Visit Us | Contact Us | Membership | Make a Gift | Calendar | Order Online | What's New

Print this Page

Home > Research > Projects > The Dead Sea Scrolls Project

The Current Controversy Over The Dead Sea Scrolls, With Special Reference To The Exhibition At The Field Museum Of Chicago

By Norman Golb, Ludwig Rosenberger Professor in Jewish History and Civilization
Oriental Institute
University of Chicago

Introduction

In 1994, with the freeing of the Scrolls seemingly accomplished once and for all, some of the most interesting of them were put on display at the Library of Congress. Hailing this event in the beautiful catalogue that accompanied the exhibition, the Librarian of Congress, James H. Billington, assured the public that

The catalog relates the story of the scrolls' discovery and illuminates their historical and archaeological context. We introduce the texts with transcriptions, translations and explanations; explore the various theories concerning the nature of the Qumran community, its identity and its theology; and discuss the challenges facing modern researchers as they struggle to reconstruct the texts and contexts from the thousands of fragments that remain. The exhibition enables visitors to understand the nature and working methods of archaeologists, historians, linguists and paleographers.

Since the descriptions for the individual exhibits, as prepared under the supervision of the Israel Antiquities Authority, presented arguments only for one theory of origin of the Scrolls - i.e, that they were the writings of a Jewish sect living at Khirbet Qumran, in proximity to the caves where the Scrolls were found - the Library attempted to live up to its above-cited assurances by posting additional placards in the exhibition hall and distributing an accompanying pamphlet, which at least gave viewers a glimpse of the serious opposition to the traditional theory already then developing among scholars. (On the question of the success or failure of this attempt, see my remarks in Who Wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls?, pp. 343-354; the opposition to the traditional theory of scroll origins had already been reported on extensively in the New York Times beginning in 1989 and continuing through the period of the 1992 conference on the Scrolls held in New York City and sponsored by the New York Academy of Sciences and the Oriental Institute.)

Six years later, after numerous peregrinations in the States and Europe, the exhibition has now arrived, with some additions and subtractions, at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, where it is being viewed daily by thousands of visitors. And again a beautiful catalogue accompanies the exhibition, incorporating, in addition to photographs and descriptions of the several new manuscripts, almost all of the details of the original one - including even the above-cited words of assurance of the Librarian of Congress - except for the fact, however, that the words are no longer attributed to him at all, but rather to Gen. Amir Drori, the head of the Israel Antiquities Authority. (See Scrolls from the Dead Sea, Field Museum edition, 2000 A.D., p. 9.)

In the new exhibition itself, however, there are no indications of supplementary placards or of any accompanying pamphlet such as were prepared at the Library of Congress.

In the absence of any such caveats, and with thousands of citizens of Chicago and the surrounding areas streaming in daily to experience the exhibition, it has become a matter of pressing importance to determine the fidelity of these newly reiterated assurances and of the emphatic advance claims of Field Museum personnel that the exhibit would be fair and inclusive. One may do this by paying close attention to the wording of the exhibition labels as they pertain both to the items described and to the relevant claims and assurances, and by posing the following questions while doing so: Are the labels of the present exhibition fair and accurate? Are they inclusive of general scholarship on the Scrolls? Are the various theories pertaining to the Scrolls and Khirbet Qumran explored? Are there any discussions of the challenges facing modern Scroll researchers? Does the exhibition actually enable visitors to understand the nature and working methods of archaeologists, historians and others involved in research on the scrolls? In sum, is the exhibition intellectually honest?

Finally, there is the question of the exhibition's overall equitability, a matter that has to be viewed in the light of salutary developments of the past decade pertaining to the ethics and social responsiveness of American museology. We cannot but point to the well-known statement issued by the American Association of Museums in its 1992 publication "Excellence and Equity" (p. 19): "Divergent points of view as well as different cultural perspectives can be given voice in the interpretive process....debate, even controversy, is integral to the scholarly endeavor, and it can stimulate a balanced and interpretive message that can challenge the visitor to discover ideas and form opinions." With these encouraging words in mind, let us now proceed to an analysis of the labels as posted in the current exhibition of the scrolls at the Field Museum.

OVERVIEW PANEL

CORRECTIONS AND COMMENTS

1. The "Overview panel" states that, from the manuscript fragments found in the cave, scholars pieced together an ancient Jewish library, widely identified as that of the Essene sect." (1)

The panel adds that the texts, "open a window to
ancient Israel". (2)
(1) The manuscripts are, today, also widely identified by other scholars as a library of another sect or as remnants of Jerusalem libraries. The clash of scholarly views on the fundamental question of scroll origins is mentioned neither here nor elsewhere in the exhibition. (2) The proper term is "intertestamental Judaism", referring to the period following the lengthy era generally designated as that of ancient Israel.
------------------------------------------------------------- -------------------------------------------------------------

DEAD SEA REGION PANEL

CORRECTIONS AND COMMENTS

2. The "Dead Sea region" panel asserts that on "the northwest shores of the Dead Sea, on a low-lying plateau, lie the ruins of the Qumran settlement. In these ruins, and in the caves that dot the limestone cliffs to the west, the dry climate has helped preserve objects made of organic materials, including the precious manuscripts." (1) (1) This is a highly misleading statement. No manuscripts nor even a shred of parchment or papyrus has ever been found within Kh. Qumran itself. Nowhere in the exhibition is this fact ever acknowledged. (Kh. Qumran = Khirbet Qumran)
------------------------------------------------------------- -------------------------------------------------------------

THE SEARCH FOR MANUSCRIPTS PANEL

CORRECTIONS AND COMMENTS

3. In the panel entitled "The search for manuscripts", the statement is made that, following the first discovery of seven manuscripts, "Bedouins and archeologists continued to search the Dead Sea region, uncovering thousands of additional fragments, now preserved at the Rockefeller Museum Building in Jerusalem." (1) Neither in this panel, nor elsewhere in the exhibition is it stated that scrolls of the same nature were afterwards found in Masada, at the southern end of the Dead Sea (early 1960's). (In the 1970's the lengthy Temple Scroll was brought to light, although the exact place where it was hidden has never been identified with certainty.) Also missing from the exhibition is any reference to the discovery of Hebrew manuscripts in the 3rd and 8th centuries A.D. "near Jericho", as related by Origen (3rd Century) and by the metropolitan of Elam Timotheus (8th Century). In addition, the exhibition fails to mention the autographic Copper Scroll discovered in Cave III, with its detailed descriptions of Temple treasures and of scrolls hidden away in specified locations of the Judaean Wilderness. These elements together demonstrate the untenability of the Qumran-Essene theory. Their suppression from the exhibition contradicts the initial promise of the exhibition (see Introduction above) and misleads the public. The omissions in their combination highlight the fact that nowhere in the exhibition is mention made of the view that the Scrolls derive from Jerusalem libraries sequestered in the caves in preparation for the Roman siege on Jerusalem.
------------------------------------------------------------- -------------------------------------------------------------

THE SCRIPT PANEL

CORRECTIONS AND COMMENTS

4. In the panel entitled "The script", the statement is made that palaeo-Hebrew script, although gradually replaced by Aramaic script, continued to be used in "contexts probably alluding to nationalistic or religious themes". (1) The panel also asserts that the "study of ancient forms of writing, is called paleography" (2), and that the "dates had been established. The dates for the scrolls suggested by paleography were eventually corroborated through carbon-14 testing." (3) (1) This is possibly what happened, but the more straightforward explanation is that the palaeo-Hebrew simply had a long but dwindling life, being used eventually only by the Samaritans from the mid-2nd century A.D. onwards. (2) Wrong definition. Palaeography may be properly defined as the study, decipherment and scholarly interpretation of ancient texts and documents. Study of the "forms of writing" is only one function of palaeography. (3) This is untrue. The "dates...suggested by palaeography" have emphatically not been "corroborated" by C-14 testing. The most that can be said about these surmised palaeographic datings of the 1950's is that some of them are not entirely excluded by the radio-carbon datings. The only genuine "corroboration" was of N. Avigad's surmise that the Thanksgiving Scroll could be dated between 50 B.C. and 50 A.D. -- a reasonable 100 year time span. See the chart in the M. Wise et. al., Methods of Investigation of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Kh. Qumran Site, New York, 1994, p. 446.

------------------------------------------------------------- -------------------------------------------------------------

THE SCRIPTORIUM PANEL

CORRECTIONS AND COMMENTS

5. The panel entitled "The scriptorium"regrettably contains several misleading statements: a) "Excavation of the Qumran ruins has uncovered the remains of many structures, which are widely interpreted as the communal buildings of a sect." (1) b) "One of the halls has been identified as a scriptorium (2) due to its unusual furniture: a table (3) several yards long and about one and one-half feet high, the remains of two shorter tables, and two inkwells." (4) c)"Yet this conclusion has been debated, and the question remains open: what do these unusual artifacts represent?" (5) (1) So interpreted by some, but denied by others. Second occurrence of the "sect of Qumran" theme. (2) This language excludes the various voices denying use of this room as a scriptorium and identifying it otherwise. (3) The archaeologists Prof. Robert Donceel and Dr. Pauline Donceel-Voûte of Louvain have demonstrated that these "tables" were pieces of benches. (4) See note on "Inkwells" panel. (5) No, the question is not merely what the artifacts represent, but what the room represents. See Donceel and Donceel-Voûte in Methods of Investigation of the DSS, pp. 27-31 (=triclinium). Cf. Hirschfeld in JNES 57, July 1998, pp 161-89. (no "scriptorium" in a fortified agricultural estate). Omitted from the statement is the fact that no parchments or writing instruments used by scribes were found in this room. By refraining from mentioning the other identifications offered by archaeologists while mentioning only the "scriptorium" hypothesis, this panel notably fails, once again, to live up to the exhibition's assurances (see Introduction above).
------------------------------------------------------------- -------------------------------------------------------------

PUBLICATION PANEL

CORRECTIONS AND COMMENTS

6. The panel entitled "The publication of the Dead Sea Scrolls" states that in "the fifty-two years since the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, facsimile editions of all the large scrolls and most of the smaller fragments have been published", and that "some twenty-five volumes of the official edition of scroll publications have already been published by Oxford University Press." (1) (1) What is excluded from this statement is a) the crucial fact of freeing of the scrolls in 1991 after non-publication of most of them by the original Scrolls cartel, as well as

b) the opposition of the Israel Antiquities Authority itself to open access to the Scrolls by all scholars prior to the Huntington Library's announcement giving such access to facsimiles thereof in the autumn of 1991. (See New York Times of 22 Sept. and 23 Sept. 1991.) By hiding this part of the truth, the exhibition once again obviously misleads the public.

------------------------------------------------------------- -------------------------------------------------------------

THE QUMRAN LIBRARY PANEL

CORRECTIONS AND COMMENTS

7. The panel entitled "The Qumran library" erroneously asserts that the scrolls include only three kinds of texts.
  • Biblical--works contained in the Hebrew Bible
  • Apocrypha--works omitted from various canons of the Bible and included in others
  • Sectarian--scrolls related to a particular religious community, or sect.(1)

This panel also states that the "main group represented in the sectarian scrolls is widely believed to be the Essenes, although other interpretations have been offered." (2)

It further states that the relationship of the Sadducees, Pharisees, and Essenes "to each other, and to the Qumran sect, remain the subject of scholarly debate". (3)
(1) The fourth category of texts, as recognized by growing numbers of scholars, comprises those that are, according to their contents, neither Biblical, Apocryphal, or Sectarian, but rather general writings by Palestinian Jews on religious and social themes, both in prose and poetry, as well as miscellaneous general writings such as (e.g.) calendaric treatises and magical texts. (2) Third occurrence of the "Sect of Qumran" theme. Why are the other interpretations never given in the exhibition hall? (3) Fourth occurrence of "Sect of Qumran" theme. The existence of an actual "Qumran sect" itself remains the subject of scholarly debate.
------------------------------------------------------------- -------------------------------------------------------------

SCROLLS AND CHRISTIAN WRITINGS PANEL

CORRECTIONS AND COMMENTS

8. The panel entitled "The scrolls and Christian writings" contain wording and omissions that can only have the effect of misleading the public. These include: a) "many have wondered (1) whether the scrolls illuminate the relationship between the two religions. b) "The Dead Sea Scrolls (2) and Early Christian writings contain similarities. Both embody specific religious concepts (3): the expectation of a Messiah, the importance of baptism (4), the term "the new covenant" (5)..." c) "Yet they have important differences. Although Jesus may have known of the Essenes, the scrolls (6) contain no evidence for this. Further, Essene dogma (6) tended toward elitism and separatism; Christian dogma was aimed at a broader audience. And finally, the Messiah is described differently: some of the scrolls, for example, mention two Messiahs." (7) (1) Should state: Scholars have investigated... (2) Should state: Some of the DSS... (3) Should state: embodying one or another specific religious concept such as: (4)"Baptism" is found in the Hebrew Bible. (5) "The New Covenant" is found already in the Hebrew Bible; Jeremiah 31.31. Omission of the above facts heightens truth into falsehood. (6) Fifth occurrence of "Sect of Qumran" theme. The exhibition begins to take on the aura of a show specializing in the entrapment of the viewing public. (7) An entirely wrong and misleading assertion. Some of the scrolls mention one Messiah, others two. A verbatim admission of this fact in the exhibition would point to the heterogeneity of the Scrolls which the exhibitors persistently refrain from acknowledging. On the theory of Jerusalem origin of the scrolls, the several texts containing ideas that later are found in one or another books of the New Testament simply represent aspects of Jewish thinking in intertestamental times that later made their way quite naturally into the nascent Christianity of 1st-century Palestine. Why is there nothing about this problem in the panels? Once again, the omission is not in keeping with the exhibitors' advance assurances (see Introduction above).
------------------------------------------------------------- -------------------------------------------------------------

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND PANEL

CORRECTIONS AND COMMENTS

9. The panel entitled "Historical background" states, inter alia, that: "during this Hasmonaean period, many religious groups were formed, some of which bore the seeds of Rabbinic Judaism and Early Christianity. One of these groups was the relatively small group called the Essenes, who eventually seceded from mainstream Judaism. (1) Many scholars believe that some or all of the Dead Sea Scrolls were written by the Essenes" (2)

The panel further states that Roman domination of Judea "eventually led to an uprising by the Jewish population"(3), and that the "ensuing years of struggle culminated in 70 C.E., when the Romans (4) sacked Jerusalem and destroyed the Second Temple..." (5)

(1) This represents the sixth repetition of the "Sect of Qumran" theme.

(2) The statement about "some or all" of the Scrolls being written by Essenes is a nuance that is never explained in the exhibition, and which stands in stark contradiction to the assertions of other labels.

(3) The panel fails to state that the revolt began in 66 C.E. (A.D.)

(4) The wording should be "when the Romans laid siege to and ultimately sacked Jerusalem."

(5) The reason for the omission of reference to the siege of Jerusalem would appear to be that this historic event serves as an essential argument in favor of the theory of Jerusalem origin of the Scrolls, according to which the scrolls were taken from libraries of Jerusalem and hidden in caves before or during the siege.

Once again, the exhibition, by its wording and omissions, fails to live up to the assurances of the sponsors.

------------------------------------------------------------- -------------------------------------------------------------

THE WAR RULE PANEL

CORRECTIONS AND COMMENTS

10. In the panel entitled "The War Rule", this text is claimed to be of the "early first century C.E." (1) The description states that the fragment "refers to (2) a Messiah from the Branch of David, to (3) a judgment, and to a killing" and states that they "dubbed the "Pierced Messiah" text." (4) (1) This dating, and all those that follow for the individual manuscripts, are highly personal and arbitrary. The dates should have been given strictly according to radio-carbon findings, or else with a warning that the known C-14 findings in fact do not match up with theorized dating by so-called palaeographic insight, except in the case of one single scroll. (See note 3 on item no. 4 above.)

(2) Change to "is taken by various scholars to allude to."

(3) Change to "and describes"

(4) The word "Messiah", however, does not actually occur in this text.

------------------------------------------------------------- -------------------------------------------------------------

PSALMS PANEL

CORRECTIONS AND COMMENTS

11. The panel "Psalms" makes the claim that the scribe of this text copied it down in the years "30-50 C.E." (1) It later states that the "Tetragrammaton (Yahweh) is inscribed in the paleo-Hebrew script (the ancient Hebrew script), which is also used in the Leviticus Scroll." (2) (1) An impossibly narrow judgement call.

(2) Why have the exhibitors not explained that the Tetragrammaton was written in this script (i.e., the ancient Hebrew script -- also used in the Leviticus Scroll) as a pietism, in order to avoid "carrying aloft the name of the Lord...in vain" (the Second Commandment)?

------------------------------------------------------------- -------------------------------------------------------------

LEVITICUS PANEL

CORRECTIONS AND COMMENTS

12. The "Leviticus" scroll panel states that the palaeo-Hebrew script (in which it is written) "resurfaced during the Hasmonean era." (1) (1) There is no reason to believe that this script was not in still wider use before the Hasmonean period. "Resurfaced" implies it had earlier died out.
------------------------------------------------------------- -------------------------------------------------------------

HOSEA COMMENTARY PANEL

CORRECTIONS AND COMMENTS

13. The "Hosea Commentary" panel states that the "script, identical to that of a commentary on Psalms, belongs to the rustic, semiformal type of the Herodian era." (1) (1) The terminology "rustic, semiformal" is entirely arbitrary and personal. There is no proof that this relatively crude handwriting was used by a country-dwelling scribe rather than a city-dweller. (In the medieval Cairo Genizah manuscripts, for example, many relatively crude handwritings are those of known city-dwellers.) It is moreover not by any means a certainty that the script of this text is of the "Herodian era."
------------------------------------------------------------- -------------------------------------------------------------

ENOCH PANEL

CORRECTIONS AND COMMENTS

14. The "Enoch" scroll panel indicates that the script was produced during the years "200-150 B.C.E." (1) (1) Without corroborative radio-carbon dating, nothing more than "approximately 1st century B.C. or late 2nd century B.C." is appropriate.
------------------------------------------------------------- -------------------------------------------------------------

SOME TORAH PRECEPTS PANEL

CORRECTIONS AND COMMENTS

15. The panel describing the "Some Torah Precepts" scroll claims that the script is "Late first century B.C.E. - Early first century C.E." (1) The panel further claims that this text is "one of the earliest found at Qumran" (2), and that its epilogue attempts to persuade the addressee to "adopt the sect's legal views." (3) The panel further adds that this scroll states that "disagreement on...matters [of ritual law] caused the sect to secede (4) from Israel." (1) There is no extant proof, however, that the Hebrew idiom specific to this work (the MMT) was yet in use in the 1st century B.C. This idiom (=proto-Tannaitic) is shared, among Qumran texts, only with the Copper Scroll which latter by internal evidence, was composed in 69-70 A.D.

(2) This is an unproved assertion which egregiously misleads the public.

(3) By its contents, this work cannot have been the writing of a member of the same group that believed in the ideas expressed in the Manual of Discipline or related texts of the "Yahad" sectarian group.

(4) The MMT text was written by the member of a separatist group, but he demonstrably did not share the ideas of the authors of the Yahad texts. (See the line-by-line analysis in Who Wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls, pp. 179-215.)

------------------------------------------------------------- -------------------------------------------------------------

DAMASCUS DOCUMENT PANEL

CORRECTIONS AND COMMENTS

16. The "Damascus Document" panel states, inter alia, that this text "includes a call for the congregation to remain faithful to the covenant... of those who retreated from Judea to the Land of Damascus (either a geographical or - more likely - symbolic designation)." (1) The panel claims that the handwriting of this fragment is of the "late first century B.C.E." (2) (1) The claim of some scholars, that the migration to Damascus specified in this manuscript was really a migration to Kh. Qumran, was put forward to save the theory of a unified Qumran sectarianism from extinction. It is an excellent example of current pseudo-scholarship on the scrolls.

(2) This assertion is arbitrary and overly precise in the absence of radio-carbon dating of this text.

------------------------------------------------------------- -------------------------------------------------------------

CALENDRICAL DOCUMENT PANEL

CORRECTIONS AND COMMENTS

17. The "Calendrical Document" panel indicates that the script dates to the period "50-25 B.C.E." (1) It then speaks of "the community represented in the scrolls" (2) asserting that this "community" "used a 364-day solar calendar, in contrast to the Jewish lunar calendar of 354 days." (3)

The panel adds, inter alia, that certain guidelines "seem to have provided the members of the community with a timetable for abstaining from important activities on the days before the dark phases of the moon's waning and eclipse (duqah)." (4)

(1) This narrow dating is arbitrary and overly precise in the absence of corroborative radio-carbon dating. Anything more exact than "circa 50 B.C.E.-50 C.E." borders on quackery.

(2) Publication of new scrolls since 1991 demonstrates that more than one community is represented in the scrolls.

(3) This assertion begs the question. The 364 day solar calendar is only one of several found in the scrolls, showing prolonged efforts of the Palestinian Jews and particularly of the priestly class to settle upon a workable fixed calendar before the early rabbis (Tannaim) finally succeeded in doing so by establishment of a luni-solar (not lunar) calendar. (Islam, on the other hand, does have a strictly lunar calendar). Every statement which follows in this panel is based upon the unwarranted assumption that a single sect wrote virtually all the scrolls, representing still a further imposition of the "sect of Qumran" theory upon the viewing public.

(4) A one-sided and thus misleading representation, giving only the opinion of Talmon and Knohl and not those of VanderKam, Wacholder and Abegg, and Wise. See, for example, Wise et. al., Methods of Investigation of the DSS..., pp. 371 ff., 389 ff., 429 ff.

------------------------------------------------------------- -------------------------------------------------------------

COMMUNITY RULE PANEL

CORRECTIONS AND COMMENTS

18. The "Community Rule" panel states that the Yahad heterodox group responsible for writing it was "the communal sect living in the Judean Desert." (1) It adds that their strict rules "stemmed from the belief that the commandments of the Torah were the will of God." (2)

At its end, the panel asserts that "the scroll, found in Cave 4, ends with songs of praise to God." (3)
(1) No text of the Yahad group explicitly states that its members actually lived in the Judaean Desert. Regrettably, the relevant translation in the Catalogue misleads the public. In the main scroll, for example, it is clear that the "desert" passages quoted form Isaiah are taken as a metaphor for the study of the "secrets" of the Torah. Two passages in the (relatively complete) Cave 1 copy employ the "desert" metaphor. In the first, and crucial, passage, the Isaiah 40.3 verse "In the desert clear ye the way [of the Lord], make ye straight in the wilderness a path for our God", is followed immediately by the author's explanation that "This is the expounding of the Torah that the Lord commanded through Moses..." The second passage, paraphrasing the one occurring earlier, is also found in the Cave 4 fragment on display at the Museum, where the translation used is that of E. Qimron: "[The instructor] shall guide them with knowledge and instruct them in the mysteries of wonder... That is the time for studying the Torah (lit. clearing the way) in the wilderness..." This translation takes unwarranted liberties with the text's sense. The sectarian author himself first reiterates the theme of guidance in Torah study and then states that "this is the 'time of clearing the way to the wilderness'" as implied, in his view, in the words of Isaiah. The translation on the Museum's walls, however (i.e., that of Dr. Qimron) leads the public into thinking that the "sect of Qumran" actually lived there in the desert.

(2) The special rules stemmed from other beliefs entirely. The belief that the Torah commandments were God's will was common to all the Jewish groups of antiquity.

(3) While the fragment on display was found in Cave 4, the main scroll -- in a different handwriting and, unlike the Cave 4 fragment, actually containing the praises to God -- was found in Cave 1.

------------------------------------------------------------- -------------------------------------------------------------

BEATITUDES PANEL

CORRECTIONS AND COMMENTS

19. In the "Beatitudes" panel, the presumed time of the script is given as "early first century B.C.E." (1) The panel states that this text "has its counterparts in... contemporaneous texts..." (2) (1) The word "early" should be expunged, as there is no proof for the assertion as it stands.

(2) This is one of the many Dead Sea Scrolls that have no sectarian affiliations whatsoever, but in line with the demonstrable effort of the exhibitors to defend the "Sect of Qumran" theory, this fact is absent from the panel.

------------------------------------------------------------- -------------------------------------------------------------

ARAMAIC APOCALYPSE PANEL

CORRECTIONS AND COMMENTS

20. In the "Aramaic Apocalypse" panel, the presumed date of the script is given as "late first century B.C.E." (1) The panel further asserts that the meaning of certain terms in this text "is widely disputed by scholars." (2) (1) As stated above, the dates given here and elsewhere in the exhibition are entirely too narrow from the point of view of palaeographic method. Either radio-carbon dates should have been used or, in their absence, estimates with a time-span of no less than one hundred years.

(2) This is the only instance in the entire exhibit where discordant interpretations of scroll passages are actually specified (in the ensuing lines of the panel).

------------------------------------------------------------- -------------------------------------------------------------

DEUTERONOMY PANEL

CORRECTIONS AND COMMENTS

21. In the "Deuteronomy" panel, the statement is made that this scroll bears "the text of Deut. 5:1-6:1, which includes the Ten Commandments." (1) (1) The panel should obviously state "the Deuteronomic form of the Ten Commandments"; compare the earlier version in Exodus, Chap. 20.
------------------------------------------------------------- -------------------------------------------------------------

MESSIANIC APOCALYPSE PANEL

CORRECTIONS AND COMMENTS

22. In the "Messianic Apocalypse" panel, the statement is made that "as opposed to previously published Qumranic works in which two Messiahs figured, this text refers to a single Messiah, reminiscent of the Christian messianic concept." (1) (1) This assertion is wrongly stated and obviously confusing to viewers. The "single Messiah" concept is found not only in Christian messianism, but also widely in Jewish forms of messianic speculation. Moreover, the theme of two Messiahs figures only in a few previously published scrolls; other have the theme of a single Messiah.
------------------------------------------------------------- -------------------------------------------------------------

PRAYER FOR KING JONATHAN PANEL

CORRECTIONS AND COMMENTS

23. The "Prayer for King Jonathan" panel, which describes a fragmentary poem in praise of Alexander Jannaeus, asserts that "It is unexpected to find among the scrolls a prayer for the welfare of a Hasmonean king, since the sectarians are thought to have vehemently opposed the Hasmoneans." (1) (1) Many scholars would not agree with this expression of surprise, which arises only out of the deep (and unfounded) belief that the scrolls contain the ideas of a single "sect of Qumran".

There is nothing strange at all about a poem of praise to Jannaeus being found in the DSS caves. It is simply another example of the many non-sectarian texts found among the scrolls. The wording of the panel, once again, induces unsuspecting viewers to fall into the pattern of acceptance of the original Qumran-Essene theory formulated in the early 1950's. The dating of the script -- 103-76 B.C.E. -- is, for a change, based upon internal evidence -- i.e., that it praises Alex. Jannaeus, who lived then. However, this dating assumes that the text is an autograph made during Jannaeus's lifetime, whereas it could equally well be a scribal copy made long after the monarch’s death.

The translation in the exhibit (=Catalogue, p. 35) deprives the original text of its poetic sense, and is nothing more than an arbitrary rendition that has been challenged. However, despite the assurances of the exhibitors, the presentation of this manuscript is entirely one-sided in all particulars.

------------------------------------------------------------- -------------------------------------------------------------

HABAKKUK COMMENTARY PANEL

CORRECTIONS AND COMMENTS

24. The "Habakkuk Commentary" panel correctly describes the display as a facsimile copy of the original. (1) The text is described as interpreting the Book of Habakkuk "so as to reveal hidden allusions to the sect, its past, and its future." (2) (1) If the exhibitors have been willing to display a facsimile of a text widely known to be connected to those scrolls associated with the Yahad group, why are they not also showing facsimiles of other texts from the caves that are counter-indicative of the Qumran-Essene theory, such as the Copper Scroll or the Masada manuscripts? By preventing the public from viewing and pondering such evidence, the exhibitors appear to reveal an intention which diametrically opposes their initial assurances.

(2) This explanation further reinforces the conception of a single "sect of Qumran", while puzzlingly refraining from acknowledging that the text, in the view of various scholars, also has a much wider purview and agenda, even including an all-embracing apocalyptic vision.

------------------------------------------------------------- -------------------------------------------------------------

PHYLACTERIES PANEL

CORRECTIONS AND COMMENTS

25. The"Phylacteries" panel shows some of the ancient ones found in the Qumran caves in juxtaposition with a modern pair; the adjacent panel states that "these modern tefillin (back), or phylacteries -- small, square boxes of leather worn on the left arm and forehead -- are similar in content to early prototypes found in Qumran (front).

The panel later adds that "In the Second Temple period the sages established that phylacteries would include four scriptural passages... Qumran has provided us with the earliest remains of tefillin." (1)

(1) These two statements combine in such a way as to gravely mislead the public. It is well know today that the phylacteries found in the caves are significantly dissimilar from the modern variety in the Biblical wordings of their contexts, revealing different interpretations of the ancient individual practitioners as to which verses of the Pentateuch were to be included in the amulets.

The theorized "sect of Qumran", on the contrary, was supposed to have regulated its spiritual life by the dicta of the Community Rule, which called for unity ("yahad") in its religious observances. This juxtaposition has led Dr. David Rothstein in his UCLA dissertation on the phylacteries -- the most recent study of the subject -- to say that the phylacteries represent "a broad spectrum of Palestinian (and diaspora) Jewry" -- a finding which directly contravenes the Qumran-Essene theory and would appear to have been banned from representation in the exhibit precisely for this reason.

------------------------------------------------------------- -------------------------------------------------------------

JAR WITH LID PANEL

CORRECTIONS AND COMMENTS

26. The "Jar with lid" exhibit is accompanied by a panel which states that some scrolls were found in cylindrical pottery jars of the type displayed, "which are unknown elsewhere." (1) Referring to these jars as "unique vessels", the panel asserts that their discovery both in the caves and at Kh. Qumran "is evidence of the link between the settlement and the caves." (2) (1) This type of jar is known from at least two other Palestinian digs, that of Qu'ailba and of Jericho. See details in Who Wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls, pp. 412-413, note 71.

(2) The jars may not legitimately be referred to as "unique", and especially given the facts that no scroll fragments were found in the so-called "scriptorium" and that no endorsement of celibacy is present in any of the scrolls, the evidence of the jars can hardly be pressed further than to support the view that inhabitants of the Qumran region simply supplied jars of this kind to aid the hiders of the scrolls in their work. By the evidence of the Copper Scroll, Masada, the phylacteries, the multiplicity of handwritings, etc. -- all suppressed from the exhibition -- the place of origin of the scrolls was Jerusalem, the hiders spiriting the scrolls out of the city before and during the Roman siege of 70 A.D. down to the caves and other hiding places via the wadis leading from the capital to the Dead Sea area.

-------------------------------------------------------------
 
-------------------------------------------------------------
 

INKWELL PANEL

CORRECTIONS AND COMMENTS

27. The "Inkwell" exhibit is accompanied by a panel which asserts that the two inkwells found in a room in the vicinity of a "large table" (1) "suggested to the site excavators scribal activity in a scriptorium." The panel then goes on to suggest that it "is possible that many of the manuscripts were written or copied locally, although they may also be from earlier times and locations." (2) (1) Two inkwells indicate nothing more than that there was some modest writing activity at Kh. Qumran, e.g., military or other correspondence. This so-called "table" is nothing more than pieces of an object forming a bench (see above, no. 5).

This label, like others described above, cunningly misleads the public into believing that the Qumran-Essene hypothesis is cogent and in harmony with the evidence -- when, given both the totality of evidence uncovered during the past few decades, and a careful look at the facts cited in its favor, it is neither.

(2) By this mode of rhetoric, it may likewise be asserted that the scrolls were possibly not written or copied locally at all. In terms of the actual accumulation of evidence -- much of which is remarkably unmentioned in the exhibition -- the latter is by far the more likely historical scenario. The exhibition fundamentally misleads the public by suppressing that evidence and presenting only a one-sided case in favor of the Qumran-Essene hypothesis developed in the 1950's.

Revised: July 30, 2007

Home > Research > Projects > The Dead Sea Scrolls Project