Summary of IOQS paper

The Spectre of Qumran Cave 1: What if Cave 1 Had Not Been Discovered First?

(IOQS 2007 handout)

Stephen Pfann, Ph.D.

University of the Holy Land

In 2007 and 2008, we anticipate a number of conferences devoted to the 60th anniversary of the discovery of Cave 1. In 2006, the 50th anniversary of the discovery of Cave 11 passed by almost unnoticed.

What is now known as Cave 1 quickly became known as the “Grotte des manuscrits” or “the manuscipts Cave”. And indeed it was the “Scroll Cave” par excellence. It had it all. Biblical Scrolls. Sectarian Scrolls. Commentaries. Hymns, calendars and rule books. Images of the future battle and pseudepigraphic works discovered in their original languages for the first time.

There appeared to be a single copy of each of the essential volumes of one group’s library. Eleazar Sukenik first suggested the identification of the owners of these scrolls with a rather monastic Jewish order known as the Essenes, an identification subsequently affirmed by Roland de Vaux and a long list of others. Though some remained skeptical of this identification, subsequent discoveries worked in favor of the growing consensus.

In December 1951, four years after the discovery of Cave 1, Roland de Vaux connected its manuscript remains to the nearby site of Khirbet Qumran when he found one of the unique cylindrical jars, typical of Cave 1, embedded in the floor of the site.

The power of this suggestion was such that, from that point on, as each successive Judean Desert cave containing first century scrolls was discovered, they, too, were assumed to have originated from the site of Qumran. Excavations at the site of Qumran appeared to confirm the communal and religious nature of the inhabitants, with its revelation of numerous immersion pools, large community pantries, and abundant scribal implements, accompanied by a virtually all male cemetery. All of this was considered compelling evidence for connecting this site not only with the scrolls from the caves but also with the Essenes described by Josephus, Philo and Pliny the Elder.

As additional caves with manuscript remains in the vicinity of the first cave were discovered, the original Manuscripts Cave was renamed “Cave 1.”

For us scholars, Cave 1 was the pace setter. It became the cave against which every subsequently discovered cave was to be compared. This paper will suggest that on the basis of location, material culture, manuscript collections, and manuscript dates, the Qumran caves do not represent the holdings of a single group. Although the Yahad character of Cave 1Q is clear, the Yahad character of certain of the other caves is unclear. For these select caves, based upon their divergent doctrinal character of their scrolls and the late dates of their material remains, it would seem quite reasonable that these remains were deposited by various Jewish groups who moved throughout the Judean wilderness at the close of the Second Temple Period (e.g., the Zealot refugees who escaped Jerusalem with Yehudah ben Yair. Jos., JW

1. Locations: the Caves of Qumran can be divided into five distinct clusters. (Note that, apparently in most cases, the contents of the caves in the cliffs reflect in-use libraries purposely hidden with the intention of being retrieved in the future, while the definable caves in the marl terraces close to Kh. Qumran were apparently genizot.)


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”.

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.

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.

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.

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

2. Different material cultures of caves (see accompanying chart):

Bleached fabrics found in Cave 11 alone; unbleached fabrics in Cave 1. Early (Qumran type) and late lamps in Cave 1; only late 1st century lamps found in other caves. Cylindrical jar which contained scrolls in Cave 1: Neutron Activation Analysis indicates Jericho and Qumran clay source; NAA also indicates that 75% of all other cylindrical jars (n.b., all first century CE according to ceramics experts) found in the caves derive from a Jerusalem clay source. This would imply that these particular cylindrical jars (none of which were found with scrolls inside) were transported from Jerusalem, perhaps serving as tithe jars. (See the Manchester Copper Scroll Conference volume.)

3. Differences in manuscript collections: Cave 1: purposely hidden, pristine manuscripts of significant Yahad compositions: Community Rule, Hodayot, Instruction; Ben Sira noticeably lacking. Cave 2: lay character, two megillot of Ruth; Cave 3: purposely hidden Biblical books, megillah of Lamentations, Copper Scroll; Caves 4 and 5: functioning repository of institutional library, not hidden for retrieval; Cave 6: Essene lay library–Damascus Document, megillah of Song of Songs; Caves 7-10, scanty remains but connected with Kh. Qumran due to location; Cave 11: Temple Scroll, Song of Sabbath Sacrifice, Ezekiel. This would imply that Cave 1 is Yahad in character while Caves 11, and possibly 3, reveal priestly, but non-Yahad, interests.

4. Epigraphic dates of the manuscript collections, which may provide a profile of the history of acquisitions for that collection: Cave 1: epigraphic dates span the late 2nd century BCE to the early first century CE, with peaks at the first and, in particular, the last quarter of the first century BCE. Cave 3: manuscripts are limited to the early first century CE, with a peak in the second quarter of that century. Cave 11: epigraphic dates span a period from the mid-first century BCE to the third quarter of the first century CE, with 55% of the manuscripts deriving from immediately before the destruction of the Temple. This would imply that the manuscripts of Caves 3 and 11 were deposited shortly before the destruction of the Temple, while the manuscripts of Cave 1 were deposited earlier in the first cent. CE.

Thus, to reiterate, Cave 1Q (and its associated caves, 4Q-6Q) is clearly Yahad in character. However, its strong profile has served as a filter through which we have assessed all the other caves. It would behoove us to reassess the other caves, first of all, on the merits of their own collections and material cultures, and then to make connections with the other caves, where such connections possibly exist. We should remember that the Judean Wilderness at the end of the first century CE was a busy region that saw various religious and rebel groups on the move. The large distances between the scroll caves, the clusters of the caves, and the dates of the manuscript deposits might lead us to suspect that not only the Yahad, but other Jewish religious groups deposited precious manuscripts, as well as other goods, in the caves of the Dead Sea area during this period.

For example, if we only had manuscripts from Qumran Cave 11, then…

Nearly all our of our manuscripts would be in beautiful, late Second Temple period scribal hands…

We would have no link to the Teacher of Righteousness…

Our rule book would focus on a Temple and not a community…

We would follow a pentecontad festival cycle, and one not limited to the commanded Biblical feasts…

We would have a different eschatology, based upon a 490 year plan of history following Jeremiah, and not a 390 + 40 year period based upon Ezekiel…

We would have a greater tolerance for pseudepigraphic authorship, as in the case of the Temple Scroll…

Our liturgy would not include the Hodayot…

And, as opposed to Cave 1Q and its associated caves, we would have no reason to suspect our group to be the Essenes of Josephus, Pliny and Philo.

For more information, see:

F. F. Bruce, S. Pfann, “Qumran,” Encyclopedia Judaica, rev. ed., 2006.

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