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The Significance of the Scrolls – The second generation of scholars—or is it the third?

The Significance of the Scrolls
The second generation of scholars—or is it the third?—offers a new perspective on the texts from the Qumran caves
Dead Sea Scroll scholarship is undergoing a virtual revolution. New ideas and perspectives are percolating among the small group of scholars who dedicate themselves to primary research on the content of the scrolls. Recent publications focus on major changes in the way Dead Sea Scroll research affects our understanding of the history of Judaism and Christianity.
What are these new perspectives? How do they differ from the scroll scholarship of the past 40 years? What is likely to emerge from the still-unpublished materials? These are the questions we will try to explore here.
In a strange way, Dead Sea Scroll research really began 50 years before the first Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1947. In 1896, a Cambridge University scholar named Solomon Schechter traveled to Egypt to purchase the remains of the Cairo Genizah (geh-NEE-zuh),a a vast treasure-trove of Hebrew manuscripts from the storehouse of a synagogue in Fustat, Old Cairo. Among the many important documents he recovered there were two medieval manuscripts of part of a hitherto unknown work now known to scholars as the Damascus Document (because it mentions an exile to Damascus).
Schechter immediately realized that these manuscripts represented the texts of an ancient Jewish sect far older than the medieval copies in the Cairo Genizah.b Another talmudic scholar, Louis Ginzberg, in a later series of articles on the Damascus Document,1 was able to outline the nature of this sect—which turned out to be the Dead Sea Scroll sect. Ginzberg realized that the Damascus Document found in the Cairo Genizah was the remnant of a sect of Jews that had separated from the dominant patterns of Second Temple Judaism before the Roman destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E.c Ginzberg was able to describe the laws, the theology and even aspects of the history of this sect. We now know that Ginzberg missed the mark only in regard to his emphasis on the closeness of these sectarians to Pharisaism.
In 1947 in a cave in the cliffs near Wadi Qumran, overlooking the Dead Sea just south of Jericho, a shepherd came upon the first of the documents now known collectively as the Dead Sea Scrolls. Seven scrolls were eventually sold, in two lots, to the Hebrew University and the state of Israel, and they are now housed in the Shrine of the Book of the Israel Museum.
As the British mandate over Palestine drew to a close, and the state of Israel was proclaimed in 1948, action shifted to the kingdom of Jordan, which in the aftermath of Israel’s War of Independence held the rocky area where the first scrolls had been found. In the early 1950s the Bedouin—and, to a much lesser extent, professional archaeologists—uncovered enormous numbers of additional fragments and some complete scrolls in ten other caves. Particularly rich was a site known as Cave 4, in which an estimated 15,000 fragments—parts of nearly 600 different scrolls—were discovered. All of these texts were collected at the Rockefeller Museum in East Jerusalem, then under Jordanian control.
The manuscripts were carefully sorted by a team of scholars assembled primarily from the American Schools of Oriental Research and the Ècole Biblique, the French Catholic biblical and archaeological school in Jerusalem. The initial achievements of this group were remarkable: They assembled the fragments into larger columns, stored in “plates.” They transcribed the texts. They even prepared a concordance of all the words in the non-biblical texts. It was only later, in the early 1960s, when funds ran out and other factors, both personal and political, intervened, that work came to a virtual standstill for almost 20 years.
The texts in Israel’s hands were promptly published. Indeed, three of the scrolls had already been published by the American Schools of Oriental Research before Israeli acquisition. The other four scrolls in Israeli hands were published by Israeli scholars E. L. Sukenik, Nahman Avigad and Yigael Yadin.
After the Six-Day War in 1967, the Israelis acquired the last of the nearly complete scrolls (as opposed to fragmentary texts), the lengthy Temple Scroll. The crown of Israeli scroll achievement was Yigael Yadin’s publication of this important text.2
Yadin’s Hebrew publication of the Temple Scroll in 1977 sparked renewed interest in the field. At about the same time, significant publications from the original Jordanian lot, then in Israeli hands, began to appear. Especially important were fragments from the Book of Enoch, published by J. T. Milik,3 and liturgical texts published by Maurice Baillet.4 The recent worldwide complaints about the slow pace of publication have now brought considerable pressure on the scholars to speed up the process. The team of scholars entrusted with publication has been widened somewhat, although not sufficiently to promise a quick solution.
While the first generation of Dead Sea Scroll scholars consisted primarily of specialists in the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, the scholars now involved in research on the scrolls are, to a large extent, a new generation. These researchers are undertaking the study of particularly Jewish issues in the scrolls—Jewish history, law, theology and messianism. It is to this generation that I belong, having been occupied almost full time for 20 years in Dead Sea Scroll research (Qumran studies, as it is known in the trade). Not being bound to the original theories of those who first identified the authors of the scrolls, this younger generation of scholars has opened anew all kinds of questions pertaining to the origins of the texts.
Dating the Scrolls
The initial battle of the Dead Sea Scrolls involved their date and the identity of the people who wrote them. One group of scholars, collected around Solomon Zeitlin of Dropsie College in Philadelphia, argued that they were medieval documents associated with the Karaites, a Jewish sect that based its laws and customs solely on the Bible and rejected the Talmud.5
Another group of scholars argued for a late first-century C.E. date. They connected the scrolls either with the Zealots (militant Jewish rebels in the First Jewish Revolt against Rome, which culminated in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E.) or with early Christians.
These theories all ultimately failed, resulting in a virtual scholarly consensus that the scrolls are to be dated primarily to the Hasmonean period (152–63 B.C.E.) and the Early Roman period (63 B.C.E.–68 C.E). Indeed, some material from the Qumran caves is even earlier. This dating is supported by archaeological evidence from the Qumran settlement adjacent to the caves where the scrolls were found, by carbon-14 tests of the cloth in which the scrolls were wrapped in ancient times, by paleographic evidence (the shape and stance of the letters) and, more generally, by the content of the scrolls thus far published.
Were They Essene Documents?
As a consensus on the dating of the scrolls developed, so did a consensus on the identity of the sect with which the scrolls were to be associated—the Essenes. The Essenes were a group or sect of Jews who lived a strictly regulated life of piety and who shared property in common. While their center was located at the Dead Sea, the group was said to have had members spread throughout the cities of Palestine as well. The Essenes are described—unfortunately, only briefly—by the first-century Jewish historian Josephus; by his Alexandrian Jewish contemporary, the philosopher Philo; and by the first-century Roman historian Pliny. That the Qumran texts were associated with the Essenes was first suggested by E. L. Sukenik of the Hebrew University.6 This position has been most fully elaborated in the works of Frank M. Cross, Millar Burrows and André Dupont-Sommer.7 The Essene hypothesis quickly became, and still remains, the reigning theory.
The theory has a certain surface attractiveness. Josephus, Philo and Pliny all describe Essenes on the shore of the Dead Sea, living in a manner not inconsistent with what the remains at the Qumran settlement seemed to reveal. (The excavations were conducted in the mid-1950s. Unfortunately, the director of the excavation, Roland de Vaux of the Ècole Biblique, never succeeded in publishing a final excavation report; only preliminary reports and a survey volume appeared.8 De Vaux died in 1971.) Furthermore, in many ways, what was known about the Essenes paralleled what was found, or seemed to be implied, in the Qumran texts: initiation rites, organizational patterns, a special calendar. The Essenes were therefore assumed to be the authors of virtually all of the scrolls, except the biblical texts and copies of some previously known apocrypha such as Jubilees.
The Essene theory also had another dimension, Many doctrines of the Essenes, then taken to be synonymous with the Qumran sect, had parallels in early Christianity. The Essenes thus became a kind of precursor to Christianity, perhaps even a harbinger.
Methodologically, the identification of the Essenes with the Qumran sect was often supported with a circular argument: If the sectarian materials in the Dead Sea texts could be identified with the Essenes, then all information in the Greek sources (Philo, Josephus and Pliny) could be read into and harmonized with the evidence of the scrolls. And if the scrolls were Essene, then they could in turn be used to interpret the material in Philo, Josephus and Pliny. A similar circularity was used to connect the scrolls with New Testament texts. Material from the New Testament regarding the early Church was read back into the scrolls and vice versa. This approach, the dominant hypothesis for some 40 years, yielded the “monks,” “monastery,” “bishop,” “celibacy” and numerous other terminological exaggerations used to describe Qumran texts, behind which lay a distinct set of preconceptions. For the most part, the fallacy of these arguments somehow escaped scholarly scrutiny.
Beginning in 1985 with a conference held at New York University,9 and continuing to the present, contradictions of the “official” Essene hypothesis were voiced as the field of learning advanced. Gradually a new non-consensus began to emerge. It calls for postponing definite conclusions on the identity of the sect until the publication of the entire corpus. Further, it strongly challenges the right of the few scholars with exclusive access to the still-unpublished material to require the adherence of others to their theories. Indeed, it is now understood that the term “Essene” may have designated a variety of sectarian groups that had certain common characteristics.
Accordingly, most scholars now refer to the “Qumran sect,” no longer assuming that it is the Essenes. And the character of the “ancient library” is being reevaluated.
A Variety of Texts
The collection of Qumran texts consists of biblical Texts manuscripts, the sect’s special texts (generally written according to the linguistic peculiarities of the sect), plus a whole variety of other texts collected by the people who lived at Qumran. The relationship of these other texts to the sect is unclear. Many texts were apparently brought to Qumran from elsewhere and held because they had some affinities with the beliefs of the sectarians. These texts may have emerged from earlier, somewhat different sectarian circles, or perhaps they came from contemporary groups close in their ideology to the Qumran sect. These texts cannot be regarded as representing the Qumran sect itself because they do not include its characteristic themes, polemics and terminology, nor are they written in the distinctive language and style of the works of the sect.
Very recently several fragmentary texts were published from Masada (Herod’s wilderness fortress about 35 miles south of Qumran), which was occupied by rebels during the First Jewish Revolt against Rome. In addition, a manuscript of the Sabbath Songs (angelic liturgy), known in several manuscripts from Qumran, was found at Masada. Thus, the Jewish defenders of Masada possessed books of the same kind as those found in the Qumran collection, but that were not directly associated with the sect itself. In other words, many of the works found at Qumran were the common heritage of Second Temple Judaism and did not originate in, and were not confined to, Qumran sectarian circles.
The sectarian documents of the Qumran sect, however, form the core of this varied collection. What was the sect, and what was its origin? A soon- to-be-published text known in scholarly circles as MMT (for Miqsat Ma’aseh ha-Torah—literally, “Some Rulings Pertaining to the Torah”—abbreviated 4QMMT, 4Q referring to Cave 4 at Qumran) is likely to shed considerable new light on these questions. Also known as the Halakhic Letter, referring to the fact that it appears to be a letter and contains about 22 religious laws (halakhot), MMT is essentially a foundation document of the Qumran sect. Although it was discovered in 1952, its contents were made known only in 1984 by the scholar assigned to publish it.10 The ancient author of MMTasserts that the sect broke away from the Jewish establishment in Jerusalem because of differences involving these religious laws. He asserts that the sect will return if their opponents, who are pictured as knowing that the sectarians are right all along, will recant.
The scholars who are preparing a critical edition of MMT, John Strugnell and Elisha Qimron, were kind enough to make available to me this text and their commentary on it. I have compared the laws in MMT with passages in the rabbinic texts known as the Mishnah and the Talmud,d which identify the legal views of the Pharisees and the Sadducees, two Jewish movements that flourished before the Roman destruction of the Temple. From this investigation I have been able to show that the origins of the Qumran sect are Sadducean. The Jewish sect of the Sadducees, best known as the opponents of the Pharisees, broke away from their fellow Jews following the Maccabean revolt (168–164 B.C.E.), in which the Hasmonean Jewish rulers regained control of their land and their Temple from the Seleucid Syrian overlord Antiochus IV. The Hasmoneans took control of the Temple, making common cause with the Pharisees. This situation lasted until the Herodian period, which began with the assumption of power by Herod the Great in 37 B.C.E. Some of the Sadducees bent their principles and adjusted to the new situation. Others did not. For those who were unwilling to adjust to the new reality or to compromise their deeply held legal and exegetical principles, this situation proved intolerable. Although quite technical, the religious laws of the two groups differed very considerably. It is in this context that we must understand MMT.
MMT, which dates to the Hasmonean period, is a letter sent by those unwilling to accept the legal rulings enunciated by the Hasmonean high priests. In its legal sections, MMT argues with those compromising Sadducees, setting forth, on the one hand, what the correct law is and, on the other hand, what the law enunciated by the Hasmoneans is. At the end of the letter, the author addresses the Hasmonean ruler himself, and attempts to sway him to MMT’s views by warning him that God blesses only those rulers who follow His ways.11
MMT revolutionizes the question of Qumran origins and requires us to reconsider the entire Essene hypothesis. It shows beyond question that either the sect was not Essene, but was Sadducean, or that the Essene movement must be totally redefined as having emerged out of Sadducean beginnings. Such a possibility is in agreement with the basic conclusions of Schechter, reached only on the basis of the Damascus Document before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Schechter entitled this text a “Zadokite Work” and outlined its Sadducean connections.
The most likely scenario, based on the entire collection of Qumran documents published so far, but especially on the as-yet-unpublished MMT, is that a process of sectarianism and separatist mentality grew throughout the Hasmonean period and blossomed in the Herodian period. As a result, a group of originally Sadducean priests, under the leadership of the Teacher of Righteousness (who, in my view, came to lead the sect only after MMT was written), developed into the group that left us the sectarian texts found at Qumran.
Varied Judaisms
As more and more scrolls are published, our understanding of the nature of the collection widens. It is now becoming increasingly clear that the scrolls are the primary source for the study of Judaism in all its varieties in the last centuries before the Common Era. In short, this corpus does not simply give us an entry into the sect that inhabited the nearby settlement, but also has an enormous amount to tell us about the widely varying Judaisms of the Hasmonean and Herodian periods. In assessing the importance of the collection, we must remember that almost no other primary Hebrew or Aramaic sources exist for the reconstruction of Judaism during these periods. Thus these documents are providing a critical background for the study of the later emergence both of rabbinic Judaism and of the early Christian Church.
Scholars used to think that the library was entirely the product of the inhabitants of Qumran. Instead, it can now be stated, this hoard of manuscripts includes material representing a variety of Jewish groups as well as polemics against other Jewish groups. As a result of this new understanding, much more can be done with the scrolls.
Specifically, it was believed, until very recently, that we have no contemporary sources for the Pharisees during the Hasmonean period. Because the Pharisees bequeathed their approach to the rabbinic Judaism that emerged after the Roman destruction of Jerusalem, this lack of sources was particularly keenly felt. The situation was much the same with the Sadducees. Nor could we make much sense of the various apocalyptic groups whose existence scholars could only assume.
In the last few years, however, we have come to realize that this evaluation is incorrect. The scrolls inform us not only about the unusual sect that inhabited the ruins of Qumran, but also about the other groups as well.
Let us begin with the Pharisees. This elusive group of lay teachers and expounders of the Torah—previously known only from later accounts in Josephus, the largely polemical treatment in the New Testament and the scattered references in talmudic literature—is now coming to life before our eyes. So far as we can tell from the published material, the scrolls include materia1 on the Pharisees only in polemical context, but this can still tell us a great deal. And who knows what the unpublished material will reveal.
The polemics against the Pharisees are of two kinds. In the better-known, sectarian texts, the Pharisees are called by various code words, such as “Ephraim.”12 In these texts, the Pharisees are said to be the “builders of, the wall,”13 that is, they built fences around the Torah by legislating additional regulations designed to ensure its observance. These fences were no more acceptable to the Qumran sect than the halakhot (laws) of the Pharisees. The sect, using a play on words, derisively called the Pharisees doreshe h\alaqot, best translated as “those who expound false laws.”14 The same text refers to the talmud (literally, “study”) of “Ephraim” as falsehood, no doubt a reference to the Pharisaic method of deriving new, extended laws from expressions of Scripture. In these texts from Qumran, we see that Josephus’ description of the Pharisees and their traditions—which were the precursor of the concept of oral rabbinic law that became embodied in the Talmud—were already in place in the Hasmonean period.
A second type of anti-Pharisaic polemic is reflected in MMT. In MMT, the author castigates his opponents and then expresses his own view, specifying the legal violation in the opponents’ views. In a number of cases, the laws the author(s) of MMT opposes are the same laws that later rabbinic sources attribute to the Pharisees, and the laws the author(s) of MMT espouse match those of the Sadducees as reflected in later rabbinic texts. Accordingly, we now have good reason to believe that in MMT we have halakhot, as they were already called in the Hasmonean period, maintained by the Pharisees.
This letter requires that the view of prominent scholars—most notably Jacob Neusner15—who doubted the reliability of the rabbis regarding the Pharisees must be reevaluated. The talmudic materials are far more accurate than previously thought. This is true in at least two respects.
First, the Pharisaic view did indeed predominate during much of the Hasmonean period. In short, this is not a later talmudic anachronistic invention. Second, the terminology, and even some of the very laws as recorded in rabbinic sources (some in the name of the Pharisees, and others attributed to anonymous first-century sages), were actually used and espoused by the Pharisees. In other words—and this is extremely important—rabbinic Judaism as embodied in the Talmud is not a post-destruction invention, as some scholars had maintained; on the contrary, the roots of rabbinic Judaism reach back at least to the Hasmonean period.
Sadducees, Aristocratic Literalists
The Qumran texts also teach us a great deal about the Sadducees. In the Pesher Nahum they are termed “Menasseh,”16 the opponents of “Ephraim” (the code word for the Pharisees). Here the Sadducees are described as aristocratic members of the ruling class. This fits the period at the end of Hasmonean rule, just before the Roman conquest of Palestine in 63 B.C.E., when the Pharisees had fallen out with the Hasmoneans. All this accords perfectly with the description of the Sadducees by Josephus. As with the Pharisees, so with the Sadducees: Josephus’ description is generally accurate. Moreover, as previously noted, the 22 examples of Sadducean laws in MMT frequently match views attributed to the Sadducees in talmudic sources.
A number of Sadducean laws found in MMT also have parallels in the Temple Scroll. In some cases the Temple Scroll provides a scriptural basis when MMT cites only the law. Although the final text of the Temple Scroll was edited in the Hasmonean period, some of its sources were apparently earlier—before the emergence of the Qumran sect, to a time when these teachings were indeed Sadducean. The author/editor of the final text of the complete Temple Scroll, whether a member of the Qumran sect or of some related or similar group, used these Sadducean sources. In recovering the sources of the Temple Scroll, we get a clearer and clearer picture of the views of the Sadducees. We are finally beginning to understand their brand of literalism—barely suggested by the later references in ancient literature that had previously been known. In short, the Sadducees required that all laws be based on Scripture: They rejected laws unrelated to the Bible.
Apocalyptic Jewish Sects
The Qumran scrolls also tell us about various apocalyptic groups whose teachings are so important for our understanding of the later development of aspects of Jewish mysticism as well as Christian apocalypticism. For these apocalyptic groups, we unfortunately lack all social and historical context—at least so far; but who knows what we may find in still-unpublished Qumran texts? Texts like the Book of Noah, as well as the books of Daniel and Enoch, have a common structure: Heavenly secrets of the present and of the end of days are revealed to the hero. These texts often involve heavenly ascents and other journeys of this kind frequently found in later Jewish mysticism. Their notions of immediate messianic fulfillment must have greatly influenced Christian messianism. This influence can also be seen in the messianic pressures for Jewish resistance against Roman rule that were important factors in fueling the two Jewish revolts, the First Revolt of 66–70 C.E. and tae Second Revolt, the so-called Bar-Kokhba revolt, of 132–135 C.E., both of which had messianic overtones.
At this point, I should perhaps comment briefly on the Dead Sea Scroll hypothesis recently put forward by Professor Norman Golb of the University of Chicago. According to him the Qumran scrolls are the library of the Jerusalem Temple, brought from Jerusalem and hidden at Qumran during the First Jewish Revolt against Rome. The Qumran documents, Golb argues, therefore represent a balanced picture of the Judaism of the Second Temple period. Indeed he goes so far as to claim that there was no Qumran sect; the settlement at Qumran was, he says, a military fortress. In his view, the ruins of Qumran have no relation to the scrolls found in the adjacent caves.17
Despite the aggressive way in which he has argued for this theory, he has never supported it by a study of, or citations to, the texts themselves. Indeed, he ignores the evidence we have cited from MMT (although, in fairness, at best only a pirated copy of the unpublished texts ofMMT has been available to him). Equally important, he has also ignored the clear sectarian emphasis of the collection as a whole insofar as it has been published.
Moreover, the settlement at Qumran was constructed in much too unsturdy a manner to be a fortress. Its water supply was completely open and unprotected, contrary to what we would expect of a fortress. Its location was exposed, with its back and one flank abutting a cliff from which it could be attacked and overwhelmed. The wall that surrounded at least part of the settlement was not the wall of a fortress, but a mere enclosure wall, barely thicker than the walls of the buildings inside. Golb relies on the fact that a building at the site was identified by the excavator as a tower. The only reason this building appears to be a tower is because by coincidence it is the only building preserved to the height of its second story. Golb also calls our attention to the fact that graves of women and children, as well as of men, have been found at the site. He correctly argues that this disproves the claim that the site was the monastery of celibate monks. But these graves of women and children also fly in the face of his argument that Qumran was a fortress. In sum, Golb’s hypothesis is not valid. It is put forward despite incontrovertible facts, not in an effort to explain doubtful matters on the basis of known information.18
Christian Roots in Sectarian Judaism
Let us turn now to what the Qumran texts can teach us about early Christianity. It is clear that many expressions, motifs and concepts found in early Christianity have their background in sectarian Judaism of the Second Temple period, as reflected in the Qumran texts. This has long been observed. I also agree that the use of post-destruction rabbinic literature, which once served as the primary source for establishing and interpreting the background of Christian ideas, turns out to be misguided in light of our current knowledge of the varied character of Judaism in the Greco-Roman period. Such ideas as the dualism of light and darkness, the presentation of the figure of the messiah as combining a variety of leadership roles known from earlier Hebrew sources, the immediate messianism—all these are ideas we can and do trace in the Qumran texts.
Yet the quest for parallels to, and antecedents of, Christian doctrines and ideas should remain secondary. The better way to use the Qumran texts for understanding early Christianity is to understand them as illuminating the full spectrum of Jewish groups in the Hellenistic period in Palestine. When we compensate for the sectarian emphasis of the collection as a whole, it turns out that the contribution the Qumran texts can make to the prehistory of Christianity is even greater.19
Second Temple Judaism can now be seen as a transition period in which the sectarianism and apocalypticism of the period gradually gave way to rabbinic Judaism, on the one hand, and Christianity, on the other. Indeed, it is now clear that the Second Temple period was a kind of sorting out process.
Until the Maccabean revolt (168–164 B.C.E.), the Jewish communities in Palestine and in the Diaspora fiercely debated the extent to which they would partake of and absorb the Hellenistic culture all around them. The successful Maccabean revolt resolved this issue: Extreme Hellenism was over-whelmingly rejected in Palestinian Judaism. While Judaism would therefore not become simply one of the Hellenistic cults, the new cultural environment caused by the contact with Hellenism led nonetheless to a reevaluation of many issues in Judaism. The variety of responses that developed brought about the splitting of the Jewish community into various groups, or perhaps, in some cases, sects, each seeking to dominate the religious scene. The writings of some of these groups and considerable information about others can be gleaned, as we have seen, from the Dead Sea Scrolls.
The competing groups vied with one another throughout the Hasmonean period. This debate finally was resolved only in the aftermath of the Bar-Kokhba revolt (135 C.E.). Apocalyptic messianic tendencies, now much better understood from the sectarian texts authored by the Qumran group (and from some of the other preserved there as well), became more and more pronounced among some groups. This led eventually to the two Jewish revolts against Rome. These same trends led a small group of Jews to conclude that their leader, Jesus of Nazareth, was indeed the “son of man,” interpreted by some as a messianic designation. This term is well known from Daniel and also from Enochic writings preserved at Qumran.
Post-destruction rabbinic Judaism based itself, in the main, on Pharisaism, although it also included some aspects of the traditions of the sectarian and apocalyptic groups. Christianity, on the other hand, primarily inherited the immediate apocalypticism of these groups. Christianity also adopted, or adapted, certain dualistic tendencies and a wide variety of motifs found in the doctrines of these groups. In other words, Christianity is to a great extent the continuation of trends within Second Temple Judaism that were rejected by the emerging Pharisaic-rabbinic mainstream.
In Search of the Earliest Biblical Texts
Finally, let us look at the Qumran texts for the light they can shed on the history of the biblical texts. Here again, more recent study requires the modification of earlier held views. In the early years of Qumran studies, it was thought that the biblical texts found in the caves—at least fragments of every book of the Hebrew Bible except Esther and Song of Songs were found—would somehow illuminate the “original” text that emerged from ancient Israel. This entire notion has been proven wrong. We now know that the transmission of the text in the post-biblical period resulted in many textual variants. These variants resulted not only from the copying process itself, but also from interpretation of the text and linguistic updating, phenomena that could not have been understood before the discovery of the scrolls.20
Very early in the study of the biblical manuscripts from Qumran, a theory was put forward, first by William F. Albright21 and then more fully by Frank M. Cross,22 that supposedly identified three text types. One of these text types stood behind the Masoretic text, the traditional Jewish Hebrew text adopted by rabbinic Judaism as authoritative; another text type stood behind the Samaritan Pentateuch (before the introduction of certain Samaritan polemical changes); a third text type stood behind the text preserved only in the Greek translation known as the Septuagint. These three textual families were shown to have co-existed at Qumran, and it was widely assumed that they were represented in roughly equivalent numbers of texts, although this assumption was in fact based only on a limited sample.
Recent studies require a modification of this approach. In fact, most of the biblical manuscripts at Qumran indicate that the proto-Masoretic text type in fact predominated: Thus, the process of standardization, whereby this text became authoritative in rabbinic Judaism, may have taken place much earlier than was previously presumed. In short, the proto-Masoretic tradition was in ascendence by the Hasmonean period. It is likely that this text type was the most common because it was the most ancient. The process of standardization was in reality one of eliminating variant texts. This, indeed, is the picture presented in rabbinic literature.
Another modification of Cross’ analysis is also required. Most biblical texts at Qumran represent, to some extent, mixtures of text types. The biblical manuscripts commonly share readings with other texts to such an extent that few can be understood as representative purely of a single text type.23 Indeed, the very notion of text types to a certain extent projects backward in time the textual “witnesses” that have survived in later copies—that is, the Masoretic Hebrew text, the Samaritan Pentateuch and the Greek Septuagint—which were known to us before the Qumran finds. Had we not had the Septuagint and the Samaritan Bibles, we would never have concluded from the Qumran material itself that three text families existed. A more accurate picture would describe trends reflected in varying degrees in different biblical texts from Qumran. This would explain much better the predominance of the many mixed texts of the Hebrew Bible found at Qumran.
The claim that New Testament manuscripts were found at Qumran can be dealt with in a sentence. None was found—for a very good reason: New Testament texts are later than the Qumran texts.
What we have described here as to the Qumran collection and its implications is based on published documents as well as on a number of unpublished materials that I have been able to inspect—including MMT, which the editors allowed me to study. Further, I have had the use of the concordance to the full lot, including the unpublished texts. There is much more to come, as some 400 documents, most very fragmentary—about half the documents from the Qumran caves—are yet to be published. At the present time, scholars are updating the old catalogues of the Qumran manuscripts, and a full catalogue is expected to be available soon. When the entire corpus is finally published, students of the varieties of Second Temple Judaism and their relevance to rabbinic Judaism and early Christianity will have a veritable feast.

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