to 150 BCE), making every effort to safeguard these sacred objects from certain destruction, had them removed to a site far from Roman forces. It’s obvious they were placed with care… note the pottery containing one of the scrolls…with the thought of retrieval at some future time. I also find it relevant that one of the scrolls was scripted on copper and listed many gold and silver objects assumed taken from the Temple.

Had the priesthood not taken such measures, the fate of the holy scriptures might well have suffered the scene depicted here: Titus’ triumphal procession displaying the treasures (including the Menorah) of the Jewish Temple to the Roman people.

Finally, it is an historical irony that two millenia later, Torah scrolls were again removed from their sanctuaries; this time in advance of Nazi hordes. Someone once said, “The past is not dead; it’s here now and in the future”…some of the rescued scrolls now reside in temples in the United States. — Ellis Katz

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