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Observations On The Bipolar Theory Of So-Called "Qumran Spellings" (Revised and Expanded Edition)

Norman Golb

Oriental Institute, University of Chicago

The new electronic age, with all its advances over mid-20th-century technology, has in many ways been a blessing for investigators of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Khirbet Qumran - particularly for the quick access to worldwide information that it has provided, as well as regarding enriched opportunities (particularly thanks to the Internet) for debate on salient controversial issues surrounding these topics. As an example of the latter development, we may consider the evolution of the widespread belief that a Jewish sect inhabited Khirbet Qumran in antiquity.

Only a few years after discovery of the Scrolls in nearby caves, the view became rampant both among scholars and men of letters that inhabitants of the Kh. Qumran site were heterodox Jews and the very ones who had possessed these manuscripts. This in turn encouraged writers of textbooks and publishers of journals and encyclopedias to treat this idea about the new discovery as a factual truth. Readers need only consult editions of the Britannica and other world encyclopedias published between approximately 1955 and 1990 to perceive to what extent this was the case.

The assumed truthfulness of this idea was thereafter reinforced by the scholarly monopoly that had formed under the aegis of the Jordanian Government and Jerusalem's Ecole Biblique, and which was responsible for propagating the selfsame view in publications of the Scroll texts controlled by its members. It was only as knowledge of opposition to this claim became widespread among a steadily growing host of readers, often deriving their knowledge of the debate from postings in the electronic media, that a change of mind on the fundamental issue became palpable. In a praiseworthy effort towards objectivity, general encyclopedias and other sourcebooks soon actually began characterizing the Qumran-sectarian interpretation as a theory - which it actually had been, despite public understanding to the contrary, from the very beginning.

Revised: January 8, 2010

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