Category Archives: Dead Sea Scrolls


Dating the Dead Sea Scrolls — #2

by Neil Godfrey

This post needs to be read in conjunction with How Dating the Dead Sea Scrolls Went Awry — #1. We concluded in that post with: “the resetting of the palaeographic dates to conform with artefacts in Qumran was based on three assumptions, all of which were “deeply flawed.”


Assumption 1: 

All pottery more recent than the Iron Age (age of Assyria, Babylonia, etc) was the product of a settlement in the first century CE era.


The second excavation (1953) uncovered activity from the first century BCE.

Recall that jar embedded in the floor of Locus 2 — it was of the same kind found in Cave 1 with the scrolls.

Coin of Antigonus II Mattathias — image from Zurqieh

Coins were found there from the time of Antigonus Mattathias, 40-37 BCE, one right beside that jar.

That jar in Qumran’s Locus 2 was now re-dated to the first century BCE. That is, that room was now BCE, not CE.

But the first century CE date held for the Qumran “community” by arguing that the room was swept clean and re-used through the first century CE by the “community” or people who would be related to the scrolls.

That is, despite the discovery of BCE setting, the CE date for the scrolls failed to budge. 1951 saw the date revised and that revision uncritically held fast despite the new archaeological discoveries.

Although excavator of the site Roland de Vaux belatedly acknowledged in a public lecture that the scroll jars in the caves were indeed from the first century BCE (1959) and eventually published the same point (1962) he never provided specific details. I can imagine that such vagueness did little to prod a critical reevaluation of the widespread acceptance of the first century CE date for the scrolls.


Two other assumptions filled the gap left by the awareness of evidence that there was BCE settlement activity and the site was not exclusively CE.

Assumption 2: 

(a) A single group controlled and inhabited Qumran throughout the period 150 BCE to 68 CE. (Apart from a short hiatus around the turn of the century.)

(b) Scrolls would have continued to be deposited throughout the entire duration of that settlement — that is, they would have continued to be deposited up to the time of the Jewish War. 


This assumption likewise began to crumble:

As is well known, many archaeologists have rejected this second foundational assumption. That is, they reject a Ia/Ib or Ib/II continuity in people and function at Qumran (e.g. Bar Adon, Humbert, Hirschfeld, Magen, Peleg). (Doudna 2017, p. 241)

The following table gives us the idea: read more »


Dating DSS Awry #1 — Appendix

by Neil Godfrey

This post is an appendix to How Dating the Dead Sea Scrolls Went Awry — #1.

Solomon Birnbaum’s palaeographic dating of the DSS to the mid 1st C BCE was published in the Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research No. 115 (Oct., 1949), pp. 20-22, “The Date of the Cave Scrolls“.

Birnbaum compared the Isaiah Scroll from Cave 1 with the Nash Papyrus. He set out key letters from each as follows:

read more »

How Dating the Dead Sea Scrolls Went Awry — #1

by Neil Godfrey

For this post I am returning to Gregory Doudna’s 2014 conference paper, Dating the Scroll Deposits of the Qumran Caves: A Question of Evidence.

In the 1990s Doudna raised the question of whether the Qumran cave scrolls had been deposited as late as the first century CE. This was the first time since the excavation of the Qumran settlement in 1951 that the question had been raised.

In this post I want to attempt to set out Doudna’s explanation of how dating the scrolls went (in his view) so wrong.


1947 – Discovery and the first dating

When the scrolls were first discovered they were dated by Solomon Birnbaum and William F. Albright to the mid first century BCE.

This period was based on palaeographic analysis of the script.


1949 – the first dating confirmed

read more »


Qumran Not a Sectarian Community – #2

by Neil Godfrey

Continuing from Qumran Not a Sectarian Community #1 . . . .

Industrial activities

There was no lack of raw materials suitable for industrial uses in the region and we even have evidence for production of commercial resources but scholars have generally tended to downplay such activities as being only minor side-pursuits of otherwise occupied scribes. We pick up from the previous post by noting the kinds of industrial activities that one might reasonably have expected to see at Qumran as an integral extension of the Jericho royal estate and subsequently under Herod.

Keep in mind what such a list would mean for any scribe or monastic sectarian wanting to lodge there.

Leather and parchment

Sandals from Qumran — image from Pinterest

Qumran would have helped meet the high demand for leather sandals and aprons generated by the “intensive building programme of the Hasmoneans and, in particular, Herod.” Winter saw flocks brought into the area where aged animals and surplus male lambs and kids would have been slaughtered for their skins.

The production of leather was a malodorous and fly-ridden process. Not only was there the blood from the butchered beasts but the hair was removed from the hides by being soaked in dung and urine. The mid-second century CE author Artemidorus, a native of Ephesus, wrote:

‘The tannery is an irritant to everyone. Since the tanner has to handle animal corpses, he has to live far out of town, and the vile odour points him out even when hiding… The vultures are companion to the potters and the tanners since they live far from towns and the latter  handle dead bodies’ (Interpretation of Dreams I: 54; 2:20).

In the Mishnah it was written that both pottery kilns and tanneries should be at least 50 cubits from a town (Baba Bathra 1:10, 2:9); Qumran was considerably further than that from the Palaces of Jericho! Although the tanner was viewed negatively because his handling of dead animals, and the use of urine and dung in the preparation of hides, would cause him to be ritually unclean (Jeremias 1969: 301-12), nevertheless his products, from water skins to sandals and phylacteries, were in demand and the specialist preparation of parchment on which sacred texts could be written was regarded as an honourable profession. (pp. 53-4)

Early archaeologists conducted scientific tests on at nearby Eini Feshka for the possibility of a tanning operation for the production of parchment but apparently with negative results. No-one bothered with similar tests at Qumran, however, because . . . .

Analyses looking for residues from tanning were carried out at Ein Feshka but not at Qumran itself because, it was assumed, ‘the community would have been too strict to permit’ tanning there (Poole and Reed 1972: 151– 152; de Vaux 1973: 78-82). (p. 71)

Firm belief that a scribal sectarian community occupied Qumran has blinded scholars to the evidence, according to Stacey:

Although Poole and Reed contended that ‘in neither of the two “industrial” quarters has a tannery been  recognised’, they accepted that ‘many of the constituent rooms have pits, vats or cobbled floors (suggesting that wet work was carried out there)’. They recognized that water was a ‘valuable commodity’, but concluded that it  could not ‘have been spared for tanning purposes’ and that ‘the community would have been too strict to permit’ (Poole and Reed 1972: 151 –2) tanning, a conclusion clearly reached not by scientific investigation, as they only did tests in Ein Feshka, but by accepting the prevailing theory of a permanent sectarian community. Perhaps they should have stuck to their scientific guns and concluded that the limited water supply and the nature of the tanning process meant that it was unlikely that any ‘sectarian community’ ever lived at the site, and insisted that analyses were carried out on sediments at Qumran. (p. 54)

Glue  read more »

Qumran Not a Sectarian Community (Essene or Otherwise): Argument from Archaeology – #1

by Neil Godfrey
Fundamentally people will continue to accept an interpretation of the site that best satisfies their own psyche, although I hope that they will take into account my redating of its development. — David Stacey

I have frequently heard of doubts that the Qumran (the site of the Dead Sea Scrolls) consisted of Essenes or even of any sectarian community at all, but until today I have not taken time out to read some of the relevant studies. Today I have come across many arguments denying that Qumran was ever a long-term site for a religious community of any kind, and certainly not a monastic-type of sectarian one. Not even Essenes set up base there. So I’ll set out here a subsection of those arguments. I’ve been reading articles, papers and chapters that cried out for my attention directly and indirectly as a result Gregory Doudna’s 2014 conference paper, “Dating the Scroll Deposits of the Qumran Caves: A Question of Evidence” (published 2017 in the conference proceedings, The Caves of Qumran) — see the previous post — and what follows is taken from the chapter by archaeologist David Stacey in Qumran Revisited: A Reassessment of the Archaeology of the Site and its Texts, and that he has helpfully placed online at academia.

I set out here Stacey’s argument that is based entirely on the archaeological evidence without any reference to the contents of the scrolls. Of course some may object that this is not fair since the contents of the scrolls are also part of the archaeological finds and they, too, need to be taken into account. So if we read in the scrolls evidence that they were written by a sectarian community, one vehemently opposed to the Jerusalem Temple establishment, for instance, then that information cannot be ignored. Bear with me. By the time we have finished these posts we may be wondering if some of us have rather been reading stories of a sectarian and anti-priesthood community into, not in, the scrolls. One step at a time.

Compare Steve Mason, Josephus, Judea and Christian Origins, p. 240:

Such a circular method — we interpret Josephus’s statements about the Essenes in light of the DSS and then use the alleged parallels to prove the identity of the two groups — could not generate stable results.

David Stacey begins by noting the circularity of the argument that the Qumran site was a base for Essenes.

Concepts found in the sectarian literature of the scrolls, and in references to Essenes by various classical authors, were freely used to interpret aspects of the archaeology of Qumran, and these interpretations then used, in a circular argument, to ‘prove’ that the site was ‘religious in character, with special ritual observances of its own’ (de Vaux 1973: 87). (Stacey, p. 71. My own bolding and formatting in all quotations)

Stacey’s background as an archaeologist is in studying sites nearby Qumran (e.g. Jericho) from the same general period. His conclusion is that the Qumran site was for most of the two centuries either side of the BCE/CE dividing line a seasonally occupied malodorous site producing leather, glue and dyes for wool. It was deserted every summer when it became “unendurably hot” for both humans and flocks.

Not a very romantic picture, is it. Stacey better have some good arguments if we wants to shatter illusions of a scholarly community happily withdrawn from the outside world and dedicated to writing and studying scrolls.

The concept of a community of poor sectarians isolated in the desert and busily writing scrolls has some obvious appeal for scholars labouring in the ivory tower of academe, or for theologians sequestered within their own esoteric communities.

Furthermore it is the romantic, mystical aura that has been generated around Qumran that sells semi-popular books, fills lecture halls, and brings in the tourist, not the unremarkable ruins themselves.

Any indication that the site may have existed solely to play a small part in the local regional economy will be resisted as an altogether too mundane concept. (p. 71)


Not so isolated

The isolation of the site has been stressed by those who believe it was occupied by a monastic type of sect. For example on we read:

10 miles south of Jericho, Qumran was on a “dead-end street” and provided a perfect location for the isolationist sect of the Essenes to live.

Stacey suggests that the sense of isolation at the time of the discovery of the scrolls in nearby caves was magnified by the geo-political situation at the time:

The modern geo-political situation at the time of the excavations meant that Qumran was exaggeratedly isolated, being close to a border between hostile modern states. Although the actual border between Jordan and Israel was, until 1967, some kilometres to the south (to the north of Ein Gedi) the ruggedness of the terrain south of Ein Feshka meant that Qumran was very much a border post. When I hitch-hiked to Qumran in 1964 the only vehicles in the vicinity of Qumran were military, the few people one saw were soldiers, and there were signs warning of imminent mine fields further south. Similar warnings could be seen, I later noticed, on the other side of the border, immediately north of Nahal David in Ein Gedi. This apparent isolation at the time of the excavations added artificial weight to the concept of a secluded community that had been gleaned from both the sectarian scrolls and the classical authors. (p. 7)

Stacey discusses in detail the site’s administrative and economic links to Jericho and further, quoting a line from Yizhar Hirschfeld, writes:

Qumran was only one of several sites along the western littoral of the Dead Sea to be developed during the Hasmonean period, most probably by Jannaeus [103-76 BCE], who, eventually, gained control of land to the north-east of the Dead Sea where he established a fortress at Machaerus, c. 90 BCE (War  7.6.2). Harbour installations were built at Rujm el Bahr and at Qasr el-Yehud/Khirbet Mazin (Bar-Adon 1989) and a large structure at En el-Ghuweir was built (Bar-Adon 1977).37  Further south Ein Gedi continued to be a thriving settlement. Qumran was thus ‘a  veritable maelstrom of activity rather than an isolated ascetic site’ (Hirschfeld 2004b: 213).

Similar scenarios are depicted for the later Herodian period.

To give some background to that preceding quotation notice what the Qumran tower indicates.


The tower

Image from Virtual Qumran

read more »


Dead Sea Scrolls — All Well Before Christ and the First Jewish War

by Neil Godfrey

A paper presented last the Caves of Qumran 2014 conference at Lugano, Switzerland, by Gregory L. Doudna argues that

the traditional dating of the scroll deposits of the caves of Qumran to as late as the time of the First Revolt [66-70 CE] is supported by neither evidence nor plausibility. (Doudna 2017, p.238)

Doudna’s paper makes its case through the following steps:

  1. All historical references within the Dead Sea Scrolls pertain to the second and first centuries BCE; there are no allusions to any persons or events after Herod’s taking of Jerusalem in 38 BCE.
  2. The common view that on the basis of palaeography that the scrolls date up to the time of the first Jewish revolt against Rome has been based on circularity and flawed assumptions.
  3. Flawed assumptions about the contemporaneity of two classes of phenomena: “scroll jars and scroll deposits on the one hand, and first-century CE refugees or fugitives’ fleeting use of caves on the other.”
  4. Jars of the type that contained scrolls and palaeographic dates “provide no basis for confidence that those texts were first century CE.”
  5. Biblical texts found at sites other than Qumran, between Herod and the Jewish revolt, all contain carefully copied exact-Masoretic text type (i.e. were carefully and exactly copied in agreement with the basis of our Old Testament books) yet the Qumran biblical texts are varied in their copying (i.e. they followed no standard text). The simplest explanation is that the Qumran texts represent a pre-Herodian time when the text was not standardized.
Matthew 5:18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. (NIV)

That last (fifth) point surprised this amateur. I had not been aware of the evidence that the Masoretic (Hebrew) text of the “Old Testament” was stabilised so early. As Doudna remarks, on the assumption that the Gospel of Matthew was composed in the first century,

Once this is realised, no longer will the saying of Matt. 5:18 referring to iotas and keraias in the writing of scribes scrupulously copying the books of Moses with letter-perfect accuracy, and, alluding to the decorative keraias of the most developed formal hands, be regarded as anachronistic. Matt. 5:18 may become recognised as a realistic allusion to scribal practice and ideology before the destruction of the temple, yet postdating the latest texts of Qumran. (Doudna, p. 246)

Doudna suggests that the I would like to revisit some of my recent thoughts and posts arising from Eva Mroczek’s The Literary Imagination in Jewish Antiquity to consider whether this data has implications for some aspects of just how loose were the concepts of “sacred scriptures” and “canon” in the Second Temple era.

In this post I would like to take time to grasp Doudna’s first point about the historical references and allusions in the scrolls all pertaining to the pre-Christian era. With new ideas I’m a slow and painstaking learner so to help me grasp the point I followed up the following in Doudna’s paper:

A 2003 study of Michael Wise remains the most comprehensive attempt to inventory the historical allusions in the Qumran texts. Wise counted what he defined as “first-order” allusions, and not “second order” allusions (allusions that depend on the correctness of a prior allusion identification), which Wise suggested would have increased — perhaps doubled — the numbers if that were done. Wise counted 6 allusions in the second century BCE, rising dramatically to 25 in the first century BCE ending at 37 BCE. Then, 0 for the first century CE, 0 for second century CE, etc. Other studies have found this same pattern of distribution. (Doudna, p. 239)

Off to JSTOR to locate Wise’s article, then: “Dating the Teacher of Righteousness and the Floruit of his Movement,” JBL 122 (2003): 53-87.

Wise demonstrates the history of uncertain and contradictory results from paleographic dating and writes:

Paleographic dating is imprecise because it is inherently subjective. (Wise, p. 57)

There’s an entire post there just to draw out the substance of that claim. Wise further points out the evidence against the once popular idea that there was a single community of scribes responsible for the copying of all of the scrolls.

The presence of hundreds of different hands seems inexplicable unless the majority of the scrolls originated elsewhere than at Qumran. (Wise, p. 59)

The following table is a précis of Wise’s more detailed data:dead read more »


The Teacher of Righteousness and Understanding the Authority of Fiction

by Neil Godfrey

One of the books I am currently reading is The Literary Imagination in Jewish Antiquity by Eva Mroczek and I was intrigued by her discussion of how the scholarly community have debated the historicity of the “Teacher” who speaks powerfully of his experiences in the Thanksgiving Hymns of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Many scholars have identified the Teacher of Righteousness (otherwise known from the Damascus Document) as the author of these hymns. Notice, for instance, the introduction to the Thanksgiving Hymns by Wise, Abegg and Cook:

The intensely personal tone of the songs known commonly as Thanksgiving Hymns stands in sharp contrast with the rest of the scrolls. The author speaks of himself in the first person and recounts an agonizing history of persecution at the hands of those opposed to his ministry. In addition, the writer describes having received an empowering spirit granting him special insight into God’s will (1QH3 4:38), opening his ears to wonderful divine mysteries (9:23), using him as a channel of God’s works (12:9), and fashioning him as a mouthpiece for God’s words (16:17). Indeed, in col. 26, he claims that no one compares with him, because his office is among the heavenly beings. These are bold affirmations for any leader, reminiscent of various messianic claimants of both ancient and more recent history.

The unique personal presentation of the work and the self-conscious divine mission of the author have led many researchers to conclude that the psalms were written by the Teacher of Righteousness himself. Some students have attempted a more refined analysis in order to isolate “true” Teacher psalms at the center of the collection (cols. 10—16 according to one, 13—16 in the eyes of another; see Hymns 10—13,15—20,23), noting that the themes of personal distress and affliction as well as the claim of being the recipient or mediator of revelation are especially strong here. Only one thing is sure: the debate will continue.

Michael Wise, Martin Abegg Jr, and Edward Cook, The Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Translation, 2005. pp. 170-71.

Eva Mroczek is writing about literary/philosophical character of Ben Sirach and finds a parallel with the Teacher of Righteousness who is sometimes said to be the author of the Thanksgiving Hymns among the Dead Sea Scrolls. From pages 98 and 99:

Another example of such a rhetorical strategy is the so-called Teacher Hymns in cols. 10-17 of the Hodayot or Thanksgiving Hymns from Qumran. These first-person compositions have been read by some Qumran scholars32 as the ipsissima verba of the Teacher of Righteousness, an enigmatic figure who appears as a founder and leader of the sectarian community in some Qumran texts. The hymns, then, were imagined to be the creative autobiographical work of this putative individual, and were mined for information about this mysterious figure’s life. For example, Michael Wise has extracted from these hymns not only data about the Teacher’s life, persecution, and exile but also insights into his spiritual life—and even his name.33

But over time, as Max Grossman has shown, scholars began to question the idea that the Teacher of Righteousness is the “author” of these texts—that this figure is a historically locatable individual who can be imagined as an individual creator of the textual products of the Qumran community.34 With regard to the poetic Thanksgiving Hymns, it is doubtful that they can be used to reconstruct the historical and interior life of a specific individual. An excellent critique of the tendency to read the Hodayot as autobiography comes from Angela Harkins,35 who argues that such a reading is rooted in Romantic ideas of individual authorship that are foreign to Jewish antiquity. . . . 

But no specific historical figure can be reconstructed from poetic hymns: they use familiar images and literary tropes, including first-person references to suffering and persecution that are not to be understood as biographical accounts of specific historical experiences. The “I” of the hymns can, instead, be understood in other ways . . . . The first-person voice is perhaps representative of the “office” of an inspired community leader and the ideal, exemplary teacher, rather than reflective of a specific historical personality.37 Or, as Harkins suggests, it is a “rhetorical persona” to be actualized by the reader in ritual performance: the reader embodies the “I,” and the text becomes an “affective script for the reader to reenact.”38

Okay, time to check out some of those end-notes. read more »


The Messiah in the Dead Sea Scrolls — how like the Gospel Messiah

by Neil Godfrey

DSS fragment photographed by myself

Corrected and updated -- Neil Godfrey, 1:15 pm 30th July 2011 

Comment by Steven Carr — 2011/07/29

It is interesting to see how mainstream scholars are edging towards mythicist ideas.

‘The old idea that exalted epithets such as “Son of God” or “Son of the Most High” applied to Jesus reflect Greco-Roman thinking, rather than Jewish thinking, has been seriously challenged by the Aramaic fragment, 4Q246, in which an eschatological figure is described with these very terms. Moreover, the idea of a Messiah figure, whose appearance brings healing, resurrection of the dead, and good news for the poor—concepts that define the identity and ministry of Jesus—is now attested in 4Q521. Indeed, the idea of a figure who acts in the very place of Yahweh himself, in fulfillment of Isaiah 61 and an expected eschatological jubilee, is attested in 11QMelchizedek.’

Curiously James McGrath claims all Messiah figures were expected to be conquering kings.** (Note by Neil: McGrath has clarified that he is only referring to “Davidic Messiahs” and he does not dispute that there were other messianic notions among the Jews.)

And Mike Wilson is adamant that no Jew could have thought of a figure acting in the very place of Yahweh himself (unless that figure was a crucified criminal, if I understand Mike correctly. )

It is interesting that mainstream scholars claim that mythical eschatological figures, people who never actually existed, are described in the same terms applied to Jesus.

The texts are available online, but for easy reference I copy the relevant ones here, with links to the site sourced:


“[X] shall be great upon the earth. [O King all (people) shall] make [peace], and all shall serve [Him. He shall be called the Son of] the [G]reat [God], and by His Name shall He be hailed (as) the Son of God, and they shall call Him Son of the Most High like a shooting star.”

4Q521 read more »