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Unity and Diversity at Qumran I

The Spectre of Cave 1Q: What if Cave 1 had not been discovered first?

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The exterior of Cave 1Q facing north (courtesy A. Schick)

In July 2007, a conference will be devoted to the 60th anniversary of the discovery of Cave 1. In 2006, the 50th anniversary of the discovery of Cave 11 went by almost unnoticed.

Cave 1 was the “Scroll Cave” par excellence. It had it all: biblical scrolls, sectarian scrolls, commentaries, hymns, a calendar and rule books. Images of the future battle and pseudepigraphic works appeared in their original languages for the first time.

Cave 1 was the pace setter and it became the cave against which every subsequently discovered cave was to be compared.

But what if Cave 1 had not been undiscovered until now? What if our conception of the doctrine, calendar, worship and eschatology began with caves 2, 3, 11 and Masada? The central rule book would have been the Temple Scroll (3 copies of which were found in Cave 11). The last days and the Messiah would have been defined solely according to the Melchizedek Scroll (11Q Melch). The plan of the future Jerusalem would be a central theme built upon the Temple scroll and the New Jerusalem scroll (2QNJ, 11QNJ,11QT a). The treasures mentioned in the Copper Scroll would have been understood to have been taken from the temple itself. The group’s key liturgy would have been the Angelic Liturgy, i.e., the Song of the Sabbath Sacrifice (11QShirShabb, Mas ShirShabb). Time and calendar would be dominated by a structure of sevens, where the 364 day liturgical year would have been been structured around a sevenfold pentacontad cycle. The prophetic books would have been dominated by (if not limited to) the book of Ezekiel (3QEzek, 11QEzek, Mas Ezek). And the discovery of caves 4 and 5 would have been understood completely differently than today.

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The Facade of Cave 11Q facing west (S. Pfann)

The discovery of caves 4, 5, and 6 provided a link to Cave 1 with its selection of Qumran Community/Yahad sectarian documents. Since all three caves contained copies of the Damascus Document, they also provided a bridge with the manuscripts of the Cairo Geniza. Why didn’t we notice that the doctrines and eschatology of the other caves were different? The fact they all provided evidence for a 364-day calendar was considered ample enough common ground to view them as a whole. And the discovery of copies of the Song of the Sabbath Sacrifice in caves 4Q, 11Q, and Masada was considered strong enough evidence to regard the caves as having derived from a single source. The compulsion has been to view them as though they were from a single group, sharing one raison d’etre and one doctrine. All diversity was overlooked or forgiven, almost without reservation. We were led to overlook the differences and we all accepted it and built our lectures, our books, our dictionaries and our histories around one group. It was assumed that, with the exception of the Bible, Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, one group has authored the various works, continually recopying them, harboring them and remaining their sole proprietors over the course of the centuries.

However, now that specialists have put their hand to the plow, they have looked back. Those who studied religious law, including Schiffman and Baumgarten, raised issues, after having located irreconcilable differences between the Temple Scroll and other DSS. Those who specialized in liturgical prayers found diversity. Those who have worked with the Song of the Sabbath Sacrifice now are convinced that it is not a fit for Qumran’s Yahad. Even the Cryptic A corpus of texts from Qumran are not unified in their paleographic history.

Most Dead Sea Scroll scholars have spent the past 60 years trying to create a unified picture from the documents from the various caves. Now, in some future postings I hope we can successfully spell out what the diversity among these manuscripts actually means for understanding 2nd Temple Judaism.

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