Writersof the Dead Sea Scrolls
Writersof the Dead Sea Scrolls
TheDead Sea scrolls are prehistoric manuscripts discovered in elevencaves between 1947 and 1956 on the northwestern shores of the DeadSea near Khirbet Qumran. They date from 250 BC to 68 AD written threedifferent languages, Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek but the majority werein Hebrew. Most of these scrolls were written on parchment and a fewon papyrus and were in the form of many tens of thousands offragments, and only a few survived to be intact at the time ofdiscovery. Some scholars managed to construct approximately 850manuscripts of different lengths from these fragments (Collins2012).This paper discusses the different theories of who wrote the dead seascrolls focusing on the three main theories that have the most factbased evidence.
Themanuscripts are described in three different categories which are thebiblical, sectarian and the apocryphal. The biblical represent one ofthe oldest evidence of biblical text in the world and make up twohundred copies of books in the Hebrew Bible. The sectarianmanuscripts cover several literary genres including religious legalwritings, biblical commentary, liturgical and apocalyptic writingswhile the apocryphal category includes the works that had only beenknown for translation only previously. These manuscripts are animportant in both the religious and the histological world as theyare the only existing Biblical documents written before the 100AD.The origin of the Dead Sea Scrolls is still a major debate among thescholars, but some of them have come up with some theories which tryto explain the authors of these manuscripts (Lim2010).
Thereare two main competing theories based on research. The first theoryknown as the Qumran-Essene Hypothesis argues that the scrolls belongto a religious sect which lived near these caves most probably the Essenes who were a group of Jews thought to have belonged to anascetic, devout and communion group. The Essenes was one of the fourJewish groups which were living in Judea before and after the Romanera and inhabited the Qumran until the settlements were destroyed byRoman troops around 70 A.D. the other theory is the Qumran-Sectariantheory which described the scrolls to have been written byinhabitants of Jerusalem and used the cave in Qumran as their librarywhen they were attacked by the Romans who destroyed Jerusalem.(Collins2011)The other theory is closely related to the Qumran-Sectarian theoryand believes that the scrolls were written by the users of the Jewishtemple and used these caves as their library during the Roman siegeof Jerusalem. Other theories which have tried to describe the authorsof these scrolls include the theory which describes the manuscriptsas work of the early Christians where the scholar argued that onefragment contains a text in the New Testament in the book of Markthough it has faced controversial with some scholars claiming thetext is too tiny requiring reconstruction and even could have beenextracted from other text other than Mark (Tzoref2011).
TheQumran-Essene theory`s evidence is based on the similarities betweenthe traditions depicted in a set of community rules which describedthe initiation ceremony of new members into the community in a scrollcontaining details of the laws of a Jewish sect which was unnamed andthe account of the Essenes by Josephus who was a Roman historian.Josephus also described the Essenes to have the tradition of sharingproperty among community members which were also indicated in thecommunity rule on the scrolls. The theory was also supported by thepresence of archaeological such as the Jewish ritual baths ruin atQumran suggested that the area was once occupied by observant Jews.The other supporting evidence includes the presence of two inkwellsat the Kirbet Qumran during the excavation of the site which isbelieved to indicate that the scrolls were written from there. Thediscovery of cisterns that may have been used for ritual baths as animportant religious practice among the Jews also supported thistheory. Proof that Kirbet Qumran was a settlement of the Essenesbased on a description by Pliny, the Elder of a group of Esseneswhich lived in a desert community close to the destroyed Engedi andwas a geographer who was a writer after the fall of Jerusalem in AD70 (Hodge2013).
Thetheory has some facts that differ with the evidence that contradictsit. It is estimated that the Qumran is a small place and couldaccommodate approximately 150 people at any given time thuscontradict the possibility of such a small population at thatlocation considering the number of scribes identified using theauthor`s handwriting that was in several hundred and only abouttwelve of the handwriting were found to have been similar. The othercontradicting evidence is the content of the texts which differedwith the known customs of the Essenes such as the Damascus documentsand the scrolls describing wars. These practices are non-Essenic. ThePliny`s description also was not adequately specific to Kirbet Qumranby describing it as the western shore of the Dead Sea. The evidenceof the long tables which some scholars assumed they were used wasused for writing is not supportive enough given most of the writingin those ancient days was done while seated with legs crossed. Withthese contradicts, the theory is no longer considered prevalent amongscholars since 1990s, but another version stresses that the writerswere Essene-like which accounts some differences between somecontents expressed the scrolls and the Essenes to form theQumran-Sectarian theory (Tzoref2011).
Thesecond theory called the Qumran-Sectarian theory which was first wasfirst published by Norman Golb in 1980 with historical and textualevidence that argued that the scrolls were remains of severallibraries in Jerusalem that were hidden in the Judea desert duringthe times that the Romans siege Jerusalem between 68-70 A.D. Some ofthe evidence that supports this theory include the conflicting ideassupporting the Essenic theory on the scroll, the presence of copperscroll foil containing list of treasures found in Cave 3 which he andothers considered were of Jerusalem origin and not from the asceticmonks. The other evidence was the fact that the scrolls contained nooriginal historical contents like contracts but were instead copiesof library writings apart from the copper scroll. This was importantin demonstrating that these scrolls were remains of libraries andwere written at a different location not at Kirbet Qumran as statedin the Essenes theory. This theory has been adopted by many scholarsincluding famous archaeologists in Israeli Yahman Jamaica, YuvalPeleg and Yizhar Hirschfeld who had different views on the sitewhereby Hirschfeld believed that the Qumran was a country for the fewrich Jerusalem population and the other two considered it as apottery factory of the ancient days and was not associated with theEssenes sect (Tzoref2011).
Thetheory is also greatly supported by Hutchesson who came up with theHutchesson’s theory which argues that all the scrolls in the caveswere initially hidden and then later disposed of in 63 BC with thearrival of the Pompery. He believes that these scrolls were hiddenwhen the Romans invaded Jerusalem. He also cites the all the scrollsexcept the copper scroll described by Golb already existed by themid-first century. In his theory, he also connected the authors ofthe scrolls with the Sadducees who were in control of the Qumranuntil the Pompey invaded the region. According to this theory, thepeople who hid the scripts were all killed in Jerusalem (Lim2010).
Anothertheory by Karl Heinrich Rengstorf describes the scrolls to haveoriginated from the Jewish temple in Jerusalem, and according to thistheory, the scrolls were hidden in the Judean desert at the Qumranduring the period when Romans put Jerusalem under a siege anddestroyed the temple completely. The theory was however rejected bymany scholars (Hempel2010).
Inconclusion, many scholars have tried to come up with many theories todescribe the authors of the Dead Sea Scroll but the most acceptedtheory is the Qumran-Sectarian theory described by Golb which hasbeen widely accepted by many scholars and has many supportingevidence and challenged by few contradictions (Collins2012).However, current scholarships on the scrolls are more centered on theQumran-sectarian theory and the progressive view of the site of theas a secular nature and with no connection with the authorship of thescrolls. However with the exact authors of these scrolls and remainsa subject of scholarly debate up to today (Lim2010)
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