The Dead Sea Scrolls: Uncovering Their Secrets
International Dead Sea Scrolls Scholars Panel Presentation at Seattle Pacific University
October 12, 2006
Note: This transcript has been edited in places for clarity, with the permission of the speakers.
JL: John “Jack” Levison, SPU professor of New Testament and author of The Spirit in First-Century Judaism (moderator)
MA: Martin Abegg Jr., co-director of the Dead Sea Scrolls Institute and chair of the Religious Studies Department at Trinity Western University; co-author of The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible
SD: Stephen Delamarter '75, Professor of Old Testament at George Fox Evangelical Seminary; author of Biblical Studies on the Doctrine of Election
DF: Daniel Falk, assistant professor of ancient Judaism and biblical studies at the University of Oregon; author of Daily, Sabbath, and Festival Prayers in the Dead Sea Scrolls
RK: Robert Kugler, Paul S. Wright Professor of Christian Studies at Lewis and Clark College; co-author of Religion in the Dead Sea Scrolls
IW: Ian Werrett, assistant professor of religious studies at St. Martin's University; author of Ritual Purity and the Dead Sea Scrolls
JL: Though it may be hard to imagine, there are actually some people in the world who think that pure, academic, unadulterated scholarship doesn’t matter. They think that scholars are just grown up nerds, social misfits, former high school geeks, fashion-challenged types, who wear three-year-old black Wrangler jeans bought from K-Mart to every class, and there's nothing autobiographical in this description, of course. These scholars are dismissed as absent-minded professors.
Well, I'm here to tell you tonight that those of you who may think this, those of you who hold these judgments about scholars, actually have a very long-standing tradition behind you. You come from a long line of mockers, stretching back thousands of years. There's an ancient Greek Roman book called Philogelos, which means “Laughter Lover,” which is a compilation of 265 old — I mean 2,000-year-old — Roman jokes, most of which I can't tell you from this podium. Well over half of these jokes are made at the expense of a figure called — yep, you guess it — the scholastikos. The scholar. Scholars. People whose brains are so addled by study that they can't see what's right in front of their noses. For example, one Roman joke goes like this: Someone comes up to a scholar and says to him, "Your beard's now coming in." So the scholar goes to the rear entrance of the house and waits for it. In the meantime, another scholar comes by and asks what this scholar is doing waiting there. And once that scholar hears the whole story, he said, "No wonder people say we lack common sense. How do you know that your beard's not coming in by the other gate?"
You see, even the Romans, oh, seventeen, eighteen hundred years ago, picked on us scholars, made fun of us nerds, dismissed us absent-minded professors. But tonight, tonight, right here, right now, you're going to see that scholarship does matter. You are going to learn about a community that thrived for a short while 2,000 years ago. A community whose writings have revolutionized the way we view the Hebrew Scriptures — what Christians call the Old Testament. You'll catch a glimpse of a community whose way of life and beliefs are positively essential, indispensable, for understanding the origins of early Christianity. Not to know these writings is not to understand to the fullest degree figures such as John the Baptist, Jesus, Paul, the women and men of early Christianity. And if the level of scholarship is a measure of nerdiness and geekhood, then tonight you are going to have the opportunity to gather a glimpse of this community from the nerdiest of nerds, the geekiest of geeks, from pure scholars; from some of the finest Dead Sea Scrolls scholars in the world. Right here. Right now. Tonight. They have mastered the ancient languages of the scrolls — Aramaic, Hebrew, and Greek. They've pored over ancient fragments in the way that many of us might pore over jigsaw puzzle pieces. They've devoted years to exploring — and to explaining — this remarkable archeological discovery. And tonight, right here, right now, you will begin to see that scholars are really not nerds at all. This panel has invested a great deal of effort not in making the simple obscure — what professors are often charged with — but in making the obscure accessible; in bringing the obscure historical past to light for us. They will do this with words, images, film, and even humor. They will do this in a way that I think you will not forget.
Tonight the pole position goes to Marty Abegg, co-director of the Dead Sea Scrolls Institute of Trinity Western University and co-author of The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible; and perhaps, most distinctively, we can say of Marty, he was Governor Christine Gregoire's personal guide on her tour of the Pacific Science Center exhibit. He'll be teaching — now get this, students — he'll be teaching a mini, 15-minute course, a mini, tuition-free, 15-minute course, called “Dead Sea Scrolls 101.”
Marty will be followed by Steve Delamarter, over to my left, whose topic is, well, a surprising one. Steve, who is professor of Old Testament at George Fox Evangelical Seminary, is the author of a catalogue — now this is pure scholarship, even to me — the catalogue of 23 Ethiopian manuscripts in England. But Steve's topic — to tell you what's he's doing — he’ll be talking with us on the topic of — now get this — “Baptist Bibles at Qumran.”
Next will come Ian Werrett at the far end on the right — Ian is assistant professor of Religious Studies at St. Martin's University — one of SPU's main rivals when it comes to basketball — and the author of Ritual Purity and the Dead Sea Scrolls. Ian will speak on the topic of “Cleanliness Is Next to Godliness.” And Ian, I haven't told you this, but I've recommended to our president, Phil Eaton, that this be continually rebroadcast on the floors of our men's dorms.
Then Dan Faulk, who is assistant professor of Ancient Judaism and Biblical Studies at the University of Oregon, and author of Daily Sabbath and Festival Prayers in the Dead Sea Scrolls, will then address a question that would have delighted John Calvin. Dan's topic? “I Am What I Am, or Can I Change?”
Finally, Rob Kugler, to the far left, is Paul S. Wright Professor of Christian Studies at Lewis and Clark College, and co-author of Religion in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Ian will bring up the rear and tie up some of the loose strands with his brief presentation called "Putting the Dead Sea Scrolls in Context, Then and Now."
Now, before I pass it over to Marty to take off here, I want you to notice something on your way out. And Ken. Where's Ken? Ken Cornell. Well, Ken, he came to class I think the end of my first week, and the line he heard was — I don’t know if my students remember — “Being frightened isn't a bad thing." Because we began here at SPU on September 29, not even three weeks ago was the first class. On that very first day of class, I split this class — the class I teach — into two parts. And I said, "You are each going to make an exhibit that we are going to have displayed on October 12 at that panel we're moderating, and then we're going to put it in the library for the rest of the term for all the students to see." It was an absolutely overwhelming assignment, and they were desperately frightened by it — and so should they have been — and I had no idea they could actually do it, but they did. So on your way out, on the several landings, you will see absolutely magnificent exhibits made by some SPU students here, and I really do encourage you to take some time to ponder and view them. I just saw them today for the first time, though I was promised them. They're really magnificent. So I hope you will take some time to do that, because they're impressive and they provide another means, other than the ones we provide, to learn about the greatest archeological discovery of the 21st century — the Dead Sea Scrolls. With that, I turn it over to Marty Abegg.
MA: Thank you very much. You know, as much an honor it was to lead the governor through the scrolls, I actually spent about a half an hour last week trying to get in touch with Bob Dylan, because I thought, that would be amazing, wouldn't it, to take Bob Dylan through the scrolls? But, I was never able to. You wouldn't believe how many people say they represent Bob Dylan when it comes to booking.
The Dead Sea Scrolls. You know, it was a little over a year ago that [SPU Paul T. Walls Professor of Biblical and Wesleyan Studies] Rob Wall, Jack [Levison], and I walked into this room and, just dreamed about the possibility of filling this room with people who would be interested in the Dead Sea Scrolls, for at that time we knew they were coming to Seattle and we were already strategizing how we might be able to take advantage, to show our wares to some degree, but also make the public aware of the importance of the scrolls and what they tell us about, not only the Old Testament, but also the New Testament. And you're a tribute to the interest. We had no idea that we would fill the room — the room looks actually small, as I sit here tonight — or stand here tonight — it looked huge back then. We couldn't imagine that we would fill the room a year and half ago. But here we are not only filling the room, but filling the hallway and filling another room to boot. That's amazing. [Editor’s note: SPU also turned away approximately 300; an estimated 1,200 total came to see the presentation. ]
Why are the scrolls so fascinating? You know, that is something that we, as scholars, I think have all thought about a bit. Many of our colleagues labor hard and long, and get very little recognition for their work. And here you are tonight to see what we have done on the Dead Sea Scrolls. It really is an amazing thing, amazing phenomenon. The scrolls are in town, and the Science Center is setting records — in the tickets bought prior to the exhibit coming to town — and now that it's here, setting records, every week. So the public is truly interested in the scrolls. And I just thought I would show you one slide to show you just how far that goes. For in The Sun — and you can see this is dated 1991; one of my students brought me this, by the way. Students keep me abreast of all of the breaking news in the newspaper — we find that, yes indeed, Elvis, the name of Elvis, is found in the Dead Sea Scrolls.
You might have expected it. You know, the Dead Sea scrolls have been brought forward in all of these types of magazines that you find at your newspaper checkout counter. Elvis certainly is a main topic of interest in these magazines. It was only a matter of time till they would put the two together, and here you go — Elvis the prophet is found in the Dead Sea Scrolls.
So there is interest in the Dead Sea Scrolls. But we want to know what the scrolls really say, because certainly they don't say anything about Elvis. I think that goes without saying. So I'm just going to do a little bit of “Dead Sea Scrolls 101” to get all of us up to speed, as it were, so that we know what we're looking at tonight. And then my colleagues here will give you the goods, okay? So this is a map of the Dead Sea. And just to remind us of the fact that the Dead Sea Scrolls are really much larger than just one site. If you go to the exhibit at the Science Center, you will see the focus is on the site that we know of as Qumran and the 11 caves that were found there. But the Dead Sea Scrolls are really larger than this. In fact, we have some half a dozen sites up and down the coast of the Dead Sea. If I can just point some arrows out here, we have papyri that have been found in Samaria. These date back to the time of Alexander the Great, so we're talking about the fourth century BC. We have materials that were found at Murabba’at, which date to the second Jewish revolt, or the second century AD, so some 600 years later, 500 years later. we have materials that were found at Nahal Hiver. Again, second Jewish revolt material. And, moving down the coast, Nahal Se'elim, also second Jewish revolt. This is a site that is probably familiar to all of you — Masada, in the very far south. Now this material is of more interest to us as biblical scholars because this is early, much of the same dating as the scrolls that we find at this site, Qumran. And Qumran is the site that, I do believe each one of us is going to center on tonight in our comments. And if you do go to the exhibit, this is the site that the exhibit is focusing upon — the 11 caves that were found at Wadi Qumran, that most of us know of as the Dead Sea Scrolls. But just to give you a larger kind of a view, here, of what the possibilities are, the Dead Sea Scrolls are really all of these sites. And if we want to be very specific, we'd call them “the Qumran Scrolls” that we're going to be talking about tonight. But “Dead Sea Scrolls” is good enough and we'll go with it, in our conversation.
Just to focus in on the 11 caves at Qumran, and to give you some of the numbers that, we'll be dealing with: This is the, the, the base work, the foundation that, that we all need to understand as we, look at the scrolls. First of all, Cave 1. This is the cave that most of you know the, the story. The Bedouin boy with the rock and throwing it in through the hole in the cave, hearing the tinkling of pottery, and, coming back the next day and finding not a genie, not gold, not his goat, certainly, but scrolls hidden away in jars. And, they probably kept them in the camp for maybe as long as a year before they finally took them up to, to Bethlehem and found a dealer — Kando — that bought them from the Bedouin for a couple of dollars, is all it was. If you can imagine! These same scrolls are now valued at millions. So it really is quite astounding, the interest and the priceless nature of this material that was found in 1947. The diamond there shows Cave 1, north of the archeological site, if you've been to Qumran. Cave 11 was the last of the caves found, so we have a ten-year period of discovery. Cave 11 was discovered in 1956, and there's the triangle, the diamond, in the north there, that positions Cave 11. The mother lode, however, and the cave that most of the exhibit at the Science Center is focused upon, is Cave 4. Cave 4 is at the archeological site; if you’ve visited Qumran, this is what you have seen. This is the cave that is across from the ruins there at the site. And of 900-plus manuscripts that were found in all the caves, in total, 706 come from Cave 4.
Now when you go to the exhibit, you will see numbers represented on the plaques. I can promise you that nearly all the numbers are incorrect. And that is not to poke the finger in the eye of the Science Center. They have done the best they could, really. It’s a moving target, as you will. In fact, I worked up this figure just day before yesterday. And you’re probably sitting there thinking, “Now, who is Abegg to say that he worked up this figure and we should all accept it as gospel?” Right? Well, I am the concordance man. I am the official concorder of the scrolls. I have finished the sectarian texts; I’m now working on the biblical texts. And preparing a concordance is the one project which demands accuracy when it comes to accounting for the number of manuscripts. I have to know each number; I have to account for every manuscript. So I have counted them now. Finally. And this it shows you how early we are in the process of Dead Sea Scrolls studies — we’re not even totally sure how many manuscripts we have. But this is a pretty good figure: 706 from Cave 4. Now we can break this down into more bite-sized pieces, which really gives us some very interesting information. For example, we have 206 biblical scrolls — and that’s a bit of a new number, too. I thought 202, up until just a day ago, but it’s 206. — with five Greek manuscripts. Now this is quite interesting. If you think about the lay of the land — how many of us have 900 books in our library to begin with? You know, that’s a sizeable number of books. And how many would have 25 percent of their library represented by Bibles? Now that shows you the nature of this community. They were a very pious community, and the Bible was at the center of everything they did. In fact, as we walk through the 700-some nonbiblical scrolls, every one of these scrolls is in some way, shape, or form, focused on the Bible. There isn’t one that, we could classify as a novel, or as a love letter, or as a grocery list, or some sort of inventory list, or a wedding certificate, or a land grant. None of that exists in the Dead Sea Scrolls. This is a rabbi’s library, as it were. All of this material is in some way focused on the Bible. We have commentaries. We have hymn books. We have legal discussions. Those are the sorts of things that we find in the Dead Sea Scrolls. So, again, underlining the nature of this community, it was a very religious community, focused on the Bible, solely.
So 133 Aramaic manuscripts; 550 Hebrew manuscripts; 22 Greek sectarian manuscripts. Now this is very interesting. We could spend the rest of the night just talking about these three figures. It’s a bit of a surprise, actually. I think that had scholars been willing to bet what we might have found — if they had been asked, “What do you think the language breakdown would be among the scrolls?” — probably they would have said that the majority of the scrolls would have been in . . . [pause for audience response] Aramaic. Right. Remember “The Passion” and the language that Mel has Jesus speaking in nearly every context? It’s Aramaic, right? And that is what scholars had thought about the language of the day prior to the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Now this gives us a bit of pause. You know, maybe Hebrew was a bit more popular and a bit more widespread than we had given credence to before the discovery of the scrolls. I had a very good question asked last night at the Town Hall meetings after I said that. The question was, basically this: “Well, maybe in their religious settings, much like the synagogue today, they spoke Hebrew.” But we actually have manuscripts that are outside of a normal religious setting. For example, we have the Copper Scroll, which details 64-some treasures that were buried around the land — mostly temple treasures, it appears — and that is in Hebrew, and a very colloquial Hebrew. We have letters that went from this group to — it appears — a group in Jerusalem, indicating the differences, theologically, between these two groups. And that’s in a very colloquial Hebrew. So it does appear that Hebrew is much more popular than Mel, and even the scholars, gave it credit. And 22 Greek manuscripts. Now these fellows were not just bilingual, they were trilingual. And that, that opens up a whole area of conversation, as well, because I think we think the ancients were somehow less intelligent than ourselves, right? We have arrived. We’re constantly moving forward. But how many of you are trilingual, you know, on a regular basis? How many can speak Aramaic- — Oh, we do have some. Very good. — But these fellows were all trilingual. We’d have everyone in the room raising their hands. That was the nature of the day. So we have Aramaic, Hebrew, and Greek going on on a regular basis, and the scrolls give us a snapshot of just what that looks like.
Just to show you the caves, the main caves. This is Cave 1. And the hole at the middle — maybe upper middle — of this picture, is the hole that existed in antiquity. The lower holes were opened by the archaeologists. And the scrolls that came from Cave 1 were much larger than the scrolls that we’ll see coming from Cave 4. This is the great Isaiah scroll. All 66 chapters, virtually every word. Now when we come to Cave 4 — which you’ll remember was the mother load, some 700 manuscripts — what does the material look like from Cave 4? Well, it looks like this.
Pieces, pieces. So when you go to the exhibit, you’ll see, as you come in, some of the hands-on sort of things that the Science Center does so well. And they have a box of 50,000 puzzle pieces. Imagine that to be the Dead Sea Scrolls and think about putting that puzzle together. That’s what the scholars were faced with back in the ’50s and the ’60s, and still to this very day. You know, the number 900-plus, we’re still subdividing, and reorganizing, and talking about how these pieces fit together. So it’s a very difficult task. And someone will certainly ask, “Why did it take so long?” Well, I think you can see why it took so long. Very, very difficult.
Let me just say one thing about dating. We need to talk about dating, because dating is very important for every thing that we’re going to say tonight. For, as the dating goes, so goes the significance, right? If this is medieval period material, it isn’t going to be as significant for our discussion, in the biblical sense, as if it is ancient. So paleography is a very important dating technique that was applied to the scrolls in the first instance. It’s basically handwriting. And I tell my students, “Your handwriting is nothing compared to your folks’ or your grandparents’. We see an evolution of handwriting in our very day.” My eldest daughter I have email me, even when we’re in the house, because I cannot read her handwriting.
So it continues on. So you can see the evolution of handwriting in your own context, and it’s no different in antiquity. These styles of handwriting changed, and those that deal with these sorts of things say that they can date a text to within about 25 years. Well, let’s say 50, just to give them some doubt; and we’re still 250 BC to 50 AD. We can use archeology — you know, pots, coins; you’ll see that at the exhibit, as well. These have been used long term for dating of archeological sites, and the scrolls are no different. Radiocarbon dating has come into its maturity right along with study of the scrolls. We can now take a very small piece of material and date it. And you can see the range of dates given here. And the thing that I’m trying to show here is you can see no matter how we come at this material, we get the same basic range of dates. Historical figures mentioned in the scrolls — there aren’t many, but those that are mentioned give us basically the same range of dates.
Now this is very important, and I’m going to stop here because this is what we need to end on, at least for our 101 session. This is a very important time period for the study of our biblical text and also for the study of the history of religion as it relates to Christianity and Judaism. As you can see, we’re talking about a time period, basically before the birth of Jesus, before the birth of the church, and we didn’t have first-hand access to material within this time period. Now we do. We can say much — and you’ll be hearing tonight —about what we can say about the backdrop of the birth of Christianity. If we were a Jewish group sitting here tonight, we would be talking about the origins of Rabbinic Judaism. Same time period. So for both of our religions related to the Hebrew Bible, this is a very important time period. We could hardly ask for a better time for our study. And it, is, I think, significant, actually, that, this is the time period of the scrolls that were found. And, I am going to pass it on now to Steve, and he’s going to come up and tell you how Baptist Bibles fit into this time period.
SD: Thank you very much. For the last few years, my interest has been in the 206 — if I got the number right — biblical manuscripts among the Dead Sea Scrolls. And I’ve been trying to sort out some questions about those biblical scrolls at Qumran, by learning some things about how communities of faith produce and use Bibles. And one of the basic insights that we learn about Bibles is that the manufactured use of Bibles has always been imbedded in the life of communities of faith. Bibles don’t drop down out of Heaven; they’re produced by communities of faith, and as it turns out, communities of faith have very specific notions about how their Bibles are supposed to look. Let’s look at a few examples here.
If we move 13.7 billion light years to the other end of the universe, we go to Jerusalem, or some place like it, to the Romanian Orthodox church, and, sit through a four-hour service in a building that has ten guys behind the iconostasis [icon screen separating the sanctuary from the nave] doing the ceremony; room for maybe 30 or 40 people, out there watching. Not a single one of them will have a Bible. At one point during the service, there’s one Bible in the service. It’s brought out and paraded before the group. And various priests will come and kiss the Bible. It’s enclosed in a jeweled case that’s never actually opened. The scripture readings are read out of a lectionary. So very different relationship to their Bibles.
Let’s see if we can make this one work. Some folks in our neck of the woods are really into the King James Bible, such that the New King James Version represents a serious counterfeit on Satan’s part. And of course, it’s gotta be the King James 1611 Version, the only authoritative one, which can actually put the devil, to flight here. These people drive pick-ups that look like this. “If it ain’t King James, it ain’t Bible.” God settled it. That settles it. Whether you believe it or not. Sort of a strong position on Scripture.
Here’s a Baptist Bible, as I understand. This thing has got a leather cover. It’s got a thumb-notch navigation system. Gilded edges, with which if you hold it just right in the sun, you can sort of dazzle the enemy. It is, of course, the King James Version, with gold. You know this is the Holy Bible — not just ’cause it says “Holy Bible” — because the “Holy Bible” is in Gothic lettering, and somehow that makes it even more authoritative. And it weighs seven pounds.
Now, the Catholic Bible — little bit different here — it’s translated from the authentic Latin, has the imprimatur of a local authority on page 2. Twenty-page color insert on the life and ministry of the Blessed Mother. A 15-page illustrated introduction to the mass. A 30-page encyclical from the Holy Father. Twenty-five-page register for births, marriages, baptisms, and deaths. Thirty-page-insert on the Stations of the Cross. Actually, I’m not kidding. I’ve analyzed Catholic Bibles, and you need a coffee table just to hold the thing up. You do not carry this thing around, okay? You don’t go to churches and find buildings filled with people carrying, these kind of Bibles.
The Presbyterian Bible has, of course, a modern, script to it. It’s the New Revised Standard Version. That’s the authoritative text. It’s got a paper cover; it’s just going to sit on the shelf, after all. It’s annotated by big-name scholars from elite universities. It’s a study Bible for intellectual development. It includes the apocrypha for those ecumenical occasions.
Now here, of course, is the, Free Methodist Bible. Selection of Charles Wesley’s hymns. The new-fangled notes of Adam Clark. He died in the late 1700s, I believe. “We don’t care which version; we just want to know if you’re holy,” is sort of the attitude. And it has a 20-page register to list the times and places where you were saved.
Now we’re poking a lot of fun here, but there’s at least a glimpse — for those of you who have been around communities and their Bibles — you know that there’s some truth to this thing. We’ve made the Bibles in our images. And it turns out that no community of faith ever produced its Bible casually. Communities produce Bibles that embody, in their physical forms, the groups’ values, express their identities, and tell their stories; and also these Bibles set themselves off from other communities of faith’s Bibles. They can encode these convictions in any of several domains. First, there is the domain of the canonical text (e.g., if it’s the King James Version — the textual affiliation, scholars call it — or what language it’s in); Second is the domain of the paracanonical material — that’s all the stuff in the front, in the back, in concordances and front matter, and marginal notes and that kind of thing. There is even a third domain: the paratextual information — like the format, (e.g., whether it’s in a scroll or a codex), the use of red ink, material, script, font sizes, all those kinds of things. Communities of faith embed, encode, sanctify, those domains to send messages to insiders and outsiders. The Bible of each group has its unique recipe, then, of sanctified qualities. And, thus every Bible is a social artifact, witnessing first and foremost to the group that made it.
Among the Dead Sea Scrolls, as Marty mentioned — my numbers are a little stale, and only Emanuel Tov — he’s the general editor of the official publications of the Dead Sea Scrolls — gave me these numbers. But fragmentary remains of 930 manuscripts are sort of the whole batch of things; 200-plus — 206, we’ll say — are biblical manuscripts. The biblical manuscripts are not all the same. That is, they have different characteristics. And as it turns out, maybe only 25 percent of them were actually produced by the community at Qumran. We can identify at least four very different kinds of Bibles at Qumran. There are Bibles in the Greek language. so Greek language with the Greek script. They respect the Hebrew text. And even, when they get to the name of the Lord in their Greek Bible they have four paleo-Hebrew letters. The name of the Lord is written in paleo-Hebrew script. They have a respect for the Lord and respect for Hebrew in that regard. But they would say, “We’re also committed to our own Greek tradition.” They say, “Our scribal practices reflect those of Hellenistic scribes working on Greek literature.” And the underlying Hebrew text is sometimes very different from the sort of King James Version, the proto-Masoretic text, which we’ll talk about a little bit more in a bit. And they believe the Greek-speaking community has a fabulously interesting story about the inspiration of their translation of the Bible. It’s recorded for us in the Letter of Aristeas. It’s the story that says “We locked 72 translators in a room, in 72 cubicles, and they came out with 72 identical translations.” What’s the point of that story? “Our translation — straight from God’s lips to our ears.” Right?
Bibles written at Qumran. So, as I said, maybe 25 percent of the Bibles were actually produced at Qumran. These are sort of holiness folks or charismatic folks. I’ll explain what I mean. “Let’s say we employ the script currently in use, but put the name of the Lord in paleo-Hebrew, or just four dots, those so-called tetra-puncta. Use the newfangled spelling system, whereas some of the old folks are not going to use the newfangled spelling system. “We don’t care which version, we just want to know if you’re holy,” is sort of the attitude; like the holiness folks. We’re like the Amish; we use our “thee’s” and “thou’s” as signals to other insiders. They use distinctive morphology and, pronouns. If the Bible’s a little confused, they’re going to help it get unconfused. So they’ll get in there and sort of do some contextual adaptation. And if there’s a problem, they’ll fix it. So they intervene and correct errors. And you can see some places where something got left out and they’ll go in put some lines of text in.
There are Bibles in paleo-Hebrew script. Now get your mind around this one for a second. This is the equivalent of producing a Bible in the modern era that is in Gothic script. What message are you sending, what if you produce a Bible in which the entire text is in an ancient script? Only books by Moses — the Pentateuch and the Book of Job, which they thought to have been written by Moses — are in this paleo-Hebrew format. Any of several different Hebrew editions of the text is fine with them. They’re not particularly committed to the King James over some others. If they make a mistake, they don’t admit it; they just go on. Which says to me, this is kind of a show Bible; this is a coffee-table Bible; this is, something you might hold up and parade around, but it’s not for study and use, perhaps, in the same way that some of these others are. Here, then, is the Baptist Bible at Qumran. Maybe 40 percent, or more, of the Bibles at Qumran represent a certain family of texts that were not produced at Qumran, but some other center in Israel at the time. This is referred to as the proto-Masoretic text, because it’s ultimately the text that the Jewish scribes in medieval times adopted and has become the one that influenced the entire modern world. Then, of course, it’s the one that’s been passed on to us.
This is the other Isaiah scroll from Cave 1 — 1Q Isaiahb. “If it ain’t King James, it ain’t Bible,” according to this group. So all of these texts adhere very, very closely to a certain text type. They’re deluxe scrolls with wide margins. They use the modern script. “But we like our thee’s and thou’s. That is, you know, when people pray in church and they use t thee’s and thou’s, they’re sort of employing, making spiritual use of language. It’s a language reserved for spiritual purposes and it kind of sets off the spiritual times — Biblical times — from our times.
And so these models may help us to understand the relationship between communities of faith and their Bibles; might help us to connect the different types of Bibles with different groups in ancient Israel; construct a more coherent story about the relationship between these Bibles and the communities that produced them; and perhaps even in the process have some greater self-awareness about our own Bibles and the messages that we fashion them to carry. Thank you.
IW: Alright, I’ll just step up here. Steve, I want you to know, teaching at a Catholic school, I would have brought my Bible, but, my car is nursing a troubled axle, and I didn’t want to break the axle on the way down here.
It’s such a privilege to be here this evening and have so many come out and to take such an interest in the scrolls. As you can see, I’m still waiting for my beard to arrive, as well. I’ve been studying the scrolls for about 12 years, now. For the last three or four years, I’ve been looking specifically at the notion of ritual purity. What is ritual purity? Well, some of you might have heard your grandparents or your parents say to you, “Cleanliness is next to godliness.” Can anybody tell me where that appears in the Bible?
Voice from the audience: Ben Franklin.
IW: Yes, thank you. I thought I was going to hear “Leviticus-hm-hm-hm.” Well, it doesn’t appear in the Bible. But some of the rules and regulations we find in the Book of Leviticus, in particular, seem to be suggestive of this notion of cleanliness being next to or close to godliness. So what does this mean at Qumran and for the Dead Sea Scrolls? Well, it means a lot of things. We know that the people who were responsible for authoring these group of texts known as the Dead Sea Scrolls were fascinated with the topic of ritual purity. It was on their minds 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In fact, even the notion of when they were to do certain things. Calendars. If you have your little pamphlets with you, on the front cover of the pamphlet for tonight’s presentation, there’s an image of a calendrical document from Cave 4. And we have bunches and bunches of these calendrical documents that we’ve discovered at Qumran. And the question is, why? Well, if you’re following a calendar, if one group may use a version of the calendar that use the sun as its basis, and another group of individuals are using a calendar that uses the moon as its basis, your festivals, your Sabbaths, your days of worship, will be occurring on different days. This is a significant problem. Especially if you are, let’s say, the temple priest, and you are using one form of the calendar, and another group is using a different form. The temple beasts will be worshipping — priests- Temple beasts? Did I say “temple beasts?” The authors of the scrolls certainly thought they were beasts. — no, the temple priests were using a different calendar than the group at Qumran who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls. And this would have caused a significant problem for these two groups, because the Sabbaths would have fallen on different days — Yom Kippur, various other festivals that they would have participated in, would simply not have coincided; and this would have had significant repercussions for those who wanted to go and worship at the temple and also worship on the Sabbath.
The site of Qumran itself — I don’t think we saw an image of the site in Marty’s presentation — but the archeological site of Khirbet [“ruins”] Qumran, which is very close to the caves that Marty talked about earlier, is riddled with ritual baths. It’s really fascinating; if you see an aerial picture of Qumran, you see that it’s riddled with these baths that have these steps that go down into them. Some of these cisterns don’t have stairs, but quite a few of them do. And the question is, is what were they doing with all of these ritual baths? Well, if you read the scrolls, and you were of the opinion that the scrolls were written by and collected by the individuals that were living at this site very close to the caves, you can start to put together this picture where these individuals were using these ritual baths on a daily basis for any number of reasons. Some of these issues that they might have been running into would be things like corpse impurity, skin diseases, bodily discharges, all the good stuff from Leviticus Chapters 11 through 15, which I’m sure you guys are reading them all the time. I know I do.
And in order to really be a part of this community, to be a functioning member of this society, you had to abide by a certain group of rules, and a very strict interpretation of those rules. And typically these come from Leviticus Chapters 11–15. And in many cases the authors of these documents are reinterpreting what they see in the biblical material, but they’re doing so with an eye towards severity. These people were incredibly stringent when it came to the way in which they were conducting themselves in terms of ritual purity.
One of the interesting things about ritual purity at Qumran is that one of the documents, one of the more famous documents, known as 4QMMT [the Temple Scroll] — is a document discovered in Cave 4 that seems to describe a situation in which the individuals who were responsible for writing this document were having some sort of disagreement with another group. And many scholars will argue that these two groups are represented by the group that was living at Qumran, who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls — or at least the group that was in existence prior to this larger group coming into being — and the temple priests. And most of the issues in this particular document, 4QMMT, deal with ritual purity. And this is typically what you get, something along the lines of, “When you touch a dead body, you should be cleansed by an individual who has waited until evening to be clean. You should be sprinkled with the ashes of the red heifer by someone who has waited until evening to be clean. And you’re doing it incorrectly. We urge you to follow our way, because our way is the way that you should be doing it. If you follow our way, somehow you will please God, one; and two, you won’t anger God” — because the whole point of ritual purity, really, is to keep the temple clean and to keep God appeased, on some level. Right? To do the rules and regulations outlined in Leviticus and Numbers and other places in the Torah, in order to keep God happy and sated and living in the Holy of Holies and protecting the Israelites, because what happens when he leaves? Well, the Assyrians come in, or the Egyptians come in, or the Romans come in, or the Greeks come in. And that’s a difficult process to go through, right?
So we have this, this group who seems to have this beef, as it were, with the priests at the temple, and they’ve removed themselves from society at large, and they take up residence down here along the shores of the Dead Sea, and they start to practice a very rigid and strict form of ritual purity. And they do this in a number of different ways. I don’t want to bore you with the way in which they determined how it is that you actually have a skin disease, or what type of, toilet practices they engage in, because the scrolls tell us about that, too. I don’t want to turn you off completely. but these are the sorts of things that they were interested in the daily life. And all of this notion of ritual purity, it has to do with life and death issues. If you think about all of the categories that I mentioned, and all of these categories in Leviticus 11 through 15, they all deal with life and death — clean and unclean animals. You’re not allowed to eat a bird that’s a carrion animal; that’s eating other corpses. Dead bodies. Bodily discharges. Life fluids being emitted from your body — this whole issue of ritual purity was just wrapped up with this notion of life and death. And who is responsible, ultimately, for life and death? God. So in order to successfully account for these rules and regulations, these individuals built an incredibly high fence — It’s called building a fence around the Torah. — in order to protect God, but also to protect you from accidentally breaking certain rules and regulations that you find in the Torah itself.
I could go on and on talking about dead bodies and, sexual misdeeds, corpses, so on and so forth. But I think, for the sake of brevity, I’ll, just cut it there.
DF: Thank you very much, again, to the president for hosting this, and to Seattle Pacific University for putting on such an amazing opportunity for scholars to be able to discuss the scrolls. We value these as excuses to get together as scholars.
Do the Dead Sea Scrolls tell us about Christianity? Occasionally this has been suggested in various popular books. And, indeed, there are some points of similarity which are very interesting. But there are also some very profound differences. The Dead Sea Scrolls can illuminate the origins of Christianity by giving us a better picture of the types of ideas floating around at the time. So we need to be able to look at similarities and differences. And in this way we can get some broader perspectives.
I want to focus on one area, and that has to do with the possibility of change. When we think of the story by which the group at Qumran defined itself and made sense of their place in the world—why things were the way they were, why things were not the way they ought to be, and how to get things the way they ought to be—one of their chief concerns was the absolute sovereignty of God.
We can compare them with some other groups. When the Sadducees thought about why the world was the way it was and why it was different than they thought it ought to be, they emphasized that people have free will. God basically lets people get on with things. And, of course, people do all sorts of things, and so mess things up, and God doesn’t intervene. The Pharisees, on the other hand, held a balance between free will (that is, God lets humans get on with certain things) and God’s sovereignty (that is, God keeps a control on other things). This is how they accounted for why the world is the way it is.
For the group at Qumran, to allow free will at all is to malign the character of God. He is in complete control. Thus, this group believed that God predestined everything. Let me read a sample quote. “By Your wisdom You have established the success of generations, and before You created them You knew all their works forever. In the wisdom of Your knowledge You determined their destiny before they came into existence,” etc.
But if God is in complete control, then why is the world not right? Why is there evil in the world? It must have a place in God’s plan for them. But does that not make God, then, responsible for evil? How, then, could He be good and just? Well, their answer to this was the following: God created two realms — a realm of light and goodness and a realm of darkness and evil. Both are ruled by angelic beings, led by Michael and Belial, respectively. Unlike the dualism in Zoroastrianism, this doesn’t extend to God’s realm. God’s realm is separate — this division between a good realm and an evil realm exists only under God, only in the created world.
Moreover, the kingdom of darkness is limited. It has a beginning and will have an end. Let me give you another quote. “He created the spirits of light and darkness” — so a beginning — “and upon them He founded every work. But God in His mysterious understanding and His glorious wisdom has set an end for the existence of deceit. At the appointed time of visitation He will destroy it forever.” Thus, it has an end. So why do bad things happen? Because God created a realm for evil. And this realm for evil plays a role in God’s big plan for a limited time.
Why are there bad people? Well, because people belong to one kingdom or another, and they are evil or good, accordingly. So, here’s another text. “He created humans for the dominion of the world and He appointed for Him two spirits in which to walk until the appointed time.” These two spirits are the prince of light and the angel of darkness, and they influence people to do good or evil, and people line up under one or the other.
So why do good people do bad things? Well, they recognized that no one is either all good or all evil, but, rather, that people are mixed. Everyone is part light and part darkness. And this is set from the beginning and doesn’t change. According to one text, it seems that they imagined people as made up of nine parts, and everyone is a mixture of darkness and light. One person might have seven parts dark and two parts light. Well, they belong to the dark realm. There’s nothing they can do about it. They can’t change the ratio. Someone else might be five parts light and four parts darkness. They belong to the kingdom of light. In this view, everyone is a mixture, and can be influenced for evil as well as good. So, why is it that good people can do evil things? Well, they can be influenced on their evil part. So, another text here: “And by the angel of darkness comes the straying of all the sons of righteousness.”
Now, if we consider trying to join such a group — Ian [Werrett] has already talked about how strict this group is — they had a long process for trying to join. Let’s say you wanted to join this group. What might you face? Well, the first thing to note is that it’s a volunteer group. This group does not go out preaching and trying to collect members. I’ll just point to the first text, “They’re all volunteers for His truth.” So you have to come as a volunteer. But what might you face? Well, someone is probably going to check you over, give you a visual inspection—I’ll talk about why in just a moment—and they’ll probably send some of you away, without even necessarily talking to you. For those who remain, they will undergo a period of oral examinations. And if you pass those, you can go on and you can go through other examinations, and the others are sent home. A little bit later they’ll have another examination. And, through a series of these examinations, over a period of up to about two years, it will be determined whether you belong or whether you’ll be sent away. At each stage, some people will be sent away.
What’s going on here? We need to come back to this central idea of predestination and of God being in complete control and people being fixed as belonging to one kingdom or another. They’re not trying to see if you can come up to the standard; they’re trying to discern whether you belong to the kingdom of light. That’s what the whole process is about.
Let me talk about that second part first — the examination. The whole purpose of this examination is to determine whether you are one of the elect. They’re trying to test to see whether God’s spirit is speaking to you; that you know more than simply what’s written, in a sense; that you have God’s spirit in you. “And whoever joins this congregation, let the examiner examine him with regard to his works and his intelligence, his strength and might and wealth. And then let them inscribe him in his place.”
But there’s another way that they discern. Let’s look at this very interesting text here, in which the master — a leader in the group — is to instruct and teach all the Sons of Light concerning the nature of all the Sons of Man with respect to the kinds of their spirits with their distinguishing marks.” For this group, if God has established people in one kingdom or another from creation, it only stands to reason that this is reflected in physical features. A very intriguing text reveals that in their examination they regarded certain physical features and the astrological timing of their birth as indicators of the proportion of light and dark. In this text it describes someone as follows, “His thighs are long and slender, and his toes are thin and long. He is of the second column. His spirit is six parts in light, the House of Light, and three in the House of Darkness.” So which kingdom?
Voices from the audience: Light.
DF: Kingdom of light. Right. He makes it. He’s like a Ken doll. You know, if you’re a Ken or a Barbie doll, you’ll go straight in. But listen to this other poor sap. “His teeth are crooked. His fingers are thick. His thighs are stocky and both are very hairy. His toes are thick and short.” Now, okay, where does he go?
Voices from the audience: Darkness.
DF: He goes in the basket for the kingdom of darkness. He’s eight parts dark, one part light. Now I’m not going to do a poll here and find out how many of you belong in the kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness. According to these criteria we could do that. For this group, signs of physical imperfection — crooked teeth, uneven body proportions, etc. — are signs of darkness and evil. This is a reflection of their view of purity. Purity is associated with wholeness and the way that God created things to be perfect. Impurity is associated with corruption. Now, consequently—if one thinks this through—the blind, deaf, mute, anyone with any physical disability, was regarded as of the Kingdom of Darkness, by definition. There was no choice, no hope of changing. So they were utterly excluded, by definition, from the community and salvation.
Now, let me jump to just another aspect, quickly. When we consider such a very strict and legalistic community, we might have certain impressions of how their religion would be experienced. I want to balance this a little bit with some glimpse of how they themselves expressed their experience of God. We have a wonderful collection of hymns from Qumran — thanksgiving hymns. And for those of you who might assume from the starting point that salvation by grace is a distinctively or exclusively Christian view, take a look at these texts. “What is the spirit of flesh that it should understand Your wisdom? He is but a creature of dust, sinful from the beginning. By your grace alone is man made righteous. And I know that man is not righteous except through you, and therefore I implore you, by the spirit by which you have given me, to perfect your kindness to your servant forever. Purify me by your holy spirit and draw me near to you by your grace according to the abundance of your mercies.” Many of these hymns, with their emphasis on God’s grace, could easily be mistaken for Christian hymns.
To try to put this in perspective, when we compare the “story” told at Qumran with the “story” by which early Christians understood themselves, there are many similarities. They saw themselves as living in the last days. Theirs was a volunteer movement; it was not enough just to be born a Jew, one needed to deliberately commit oneself individually to the covenant. But there was a big difference with regard to the possibility of change. Very distinctive of John the Baptist was that he called all people to repent. Jesus was even more impressed with God’s grace in calling all people and the possibility for people to be transformed. Hence in early Christianity there is a universal outlook and the means of transformation by God’s spirit.
With the help of the Qumran hymns, we can see that salvation by God’s grace alone is not a uniquely Christian idea. What is unique in Christianity is the manner of God’s gracious work. It is in and through Jesus, and, above all, his death and resurrection.
We also find in Jesus — and especially in Paul — a similar view of sin. Not simply as wrongdoing, but a spiritual power from which one needs to be freed. We find a similar contrast between spirit and flesh, as two different ways of living one’s life — by God’s power or without God’s power, which means to be controlled by evil.
What is different is the possibility of complete change. The Qumran hymns express joy that one has been elect to the Kingdom of Light. A hymn in Colossians — 1:13 — expresses joy that God has rescued them from the power of darkness and transferred them into the kingdom of his beloved Son. The community at Qumran expresses no experience of having changed kingdoms. This is regarded as impossible. So this is just one sample of some similarities and differences. And this kind of comparison sometimes helps to illuminate a little bit more the context in which early Christianity flourished. Thank you.
RK: I want to begin by telling you about a non-scrolls Jewish text. It’s on the left on the screen in front of you. It dates to roughly the same period as the scrolls, but it was composed in Greek and was found not in a cave by the Dead Sea, but 250 miles away in the wrappings of a Crocodilian mummy in Heracleopolis, Egypt. It’s a second-century BCE papyrus that records the complaint of a Jewish man against a Jewish woman and her son. It reports that Theodotus of Oxyrinchus asks the leaders of the Jewish community at Heracleopolis to require repayment of a 12-talent loan he had made, at 24 percent interest, to fellow Jews Plousia and her son, Dorotheos. The interest rates, though completely in conflict with ancestral custom and law — Exodus 22:25 and so on — is the standard rate required by the Greek business law that ruled the land. And Dorotheos, the son and fellow debtor with his mother, though a Jew, receives a fictive ethnic status that permits him to take the loan in the first place.
I draw your attention to this because it vividly depicts one way in which Jews of antiquity negotiated what I call the hegemony of pluralism — the dominance of pluralism over any particular way of thinking. They faced it all over the ancient Mediterranean world, but particularly in Egypt. Although the Jews of Heracleopolis were encouraged by their imperial overlords in Egypt — the Ptolomies — to live by their own ancestral laws and order their lives accordingly, their response was clearly to embrace the pluralism, to live by its norms. For that reason, it’s fair to suspect that some of the great literary works the Jews produced in Egypt at that time — that we always thought were accommodationist — were, in fact, aimed at gently calling Jews like Theodotus, Dorotheos, and Plousia back to their roots. In short, these ordinary Jews of Heracleopolis were conformists and targets for more tradition-oriented Jews for re-evangelization.
And now we come to the scrolls. By contrast, we have in them Jews who responded to the challenge of pluralism in very different ways. And don’t let anyone tell you that the people of the scrolls were living in a world any less characterized by the hegemony of pluralism than Egypt was. To be sure, the hegemony of pluralism in second-century BCE Egypt was undoubtedly more intense. But such a reality was not alien to Jews in first-century BCE Palestine, where we find the scrolls. From fellow devout Jews with different interpretations of devotion, to Jews who saw no good reasons for devotion at all, to Hellene immigrants from all around the empire that Alexander built, to the remnants of the peoples indigenous to the land from time immemorial to the waxing Roman presence thereto, pluralism prevailed. Yet in the Dead Sea Scrolls community, we see a very different response than the one adopted by the Jews of Heracleopolis. Here we find Jews who when confronted by choices over interpreting their laws — and you’ve heard this from several of my colleagues — when confronted with choices over interpreting their laws more closely or more strictly, they seemed always to have chosen the stricter reading — eventually to the point of cutting themselves off from even their fellow Jews and falling finally into calling their contrary co-religionists “Sons of Darkness.”
Think only of the very early text from their common existence. It’s pictured, or part of it is pictured, on the right side of the screen in front of you — 4QMMT, already mentioned once tonight. In one particular portion of this, they confront the question of whether a worshipper in the temple gets a double benefit when he brings a female goat or cow for sacrifice, only to discover at its slaughter that it’s pregnant with another life. Does this offering become a twofer, as it were.
While the text implies, by its very existence, that the group’s dialogue partners permitted the double benefit, the group’s answer is to deny that benefit by reading Leviticus 28:22, which says the slaughter of a livestock parent and its offspring on the same day is forbidden. They read this text as a prohibition of the sacrifice of a mother and its fetus on the same occasion.
Well, as you can imagine, such readings as this hardly endeared the keepers of the scrolls to their neighbors in faith, let alone to their neighbors who shared nothing with them of their traditions. And so we finally find them sitting in the desert, apart, separated from co-religionists and all the others alike. There they indoctrinate each other with vitriolic visions of the fatal future fate for those who are not like them, and with a promise of righteous vindication for themselves in a coming age.
So why am I so serious and draw this contrast for you? It’s to place the people of the scrolls, in their broadest context, where the hegemony of pluralism prompted its own varying set of responses. And in the Jews of Heracleopolis and the Jews of Qumran, we see dangerously polar, opposite responses to pluralism. In Heracleopolis, Jews embrace the practices and perspectives of their neighbors, mixing them with their own so much that, as the papyrus I described above and still others may reveal, they seemed finally oblivious to their origins and their traditions altogether. At Qumran, on the other hand, we encounter a very different kind of response to hegemonic cultural pressures. Here we find religionists who were intolerant of any deviation from what they understood to be orthodoxy. And as their sense of being threatened grew over time, their intolerance intensified, and they pushed their own religious imagination further and further toward, and then beyond, the margins of their co-religionists’ acceptable range of ethnic and religious self-definition.
Now it’s the fate of these two communities that interests me most, and should interest you as well, as we turn from the scrolls in their own context to considering them in ours. The Jews of Heracleopolis are only an ancient phenomena; there’s no trace of them beyond the moments captured in the late second century BCE papyri I described to you. They may have left Heracleopolis under the pressure of later social disruptions, or under the pressure of a much later, depopulation of that region. But even so, we haven’t even a scintilla of evidence for them from the site after this nor from anywhere else. The Jews of Heracleopolis, one might plausibly say, lost their Jewishness in their embrace of the pluralism they encountered under the Ptolomies.
As for the people of the scrolls, we know their fate only a little more confidently. Their gathering site in the Judean Desert was overrun. They were dispersed. And their worldview seems to have disappeared with their scattering to the winds. Their militant reply to cultural challenges passed away like the dying embers of an untended fire.
These, I suggest, are the important lessons from the great storehouse of human memory and history as we encounter our own hegemonic pluralism these days, wondering how we might hold fast to the religious, political, ideological, social, or cultural constructions that define us and give meaning to our lives. The challenge to us these days is this — and as far as I can tell, from reading the papers, listening to the news, raising my own children, embracing a particular religious tradition, teaching students of Lewis and Clark, producing scholarship in an international community of disciplinary and intellectual peers, and simply conversing with my neighbors — as far as I can tell, our world has become a dangerously polarized place. Voices of moderation, nuance, and compromise for the sake of progress go largely unheard. And chiefly because the din of contests between the left and the right, the top and the bottom, the traditionalists and the antitraditionalists, between the rigorists — like the people of the scrolls — and the accommodationists — like the people of Heracleopolis — is simply too deafening to hear anything else.
But why is that? Why do folks — from politicians in Congress to intellectuals in the halls of academe, to the religious in churches, synagogues, and mosques — seem so inclined to forgo cooperation for conflict, conversation for contest? I suspect it has to do with the failure of traditions, the death of master narratives that shape our common imagination and existence, that guide us in our actions. It isn’t just the globalization that’s made Seoul, Seville, and Seattle no more than a mouse click away from one another that makes for this radical pluralism. Thank you.
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