Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Dating the Dead Sea Scrolls

In an email last week, Stephen Goranson encouraged me to defend more rigorously my comment that the Dead Sea Scrolls were largely confined to the first century BCE (see here). I referred him to pp. 26-32 of the book I co-authored with Mike Wise and Marty Abegg, The Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Translation (1996), which sets forth some of these reasons. But I will take this opportunity to review the evidence more publicly.

First, I need to say that that section of our introduction is almost wholly the work of Wise and myself. Marty Abegg is no doubt weary of telling people informally that his own views are closer to the "Standard Model" that Wise and I criticized! Let this be a lesson to all of you: if you co-author with two other guys, you might be out-voted on occasion.

Second, even between Wise and me, there are differences. Mike has a well-thought-out theory about the Teacher of Righteousness, captured in his later book The First Messiah, that I happen to disagree with. But one should not retroject this theory of Wise's back into the introduction to Wise-Abegg-Cook. Goranson wrote in a post to the Megillot e-list that "they [Wise-Abegg-Cook] write that the teacher was active in the late second century ... Judah the Essene." The complex of ideas surrounding "Judah the Essene" is Wise's, from his later book. And what we wrote was "the Teacher of Righteousness began his ministry late in the 2nd or early in the 1st century BCE, perhaps during the reign of Alexander." And this is, in any case, very different from conceding that the DSS date from the second century.

That having been said, let me now lay out, schematically, what a defense of a first-century BCE theory looks like. A full defense would take a book; maybe someday there will be one.

1. Archaeology. If you grant that the Kh. Qumran site is connected to the DSS (as I believe), then there is little evidence for occupation before the 1st cent. BCE. Jodi Magness says, "I do not believe that de Vaux's Period Ia existed, or that the sectarian settlement at Qumran was established before the first century BCE" (In The DSS After 50 Years, Vol. 1, p. 65).

2. Paleography/Carbon 14. The majority of the DSS are dated paleographically to the first cent. BCE. It is questionable whether the dating of some to the first century CE can be sustained, even paleographically. On Greg Doudna's interpretation of the Carbon 14 data, "the first century CE disappears from Qumran's textual horizon" (In The DSS After 50 Years, Vol. 1, p. 464). In any case, are there any sectarian texts that date paleographically after the 1st century BCE?

Therefore, there is evidence (I do not say demonstrative or probative evidence, but evidence) outside the wording of the texts themselves to suggest a 1st cent. BCE date for the DSS. When you look at the world within the texts, the evidence mounts.

3. Most named historical figures (Demetrius, Jannaeus, Aemilius, etc.) come from the 1st cent. BCE. Those from the 2nd century appear alongside figures dated to the 1st century BCE (e.g. Antiochus Epiphanes appears in 4QpNahum with Demetrius [III] of the first century; in 4Q331, Yohanan [Hyrcanus, if this identification is correct] is mentioned with Shelamzion [Salome Alexandra].)

4. In the pesharim that speak of the Romans, their appearance is imminent, but still future. The Romans entered Palestine to stay in 63 BCE.

5. The Nahum commentary speaks of the "dominion of the Flattery-Seekers" (the Pharisees) as a present reality. The Pharisees were dominant after the rule of Jannaeus.

6. 4Q448 speaks favorably of Jannaeus; this disqualifies any theory that places the origin of the sect in a dispute over the legitimacy of the Hasmonean high-priesthood. All criticism of the temple administration in the scrolls focuses on purity, not lineage.

7. In Judea of the 1st century BCE, after Jannaeus, politics and religion were dominated by the conflict between Pharisees and Sadducees. One either took sides in this conflict or else condemned oneself to irrelevancy and powerlessness. It seems clear that the DSS sect took the side of the Sadducees (they were pro-Jannaeus, anti-Pharisee, and, according to some, 4QMMT has links to Sadducean halakha); that meant, I assume, that they opposed Hyrcanus II. This Hyrcanus, we believe, best fulfills the role of Wicked Priest.

There's plenty of room for discussion. But these are the principal reasons, in outline, that led Wise and me to favor a 1st cent. BCE Sitz im Leben for the DSS.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: A more thorough recent defense of the first century BCE theory can be found in Wise's article "Dating the Teacher of Righteousness and the Floruit of His Movement," in Journal of Biblical Literature 122 (2003): 53-87.

UPDATE: Kind words from The Coding Humanist; thank you!


Anonymous said...

Hello, Ed. I like your blog. Thanks for your comments. I have responded on g-megillot list, with some agreements and disagreements. If anyone is interested in reading more on this, here's the information page URL for megillot list. It provides information on joining the list and gives 2 links to the list archives, which non-members can read:

Stephen Goranson
Perkins Library
Duke U.

Dierk van den Berg said...

Ed wrote:
2. [snip] In any case, are there any sectarian texts that date paleographically after the 1st century BCE?

The following 'sectarian' fragments might be worth considering:

_ 4Q180 = 4Q Ages (of) Creat(ion)_DJD V, pp. 77-79, pl. xxvii
_ 4Q268 = 4QD(c)_ Wacholder/Abegg_Prel. Ed., Fasc. I, 1991 pp. 1-2
_ 4Q271 = 4QD(f)_ ibid., pp.48-53
_ 5Q10 = 5QpMal(?)_DJD III, p.180, pl.xxxviii
_ 5Q11 = 5QS_DJD III, pp. 191ff, pl. xxxviii
_ 6Q15 = 6QD_DJD III, pp. 128-131, pl.xxvi
_11Q17 = 11QShirShab_Newsom, C._Songs_1985, pp.361-367 (?)
_11Q19A (col ii.v) = 11QTR_Yadin, Y._ Megillat ha-Miqdash, I-III, 1983

tot ziens,
Dierk van den Berg
KU Nijmegen (NL)

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