A Change of Hand (updated)

Posted by admin on June 29, 2007

Two Scribal Hands

Mariame and Mara



Documentary vs Cursive Greek Script under the microscope

Squared or triangular letter forms vs looped or looping letter forms

2 to 4 stroke letter forms vs 1 to 2 stroke letter forms


The Letter Mu

mariame-mw.jpg mara-mw.jpg

four strokes . . . two strokes (≠)

The letter Alpha


mariame-aw.jpg mara-aw.jpg

two strokes . . . one stroke (≠)

Note the relative widths of the double grooved cut in the upper diagonal strokes. As elsewhere, the tip of tool of the first hand is not more than 85% of the width of the second hand.


The Letter Rho


mariame-rw.jpg mara-rw.jpg

two strokes = two strokes (but different style)


The Letter Iota


mariame-i.jpg kai-mara-iw.jpg

one stroke = one stroke (but deeper tool)

(This is a V-shaped groove that is made by leaning the tool to the right and using one of the tines of the forked tip to cut deeply into the surface. Note the secondary groove along the edge of each incision, near the upper surface. The comparative widths of the secondary groove represents the relative lengths of the left tine of the bifurcated tip of each tool.)


The Letter Alpha (second occurrence)


mariame-a2w.jpg mara-a2w.jpg

two strokes . . . one stroke (≠)

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Inside the IAA storerooms

Posted by admin on June 27, 2007


Cox, Pfann, assistant, Greenspan, Raviv


Pfann, Gorski, Greenblatt viewing Mariame kai Mara inscriptionshemesh-3.jpg

Raviv, Pfann, Greenspan, assistant, Cox cleaning ossuary of "Jesus son of Josef"beth-semesh-5.jpg

Greenspan cleaning test patch on ossuary.


Raviv and Cox examine test patch.

Beth Shemesh

Posted by admin on June 25, 2007

On Thursday, June 21, 2007 our UHL technical staff visited the IAA storage facilities at Beth Shemesh to examine and photograph four of the inscribed ossuaries from the Talpiot Tomb. On hand were:

Stephen J. Pfann, Ph.D, Epigrapher, Director of Imaging Project

Steven Cox, M.S., Forensic Scientist

Stephen Pfann, Jr., B.A., Digital Imaging

Azriel Gorski, Ph.D. Forensic Scientist

Ari Greenspan, D.M.D. Technical Cleaning Expert.

Oded Raviv, Ph.D., Conservator, Israel Antiquities Authority

The objectives of the visit were:

1) to examine, clean and digitally image the so-called Yeshua bar Yehosef inscription under an Olympus stereoptic microscope.

2) to produce close-up digital images of the four inscriptions with a Canon Digital Rebel with a macro lens.

The goal was to identify and distinguish the various types of tools that were used to inscribe the names on these ossuaries. Initial results of images which were shot of the Mariame kai Mara inscription confirmed the preliminary report.

Below is the first image produced from the trip. Other images will be made available over the next few days and weeks.

The tools.

Two separate tools were utilized to engrave the two parts of the inscription. Both iron tools were equipped with a pointed, bifurcated tip. The width of the tip of the instrument utilized in the second part of the inscription appears to be slightly (10-15%) wider than that used in the first part of the inscription.

The scratch/signum: The scratch between the "kai" and the "Mara" was not produced by either of the tools; thus it appears to be accidental. NOTE BELOW THAT THE DOWNSTROKE OF THE LETTERS "I" AND "M" ARE DEEP AND WIDE WITH A LEDGE ON THE RIGHT. HOWEVER, THE SCRATCH THAT IS SITUATED BETWEEN THEM IS IRREGULAR IN WIDTH AND IS NOT AT ALL DEEP.



Subsequent Use of Tithe and Archive Jars

The possibility of a subsequent use of the jars for commodities other than the tithe (such as scrolls) is noted in Mishnah Ma‘aser Sheni IV.11: “Even if a jar was found which was full of produce and on it was written ‘Terumah’, it may yet be considered common produce, because I may assume that last year it was full of produce of heave-offering and was afterward emptied.” This helps to explain why jars that were originally produced to contain priestly tithes might subsequently be buried in the floor or used to carry scrolls. Halakhic purity, necessary for their original function of containing tithes, rendered them likewise suitable for transporting or hiding sacred scrolls (in particular those containing the Divine Name), as long as the purity of the jars was preserved.

Evidence from the Copper Scroll

The term kley dema‘ is mentioned several times in the Copper Scroll. DM‘ is found alone in 3Q15 i 10 and 4QHalakah 5,3. The phrase kley dema‘, designating tithes of herbs and wood, occurs in 3Q15 i 9, iii 9, viii 3; xi 1, xi 4 (2x), xi 10 (2x), xi 14 (2x) and, designating vessels which were wrought of silver and gold, occurs in 3Q15 iii 3, xii 7. The collective phrase k’lyn shel dm‘ is found in 3Q15 v 7. In the Copper Scroll kley dema‘ evidently refers, then, to a specific form of jar associated with the collecting and storing of goods associated with priestly portions.

Dema‘ in other Jewish sources designates tithes in general. In Rabbinic literature the terms terumah and dema‘ are used interchangeably. Cf. YalkEx 351: ‘Terumah has three names: reshit , terumah , and dema‘ .’ Bet dema‘ designates a place in a barn set aside for the terumah.

In the Copper Scroll, no scrolls were listed as being hidden with these jars. The single scroll mentioned in the Copper Scroll as being hidden within a jar is hidden in a qll (3Q15 vi 4-5), not in a kliy dema‘. In references where tithe jars are mentioned along with their contents, they are said to contain products subject to the tithe (generally herbs; cf. 3Q15 xi 1, 4 [2x], 10 [2x], and 14 [2x]. Even when the contents are not explicitly mentioned, the contents, or the jars themselves, are implied as being part of the tithe (3Q15 i 9-10, v 6-7). (Cf. 3Q15 V 6-7 c’lyn dm‘ wctbn ’tslm “Tithe vessels and their accounts with them” seems to indicate that written records would accompany each jar, and denote its contents and their amounts.) This is also the case where gold or silver tithe vessels (or vessels for the tithe) are mentioned. (3Q15 iii 3, xii 7 Kly csf w[cly] zhb shl dm‘). This would make the jars themselves have inherent value, for monetary reasons in the case of silver and gold vessels, and because of their function within the priestly sphere in the case of clay vessels.

(Cf. Mishnah Ma‘aser Sheni IV.10: “If a vessel was found on which was written ‘qorban’, R. Judah says if it was of earthenware, it is itself common and what is in it is Qorban. But if it was of metal it is itself Qorban and what is in it is common. But they said unto him: it is not the custom of people to put what is common into what is Qorban.”)


Are these rather unique jars, then, scroll jars, tithe jars, or both? Based on the foregoing, it would seem that most, if not all, of the tall jars were indeed originally intended to be used by the Levites as tithe jars to gather and transport tithed produce and are described as kly dm‘ in the Copper Scroll. Certain of the shorter cylindrical jars with small handles from Qumran may have been manufactured specifically to contain archival documents. However, since there are also tall jars with small loop handles and short jars without handles, the combination mentioned above may be somewhat coincidental. Of the varieties found at Qumran, the shorter jars with small loop handles, as archive jars, would have been best suited for the purpose of transporting and hiding scrolls, even if their original use had been to contain archival documents. While most cylindrical jars might have been tithe jars, they were certainly not all intended to be scroll jars. A few might have been used as scroll jars though it is unlikely that that was their intended use at their time of manufacture.

To sum up, I would like to use an image from contemporary life to help illustrate the point: One might choose to store buttons in an empty cookie jar, in which case the owner might decide to call the jar a ‘button jar’ because of its contents. However, once the buttons are emptied out, the form of the jar will still be a cookie jar.

Priestly Tithe Jars of Qumran and Masada

Posted by admin on June 23, 2007

Specialty jars of Qumran and Masada

As noted in earlier postings, a number of factors suggest that the vast majority of cylindrical jars were not intended for the storage of literary or Biblical scrolls. These include (1) the small percentage of scrolls that had actually been stored in jars, (2) the presence of jars set into the ground at Kh. Qumran for purposes other than scroll storage, and (3) the discrepancy in height and width between the jars and the scrolls.

What then was the intended use of the cylindrical jars of Qumran at the time of their manufacture?

The Original Purpose of the Jars

A significant clue as to the intended use of these jars lies in one example from Qumran Cave 3 (= Survey Cave 8). Jar no. 10 had the letter tet incised into the neck and shoulder before it was fired, indicating that it was manufactured to be a tithe vessel.


The practice of inscribing letters onto jars set aside for priestly tithes and offerings is described in the Tannaitic literature. Cf., e.g., Mishnah Ma‘aser Sheni IV.11:

“If a vessel was found on which was written a qof, it is ‘Qorban’; if a mem, it is ‘Ma‘aser’; if a dalet, it is ‘Demai’; it a tet, it is ‘Tevel’; if a taw, it is ‘Terumah’.”

The use of the names or letters was to distinguish jars related to the tithe for various uses. The practice of placing a taw or tet on the shoulders of standard storage jars to indicate that its contents were either for the terumah (priestly tithe from produce) or tevel is attested at Masada on standard storage jars which otherwise bear no distinctive features.




At Qumran, the system was less complex. The inclusive phrase keley dema' was used to designate the jars used for the general terumah. The distinctive and rather uniform shape of the tithe jars from Qumran would have rendered the taw mark of terumah unnecessary as a distinguishing feature. The only instances where a mark would have been of use were those in which the jar was intended for another, more specific purpose, e.g., to contain food products that were tevel, as in the case of Jar no. 10 from Cave 3.

In order to ensure the purity of a jar and its contents for priestly consumption at a standard acceptable to the Qumran community, special jars and lids were made that would be designated solely for priestly tithes. Jars were manufactured which were large enough to contain at least one, two, or three seahs of produce (approximately 15, 30, or 45 liters, respectively; cf. chart). The jars were generally made without loop handles. They were carried in the arms, hugged close to the chest (cf. e.g., the picture of John Allegro clutching such a jar). This method of carrying was intended to protect the jar against possible nicking or breakage, which would render it, and its contents, halakhically unclean and unfit for priestly use or consumption.


The mouths of these jars were sufficiently wide to allow the filling and extraction of dry produce with measuring cups (perhaps of stone), without nicking the rim or spilling the contents. Lids which were wide enough to enclose the rim needed to be affixed to the jar in order to prevent impure items from falling in. In many specimens, the lid was tied down to two or three pierced ledge handles on the jar’s shoulders (cf. earlier posting). The lids were also made of kiln-hardened clay so that the jar could be opened and closed numerous times without the risk of disintegration (as would happen with the more commonly used and smaller clay jar stoppers).


S. Pfann, ‘Scroll Jars, Tithe Jars, or Both?’ Proceedings of the Manchester Copper Scroll Conference, edited by George J. Brooke and Phillip R. Davies. JSP Supp. Sheffield Academic Press (2002).

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The Zealots of Masada?

Posted by admin on June 23, 2007

Troubles in defining a "Zealot"

Although the word "zealot" has been applied loosely to many fanatical rebels from Phineas, to Mattitiah the Maccabee, to Simon the "zealot" and to all of the insurgents of the First and Second Revolts, these are not to be confused with the political group known as the "Zealots" (note upper case "Z"), which defended the temple building in Jerusalem during the First Revolt. Josephus distinguishes at least five groups who were among the rebels (which he also called "robbers"):

1) The Sicarii (connected finally with the siege of Masada) commanded by Eleazar ben Yair.

2) The Zealots (protectors of the central Temple building), finally under the brothers Simon and Yehudah ben Yair.

3) John of Gischala and his followers (from Gush Halav, controlled mainly the outer Temple precinct and surrounding districts, and eventually the Temple building itself).

4) Simon bar Giora and followers (from Jerash; during 68, Simon and his followers were forced to take up refuge at Masada as guests of the Sicarii. They endeavored to control most of Judea and the remainder of Jerusalem.)

5) The Idumeans (a mercenary contingent that encamped outside the walls of Jerusalem).


6) The Jerusalem priestly aristocracy, not mentioned as such by Josephus, nevertheless controlled especially the country-wide extent of the Revolt. They minted their own coins and controlled the regional commanders of the Revolt at least until 68 CE.

Concerning Masada, the main paragraph in Josephus that identifies the group which controlled Masada:


War.7.8.1. (252) When Bassus was dead in Judea, Flavius Silva succeeded him as procurator there; who, when he saw that all the rest of the country was subdued in this war, and that there was but one only stronghold that was still in rebellion, he got all his army together that lay in different places, and made an expedition against it. This fortress was called Masada. (253)It was one Eleazar, a potent man, and the commander of these Sicarii, that had seized upon it. He was a descendant from that Judas who had persuaded abundance of the Jews, as we have formerly related, not to submit to the taxation when Cyrenius was sent into Judea to make one; (254) for then it was that the Sicarii got together against those that were willing to submit to the Romans, and treated them in all respects as if they had been their enemies, both by plundering them of what they had, by driving away their cattle, and by setting fire to their houses: (255) for they said that they differed not at all from foreigners, by betraying, in so cowardly a manner, that freedom which Jews thought worthy to be contended for to the utmost, and by owning that they preferred slavery under the Romans before such a contention. (256) Now this was in reality no better than a pretense and a cloak for the barbarity which was made use of by them, and to color over their own avarice, which they afterwards made evident by their own actions; (257) for those that were partners with them in their rebellion joined also with them in the war against the Romans, and went farther lengths with them in their impudent undertakings against them; (258) and when they were again convicted of dissembling in such their pretenses, they still more abused those that justly reproached them for their wickedness; (259) and indeed that was a time most fertile in all manner of wicked practices, insomuch that no kind of evil deeds were then left undone; nor could any one so much as devise any bad thing that was new, (260) so deeply were they all infected, and strove with one another in their single capacity, and in their communities, who should run the greatest lengths in impiety towards God, and in unjust actions towards towards their neighbors, the men of power oppressing the multitude and the multitude earnestly laboring to destroy the men of power. (261) The one part were desirous of tyrannizing over others; and the rest of offering violence to others, and of plundering such as were richer than themselves. (262) They were the Sicarii who first began these transgressions, and first became barbarous towards those allied to them, and left no words of reproach unsaid, and no works of perdition untried, in order to destroy those whom their contrivances affected. (263) Yet did John demonstrate by his actions that these Sicarii were more moderate than he was himself; for he not only slew such as gave him good counsel to do what was right, but treated them worst of all, as the most bitter enemies that he had among all the citizens: nay, he filled his entire country with ten thousand instances of wickedness, such as a man who was already hardened sufficiently in his impiety towards God would naturally do; (264) for the food was unlawful that was set upon this table, and he rejected those purifications that the law of his country had ordained; so that it was no longer a wonder if he, who was so mad in his impiety towards God, did not observe any rules of gentleness and common affection towards men. (265) Again, therefore, what mischief was there which Simon the son of Gioras did not do? Or what kind of abuses did he abstain from as to those very free men who had sent him up for a tyrant? (266) What friendship or kindred were there that did not make him more bold in his daily murders? For they looked upon the doing of mischief to strangers only as a work beneath their courage, but thought their barbarity towards their nearest relations would be a glorious demonstration thereof. (267) The Idumeans also strove with these men who should be guilty of the greatest madness! for they [all], vile wretches as they were, cut the throats of the high priests, that so no part of a religious regard to God might be preserved; they thence proceeded to destroy utterly the least remains of a political government, (268) and introduced the most complete scene of iniquity in all instances that were practicable; under which scene that sort of people that were called Zealots grew up, and who indeed corresponded to the name, (269) for they imitated every wicked work; nor, if their memory suggested any evil thing that had formerly been done, did they avoid zealously to pursue the same; (270) and although they gave themselves that name from their zeal for what was good, yet did it agree to them only by way of irony, on account of those they had unjustly treated by their wild and brutish disposition, or as thinking the greatest mischiefs to be the greatest good. (271) Accordingly, they all met with such ends as God deservedly brought upon them in way of punishment; (272) for all such miseries have been sent upon them as man’s nature is capable of undergoing, till the utmost period of their lives, and till death came upon them in various ways of torment: (273) yet might one say justly that they suffered less than they had done, because it was impossible they could be punished according to their deserving: (274) but to make a lamentation according to the deserts of those who fell under these men’s barbarity, this is not a proper place for it:—I therefore now return again to the remaining part of the present narration.

The Non-Jews of Masada?

Posted by admin on June 22, 2007

New theory challenges Masada account (Excerpt from Jerusalem Post version)

"An Israeli anthropologist is using modern forensics and an obscure Biblical passage to challenge the accepted wisdom about mysterious human remains found at Masada, the desert fortress famous as the scene of a mass suicide nearly 2,000 years ago.

A new research paper published Friday takes another look at the remains of three people found in a bathhouse at the site - two male skeletons and a full head of women's hair, including two braids. They were long thought to have belonged to a family of Zealots, the fanatic Jewish rebels said to have killed themselves rather than fall into Roman slavery in the spring of 73 CE, a story that became an important part of Israel's national mythology.

Along with other bodies found at Masada, the three were recognized as Jewish heroes by Israel's government in 1969 and given a state burial, complete with Israeli soldiers carrying flag-draped coffins.

But Israel might have mistakenly bestowed that posthumous honor on three Romans, according to a paper in the June issue of the journal Near Eastern Archaeology by anthropologist Joe Zias and forensics expert Azriel Gorski.

The remains of the three became a key part of the site's story when Masada was excavated in the 1960s. Yigael Yadin, the renowned Israeli archaeologist in charge of the dig, thought they illustrated the historical account of Zealot men killing their wives and children and then themselves before the Roman legionnaires breached Masada's defenses.

Upon finding the remains, the crew "relived the final and most tragic moments of the drama at Masada," Yadin wrote in his book documenting the dig, mentioning that the woman's "dark hair, beautifully plaited, looked as if it had just been freshly coiffured."

"There could be no doubt," Yadin wrote, "that what our eyes beheld were the remains of some of the defenders of Masada."

The new paper focuses on the hair, noting the odd absence of a skeleton to go with it. The researchers' new forensic analysis showed an even stranger fact - the hair had been cut off the woman's head with a sharp instrument while she was still alive.

The new findings could not be reconciled with the original identification of the remains.

Zias' attempt to explain the discrepancy led him to the Old Testament's Book of Deuteronomy, where a passage requires that foreign women captured in battle by Jews cut off all their hair, apparently an attempt to make them less attractive to their captors.

Zias concluded that the hair belonged not to a Jewish woman but to a foreign woman who fell captive in the hands of Jewish fighters.

In his scenario, the woman was attached to the Roman garrison stationed at Masada in 66 CE, when the Zealots took over the fortress and killed the Roman soldiers. Jewish fighters in Masada's northern palace threw two Roman bodies into the bathhouse, which Zias thinks the Zealots used as a garbage dump because of other debris found inside. They took the woman captive and treated her according to Jewish law, cutting off her hair, which they threw in along with the bodies.

The new paper is only the latest in a string of attacks on the original Masada dig, which some scholars now think was colored less by scientific rigor than by a desire to enshrine the desert fortress as a national myth of heroism and sacrifice."

For the full article click here.

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The Distribution of Cylindrical Jars

Posted by admin on June 21, 2007

Date and Provenience

Before the excavation of the site of Khirbet Qumran, ceramics experts tentatively dated the jars to the late Second Temple Period, based upon their association with other objects from Cave 1 such as scrolls or lamps which could be more securely dated on paleographic or typological grounds. It was during Professor de Vaux’s first season of excavation at Khirbet Qumran that this dating was irrefutably confirmed, when a complete exemplar of this type of vessel was located embedded up to its collar in the floor of locus no. 2, in close association with coins from the early first century CE (cf. fig. 3, KhQ 17). At least nineteen examples were found at Kh. Qumran itself. In the subsequent excavations of Qumran and its nearby caves, numerous jars and lids were discovered.


Several factors including (1) the abundance of the jars, (2) their unique form, (3) their general similarity in appearance, (4) their presence only at Kh. Qumran and in the nearby caves, and (5) the presence of jar fragments in the site’s pottery kiln, led to an initial conclusion that the jars had been manufactured at the site of Kh. Qumran itself.


However, other factors must be considered. As much as there are general features which unite the corpus of jars as a unique pottery form, there is also a remarkable diversity of features within the corpus. De Vaux listed eleven jar types and twenty-three lid types deduced from the numerous jars found during the cave survey of March 1952. The additional jar types found in scroll caves 1, 4, 7-8, and 11 must be added to de Vaux’s initial typology.


One should also not discount the suggestion that there was a wider distribution of the jars than the limited sphere of Qumran and its surrounding caves alone. Other sites from which examples of such jars have been published are Jericho (Tulul el-‘Alayiq), Tel el-Ful, Quailba, and likely other sites in, or on the periphery of, the Judaean wilderness. The lids which are generally associated with these jars have been identified among the ceramics from Jerusalem, Ramat Rachel, Bethany, and Beth Zur.

The practice of storing documents in jars was not limited to Qumran. There are several references in ancient literature to scrolls which were stored or hidden in jars. A Greek Psalms scroll found in a jar “near Jericho” was used by Origin for one of the columns of the Psalms in his Hexapla.

The world of archaeology beyond the land of Israel has also provided a few examples of scrolls or codices sealed in jars. The Nag Hammadi Codices were hidden in jars secreted in the clefts of the rocks. Two jars for which details have been published came from the Ptolemaic Period at Deir el-Medineh in Egypt. At 39 cm in height, both were considerably shorter than the forms from the Qumran caves. One was found covered by a bowl (Suppl. 6121) and the other was covered by a plate; both ‘lids’ were affixed to the jars’ handles with straps (cf. Fig. 5). They contained numerous papyrus scrolls written in Demotic and Greek, dating between 171 and 104 BCE.

R. de Vaux, although dismissing the suggestion that most of the cylindrical jars were made for storing scrolls, nonetheless posited that certain of the shorter jars with loop handles, similar to those from Deir el-Medineh, may have been manufactured for this purpose. On the basis of the foregoing, we would expect that if any of the Qumran jars had been manufactured specifically to contain scrolls, the following characteristics would have been required:

1. An interior height sufficient to cover the tallest scrolls, i.e., ca. 40 cm (but not much more than that).

2. Diminutive loop or pierced handles, with holes only large enough for affixing the lid (as in the case of the Deir el-Medineh jars).

Statistics on ‘Scroll Jars’ from Qumran

The only cave in which scrolls can be said with any certainty to have been stored in these jars is Cave 1. At least three of the more-or-less complete scrolls were found in one jar, according to the report of the Bedouin. In addition, it is apparent on the basis of wear patterns, that at least some of them, including 1QS, 1QpHab, and 1QM, were protected in jars. However, it is likewise apparent that most of the more than seventy manuscripts from Cave 1 had not been protected within jars, as indicated by bat guano which covered most of them as they lay strewn on the floor of the cave. Thus, it would seem that few of the numerous jars which are known to derive from Qumran Cave 1 held scrolls at the time of their discovery.

During the excavation of Cave 3, thirty-five jars (both complete and fragmentary) and twenty-six lids were recovered. However, none of the fifteen manuscripts excavated (including the Copper Scroll) were found in jars. Caves 4a and 4b, which yielded the most abundant manuscript evidence, contained only one complete jar and fragments of only three others (with three typical lids).

In other caves, in which the jars were abundant, no manuscripts were at all evident. This includes Survey Cave 29, which yielded thirteen jars and sixteen lids, and Survey Cave 39, with ten jars and nine lids.

The first exemplar of a ‘scroll jar’ found in situ at Khirbet Qumran was found embedded in the floor up to its collar—hardly a logical place for the safe storage of scrolls. In at least two other cases (loci 13 and 34), the jars were set in the ground with their bottoms broken out. Thus, although the jars were known to contain scrolls in certain cases (viz., certain of those from Cave 1 and possibly Cave 11), it is apparent that these jars were also used for other purposes.

Jar Size

The so-called ‘scroll jars’ from the Qumran Caves range between 46.5 cm (DJD III, Fig. 2.4) and 75.5 cm (DJD III, Fig. 2.1) in interior height. Of the more than 150 jars estimated by de Vaux as having derived from the caves of Qumran, only forty-seven have been registered. Twenty-three of these are complete. The jars, as a rule, are far too tall and wide to have been purposely designed to house scrolls, as the following table illustrates.

Table 1: Scroll Heights and Widths in Centimeters

Scroll           Height     Width     Scroll           Height     Width     Scroll           Height     Width

1QS             24.1          5.1         1QHa          c. 36.5        6.4         11QpaleoLev   29.5      ---

1QIsaa        26.2         7.9         1QIsab        c. 33.5        5.4         4QpaleoExm   32         ---

1QapGen    31            5.5         1QM            c. 26-29     5.3         4QNumb         c. 30      ---

As can be seen from the table, the Thanksgiving Scroll (1QHa) was the tallest. Yet even this, the tallest of the scrolls from the caves of Qumran (c. 36.5 cm, cut from a cowhide), is dwarfed by the shortest jar of this type from the caves (46.5 cm; a difference of 10 cm, or more than one-fourth the height of the scroll). Shrine 2, the one jar from the Qumran caves that most closely approximates the form and size of the noted manuscript jars from Egypt, would have had the capacity to contain all seven scrolls from Cave 1, with room to spare. Needless to say, other jars which are taller and wider, particularly at the base, would dwarf even the tallest scrolls. The unsuitability of the large cylindrical jars is illustrated in Fig. 5 in jar Q8(3Q)-7, where even medium-sized scrolls would have toppled and lain in a pile with other scrolls at the bottom of the jar. For contrast, each of the seven scrolls has been positioned in Shrine 2 in this illustration to reflect the actual orientation and contact points of each scroll in the jar based on the damage patterns evident on the scroll itself.


The Cylindrical Jars of Qumran

From the initial moment that the first scrolls were said to have been found in a certain, cylindrically-shaped jar in Cave 1, it was assumed that those hitherto unknown jars were manufactured specifically to store scrolls. Even though the original excavator consistently called the jars “cylindrical jars,” scholars preferred to utilize the term “scroll jars” whenever a new jar of this type was found. The facts, however, show that the jars were not all intended for carrying scrolls.


This is clear from the fact that most of these jars were not found with scrolls in them and very few scrolls that were discovered were actually found in jars. Also, most caves which contained cylindrical jars or their lids had no trace of even a single manuscript inside the cave (e.g., GQ1–3, 7, 10, 12, 15, 17–18, 21, 22, 28–32, 39, 40; PQ13, PQ24). 


Tithe Jars and Archive Jars

(Note the tithe jar's lack of suitability in size for storing scrolls)

It also has been assumed that these jars were manufactured at Qumran. However, after recent chemical analyses of the cylindrical jars by Gunneweg and Bala, it was concluded that at least 75% of the cylindrical jars from the caves, and more than 50% of those from the site of Qumran were derived from the Jerusalem area, having been made from clay from the Jerusalem/Motsa flow. The remainder were proven to derive primarily from the regions of Qumran and Jericho and were further distinguished by detectable variations in form, color and manufacture. Those in the caves which derived from Jerusalem were often accompanied by lamps or domestic wares dating to the second half of the first century CE, indicating that they were most likely hidden there during the period of the First Revolt.

Tithe Jars

The fact that most of the jars were found empty, and yet had been purposely hidden, seems to indicate that they were valued aside from their contents. Furthermore, it appears that most of the jars, especially the tall cylindrical jars, were not originally intended to contain scrolls. Rather, they were intended for the collection of levitical tithes. They are designated by the term kelei dema‘, “tithe jars,” and are frequently listed among the hidden treasures in the Copper Scroll (3Q15) without any reference to their actual contents (if they had any). This is at least partially due to the fact that the jars were highly valued in themselves and need to remain unmarred and unchipped to maintain an acceptable state of ritual purity. One of the jars from cave 3Q was marked twice with the letter tet which characterizes certain jars of this type as similarly found at Masada. (Cf. m. Ma‘aser 4:11, “If a vessel was found on which was written a qof, it is qorban; if a mem, it is ma‘aser; if a dalet, it is demai; if a tet, it is tevel.”)

Archive Jars

It appears likely that only the shorter jars with handles were used for archival purposes specifically for the storage of legal and personal papyrus documents and letters (and not normally literary scrolls). The handles were actually used as anchors for tying down the lid; parallels of such practices have been found in Egypt.


Archive storage jars

However, the scrolls of an active community library were not placed in archive jars for extended periods of time but were normally stored on shelves inset into the walls of a room (compare, e.g., the Celsus library at Ephesus, the library at Nizanna, and, apparently, Qumran loc. 2). The only reason the contents of a library might be found in a cave, whether in jars or not, would be to set aside worn or damaged scrolls in a geniza or to temporarily hide the scrolls from imminent danger. If the latter case is true for the cliffs of Qumran, those who hid them did not survive to retrieve them according to plan.

S. Pfann, ‘Qumran’, Encyclopedia Judaica (New York: Keter and Macmillan Publishers, 2006).

S. Pfann, ‘Scroll Jars, Tithe Jars, or Both?’ Proceedings of the Manchester Copper Scroll Conference, edited by George J. Brooke and Phillip R. Davies. JSP Supp. Sheffield Academic Press (2002).

Unity and Diversity at Qumran II

Posted by admin on June 18, 2007

Diverse Caves and Libraries of Qumran

It has been generally assumed that the numerous manuscripts from the Qumran caves (and those from Masada!) were once part of a single library, produced and kept by a singular movement of people, known within the scrolls as the “Yahad” or the “Sons of Light” (and by their contemporaries as the “Essenes”). The various manuscript deposits, however, when examined by content and context, by what unites them and what divides them, tell a different story. Their unique and dissimilar features reveal that their owners actually came from diverse groups, who hid the scrolls at different times.

A survey of the contents of each manuscript collection confirms that, in all cases, the Books of Moses were central to each collection, reflecting the common Jewish background of the peoples who deposited the manuscripts. However, the Torah manuscripts were supplemented in each collection by other Jewish writings, which reveal the views of its owners and help to define each group. This feature, along with certain variations in material remains from each scroll cave, provides evidence as to the identity of individual groups who harbored each manuscript collection.

The general character of a group, whether priestly or lay, is indicated by a number of predictable elements. If, for example, a library predominantly contains works such as rulebooks, liturgies, and multiple copies of the Book of Psalms—a collection which helps to define and support the role of priesthood--then priests must have comprised the core group (e.g., the collections of caves 1Q and 11Q). If the supplemental material contains rule books, copies of the “five megillot” (pocket scrolls read by the laity during the feasts), and legendary texts which define and support the role of the laity, then the collection likely belonged to a lay group (e.g., the collections from caves 2Q, 3Q, 6Q and perhaps 5Q). If the collection contains a mixture of these features, then it might represent a geniza for both priestly and lay communities (e.g., the contents of cave 4Q and perhaps 5Q), or the library of a community which composed of both priestly and lay elements (e.g., Masada).

The specific sectarian leanings of the owners can be discerned by the contents of their rulebooks and the supplemental literature they preserve within the collection, or even possibly by which texts are excluded. These leanings appear to go in two directions: (1) Caves 1Q, 4Q, 5Q and 6Q,which as a group preserve libraries of the two divisions of the “Sons of Light”, the priestly Yahad “Community” and the laity Israelites (both divisions of which are, by nature, ideologically and typically “Essene” as described by Josephus),* and (2) Caves and sites which preserve libraries which ideologically support and belong to various groups involved in the First Revolt (potentially including especially the Sicarii, the followers of Simon bar Giora, the Zealots and others described by Josephus in his Jewish Wars).

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Is the "Essene Hypothesis" actually in error?

Posted by admin on June 16, 2007

Are the "Essenes" of Josephus, Pliny, Philo and Hippolytus connected with Qumran and its scrolls?

The sectarian scrolls of caves 1Q, 4Q, 5Q, and 6Q, along with the archaeology of Qumran and other similar sites and cemeteries (e.g., Ein Feshkha, Ein Ghuweir, Beit Safafa and other sites near Jerusalem) bear witness to a pious group of Jews who: (1) lived during the period spanning the second century BCE until the first century CE; (2) lived in camps and towns headed by an overseer throughout Judea, including the area from Jerusalem and its surroundings down to the Dead Sea Coast; (3) had four divisions of participants which included both priests and laity; (4) were excellent farmers; (5) studied and kept scrolls; (6) were particularly concerned about issues of purity including food; and (7) linked ritual purification with the purity of one’s actions and motivations.

The ancient writers Philo of Alexandria, Flavius Josephus, Pliny the Elder, Hippolytus and Dio Chrysostom together provide a highly detailed account of approximately 145 paragraphs (of 8,485 words) on a group called (by outsiders) the “Essenes.” Together they say that this group (1) lived during the period spanning the second century BCE until the first century CE; (2) lived in camps and towns headed by an overseer throughout Judea, including the area from Jerusalem and its surroundings down to the Dead Sea Coast; (3) had four divisions of participants which included both priests and laity; (4) were excellent farmers; (5) studied and kept scrolls; (6) were particularly concerned about issues of purity including food; and (7) linked ritual purification with the purity of one’s actions and motivations.

The list of similarities can be elaborated at far greater length. In fact, there is estimated to be a 95%, item-for-item agreement on habitation, lifestyle and beliefs between the accounts of the ancient writers concerning the Essenes and the evidence derived from the Dead Sea Scrolls and the archaeology of the site of Qumran for the community that lived there. The minor discrepancies are easily explainable. That any ancient (or even modern) historian would be so detailed and still be so accurate should make the critic stand in awe.

Yet, despite this overwhelming agreement between the ancient writers, the sectarian scrolls and the archaeological data, there still persists a skeptical and almost cynical cadre who hold that no justifiable connection can be drawn between the Essenes and the contemporary population that lived at Qumran and produced the sectarian scrolls. They hold that there were two peoples—one being the more than 4,000 Essenes, of whom we have extensive historical descriptions (and who just happened to have similar beliefs and customs to those of the community of Qumran and the scrolls, and who also just happened to live at the same time and in the same region and thus in the same “towns” as that community). The skeptics further assert that the existence of the other group (that is, the pious Community represented in the Dead Sea Scrolls and at Qumran with substantial, widespread and well-documented remains from the same period of time and the same region inhabited by Essenes), was unknown to, or overlooked by, all of the ancient writers.

The result of this proposal would mean that, if the community at Qumran was not Essene in character, then not a single stone, manuscript or artifact has been excavated that actually derives from them. In fact, outside of the descriptions by the ancient writers, there is no physical evidence for the existence of the Essenes!

The burden of proof for the unfortunate separation of the Essenes from the Community at Qumran lies with the skeptics. They must explain the vast incongruities in their argument with more compelling evidence than has heretofore been proposed. And accordingly, it is not incumbent upon the vast majority of scholarship to continue its research as though the identity of the group is totally unknown, due to the amazingly few apparent, and yet explainable, incongruities that exist when the witnesses are compared.

For the time being I and others will continue to use the name "Essene" for the community found at Qumran, provisionally, (i.e., subject to more compelling evidence that the skeptics might provide to the contrary).

S. Pfann


S. J. Pfann, 'A Table in the Wilderness: Two Pantries and Tables, Pure Food and Sacred Space at Qumran,' Qumran, The Site of the Dead Sea Scrolls: Archaeological Interpretations and Debates. Proceedings of the Brown University Conference on the Archaeology of Qumran (Nov. 2002), edited by K. Galor, J-B Humbert and J. Zangenberg. E.J. Brill (2006) p. 161

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Qumran Cave Clusters

Posted by admin on June 14, 2007

The Caves of Qumran can be divided into five distinct clusters (see previous map):


Ia. SOUTHWEST SPUR: Caves 4Qa, 4Qb, 5Q and 10Q. The complex is located 80 meters southwest of the buildings of Qumran on a spur of the marl formation separated from the site by a narrow ravine. The Bedouin discovered caves 4Qa and 4Qb simultaneously, with the result that the fragments from the two caves arrived at the museum mixed and indistinguishable according to cave. Thus these adjacent but separate caves were delineated “4Q” by de Vaux with regard to the manuscripts and other items collected by the Bedouin. However, when describing the findings from his own excavations, de Vaux was able to distinguish them as “4Qa” and “4Qb”.

Ib. SOUTHERN SPUR: Caves 7Q, 8Q and 9Q. The complex is located at the southern end of the same marl terrace, 90 meters directly south of the building complex of Qumran and connected to it by the southern enclosure. The three caves, whose roofs had collapsed, are accessible only from within the confines of the enclosure wall.

II. CAVE CLUSTER OF THE NORTHERN CLIFFS: Caves 3Q and 11Q; Survey Caves GQ1–11; Caves A and B; PQ13, PQ24. The northern cliffs lie between the wadi that divides the cliffs two kilometers to the north of Qumran and the Rijm al-Asbah “the rock of the thumb,” about one kilometer further north.

III. CAVE CLUSTER OF THE CENTRAL CLIFFS: Caves 1Q, 2Q and 6Q; Survey Caves GQ12– 21. This cluster stretches for one-half kilometer along the cliffs, about one and one-half kilometers to the north of Qumran.

IV. CAVE CLUSTER OF QUMRAN’S WADI AND SOUTHERN CLIFFS: Survey Caves 6Q, GQ22–32. The caves of the southern cliffs lie along a one-half kilometer stretch south of the Wadi Qumran.

V. CAVE CLUSTER OF THE EIN FESHKHA CLIFFS: Survey Caves GQ33–40. This stretch of cliffs begins 2.75 kilometers south of Qumran and extends southward for 2.5 kilometers, ending at Ras Feshkha, with the spring of Ein Feshkha at the center.