Do the Dead Sea Scrolls Invalidate a Hellenistic Origin of the Hebrew Books of the Bible?

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by Neil Godfrey

I am posting here on my blog what I had posted in the “Academic Discussion” of the EarlyWritings Biblical Criticism & History Forum and I hope soon to post specific criticisms or responses that were made in that space. I am collating both those criticisms and my own responses as far as I can find them to make them all accessible here. The reason for doing this is that on that forum some of my comments were removed (without notifying me) to other places outside the Academic Discussion area and replies made to them without my being aware of what was going on. To the extent I have tracked those down I will post them here. (I may have more to say about the range of discussion that is permitted on that forum — and enforced by means of ridicule and insult directed at those who dare to question the fundamentals of core biblical studies models and methods.) I will, of course, also be posting other scholarly arguments that have been used to date the books of the Hebrew Bible to the Persian period and earlier.

Here is one of the earlier criticisms. It is from Stephen Goranson:

My reply (originally posted on the earlywritings forum):

Michael Langlois has the scholarly professionalism to acknowledge when others have interpretations that differ from his own, noting what is possible outside his own preferences and where another specialist has disagreed with him.

He writes in relation to 4Q46 (p. 270):

4Q46 would thus be at home in the fifth or fourth centuries BCE; an earlier date is not impossible but lacks clear parallels, whereas a date in the third century is possible but unnecessary.

In relation to 4Q12: (p. 271):

. . . would also be at home in the fifth or fourth centuries BCE, perhaps in the third century should the development of the script be slow. McLean dates 4Q12 to the “middle of the second century” BCE; 64 such a late date is unnecessary.

On 2Q5 (p. 271)

. . . this manuscript could be at home in the fourth or third centuries. McLean dates it to ca. “150 to 75 BCE” 65 which seems unnecessarily late.

On 6Q2 (p. 271)

Overall, 6Q2 may also have been copied around the fourth or third centuries BCE. McLean acknowledges the affinities between 6Q2 and 2Q5 and ascribes them both the same unnecessarily late date between 150 and 75 BCE.

On the 1Q3 fragments (p. 272)

Although a date in the fourth century is possible, 1Q3 is probably more at home in the third century, like 4Q11. McLeanʼs dating between “150 to 75 BCE” 67 is, once again, probably late, while Birnbaumʼs dating “ca. 440 B.C.E.” 68 is too early, flawed by his methodology.

And on the 6Q1 fragments (p. 272)

… may have been copied around the third century BCE. McLean dates 4Q101 “between 225 and 150 BCE,” 69 and 6Q1 and 4Q123 to the “last half of the second century” BCE 70 ; these ranges are possible but too narrow and a bit late.

  • Langlois, Michael. “Dead Sea Scrolls Palaeography and the Samaritan Pentateuch.” In The Samaritan Pentateuch and the Dead Sea Scrolls, edited by Michaël Langlois, 255–85. Contributions to Biblical Exegesis and Theology 94. Leuven ; Bristol, CT: Peeters, 2019.

As has been noted elsewhere [in earlier discussions on the Early Writings Forum], Langlois “does not point to any palaeographic feature that positively indicates a 5th or 4th century as opposed to third century BCE date”.



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6 thoughts on “Do the Dead Sea Scrolls Invalidate a Hellenistic Origin of the Hebrew Books of the Bible?”

  1. It is worth saying another word of appreciation here, as I have in the past, for Neil’s blog. His exploration, with copious reference to relevant scholarship, of what he has been calling the Hellenistic era hypothesis has been most valuable in bringing wider attention to the subject. Closely related hypotheses have of course been explored already in scholarly work of no small merit. This discussion must not only be taken seriously, but the hypotheses themselves may well have a claim to being the best explanation of the available evidence.

    If there is anything that I need to clear up, ask me anything.

    1. Yes. Do you have other “aliases” that relate in any way at all to how persons related to the “Hellenistic era hypothesis” measure up? Be honest and up-front and truthful.

  2. Neil, I read the Langlois article. He makes a case for possibility of paleohebrew Qumran texts dated earlier than Cross, etc. have considered them, but so far as I can see that is as strong as it gets–a case for unverified possibility. You are completely correct that one cannot cite the possibility of future evidence, that does not now exist, as an objection to the substantial arguments that have published for a 3rd century CE date of composition of the Pentateuchal texts in their familiar form.

    The good thing about Langlois’s argument is it is testable and falsifiable, through radiocarbon dating: simply radiocarbon date the ca. 4 paleohebrew texts Langlois considers good candidates for ca. 5th-4th or 4th-3rd BCE dates, and find out.

    The existing radiocarbon data on Qumran texts establishes (a) there were 2nd BCE text copy dates; (b) there were 1st BCE text copy dates; and (c) there may or may not be 1st CE text copy dates. That is, two centuries certain and one century possible but uncertain, judging on published radiocarbon dating grounds alone. There is not yet any establishment of any Qumran text copy date earlier than 2nd BCE from radiocarbon data properly interpreted and understood.

    At times Langlois seems to want to suggest a schematic in which paleohebrew script was replaced (in chronological succession) by the use of Aramaic script, and yet that will not work as a schematic (and Langlois does not press the matter), since radiocarbon datings in fact show Qumran texts in paleohebrew contemporary with Qumran texts in Aramaic script; plus, evidence of coins and the Samaritan texts shows paleohebrew continued in use, just not by everyone.

    It seems to me that all of the remaining Qumran texts which have not been radiocarbon dated are likely to be in the same 2nd-1st BCE date range as the ones which have been sampled for dating, in agreement with the overwhelming number of accepted known dates for Qumran texts in the 2nd and 1st BCE, and that the Qumran texts represent pluralism in collection of texts from diverse contemporary sources, scribes, languages, and choice of script to write Hebrew texts.

    The default assumption would be that this would hold true for the palaeohebrew texts among the Qumran finds too, e.g. a default hypothesis that the typologically most developed paleohebrew Qumran texts will be ca. 1st BCE, and the typologically earlier paleohebrew Qumran texts will be ca. 2nd BCE before the typological developments represented in the typologically later Qumran paleohebrew texts.

    Langlois suggests those typological developments in paleohebrew (and obsolescence of the earlier traits) seen in Qumran paleohebrew texts could have occurred centuries earlier than previously supposed, which is good as a suggestion and a good research question answerable by radiocarbon dating, but does not constitute any kind of actual negative argument toward the hypothesis of 3rd century BCE composition of biblical texts in the form in which they are known in the Qumran finds.

    Langlois does attempt to make the point that, while acknowledging an overlap of paleohebrew and Aramaic script in the Qumran texts in the 2nd and 1st BCE, Langlois says for the 1st CE there are only Qumran texts in Aramaic script, and none in paleohebrew (Langlois also seems to question whether Qumran texts were being produced in the 1st BCE as well, though this point is ambiguous on radiocarbon grounds and there is no good positive reason to assume no 1st BCE Qumran paleohebrew texts).

    (On the 1st CE point, here all I can do is refer to my own publication on this point in which I make the argument there are no 1st CE dates of copies of ANY literary texts in the Qumran cave finds, that is, post-Herod the Great. I believe the majority of my colleagues in the Qumran field who have long thought so and have seen the First Jewish Revolt as the cause or impetus for the Qumran texts going into the caves, etc. have been mistaken on that point. For my argument on this see my 2017 article in a Lugano Qumran Caves conference volume, 4th down from the top at http://www.scrollery.com.)

    As noted, the late Prof. Cross, the regnant authority on paleographic dating in North America, and his students with positions of their own, seem to all have judged all Qumran texts in paleohebrew to share the same date range as the other Qumran texts, e.g. none earlier than ca. mid- or late-3rd BCE at the earliest. Cross judged only 3 of Qumran’s 900+ texts to be as early as 3rd BCE, and to date no Qumran text as early as 3rd BCE has yet been established from published radiocarbon dating, though it is also only fair to say none of the 3 believed 3rd BCE by Cross has yet been dated by radiocarbon in any published or reported form (to my knowledge).

    I believe the leading epigrapher in North America at this time in terms of publications and reputation may be Prof. Christopher Rollston at George Washington University, with whom I have been in friendly contact in the past. I have reached out to Prof. Rollston soliciting his opinion on the Langlois argument for the possibility of four Qumran paleohebrew texts named by Langlois as possible 5th-4th or 4th-3rd BCE dates. If and when I receive his answer and it is in a form suitable for quotation with his permission, I will report it here.

    In my opinion your discussions and analyses of the hellenistic era construction, of the work of Gmirkin and others, are outstanding and well-reasoned. I believe the hellenistic era context for the production of the types and genres of flourishing literature found in the Qumran biblical and parabiblical texts makes excellent sense. I agree with your point that the arguments raised in opposition to the basic notion of an emergence of the biblical Primary History texts (Gen-Kings) in the ca. 3rd century BCE–perhaps produced using the resources of what was then the world’s center of learning, the Great Library of Alexandria, as Gmirkin has developed–indeed are largely if not entirely circular in nature. Thanks for the work you put into this site and the thoughtful discussions!

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