The archaeological findings on display at Qumran where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found
In Holding the Dead Sea Scrolls Hostage I summarized from my source, Dead Sea Scrolls, A New Translation, the reasons for the 40+ year delay before the scholarly world could know what was in them. Conclusions are too easy to make when all the facts are not yet in. Now that we have access to all the facts, debunking the common misconceptions is proving to be almost a complete failure. Partly to blame is the complexity of what the Scrolls do reveal. In my last blog, I introduced the Essenes. Today I’ll summarize my conclusions from the above-mentioned source on the Essenes.
A General Description of the Scrolls
The Scrolls seem like an ancient religious library. Whatever the sect was that wrote them, archaeology shows they were also busy with agriculture and other things for daily living. Yet almost none of the Dead Sea Scrolls were about other things they would be concerned with. These writings were all the books of the Old Testament except Esther, plus non-biblical texts. The latter includes some ancient texts scholars already knew existed and other texts that no one previously knew existed. These texts have a religious connection to astrology, magic, apocalyptic dreams of messiahs and antichrists, stories about angels and giants, in both poetry and prose. They also have many rules the sect lived by, and their beliefs. They were written anytime between the 2nd century BC and the 1st century AD.
The Three Theories About Who Wrote the Scrolls
There is some evidence the Essenes wrote these scrolls. There’s more evidence the sect was what could be known as “anti-Hasmonean” or a “mother house” (2 more theories with numerous reasons supporting each). There’s also logic that seems to argue against each of these 3 theories, as if none of them can be correct. These reasonings are gleaned chiefly from the Dead Sea Scrolls, but also from archaeology and what ancient historians wrote (like Josephus).
A New Proposal for the Sect That Wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls
Not only is there no evidence that the Dead Sea group objected to the Hasmonean high-priesthood…the newly available texts actually show the opposite: they held some of the Hasmoneans in high regard…it has sent us back to the old texts with new eyes…. The evidence suggests…the scroll group resembled the Sadducees in some ways and the Essenes in others…. We have been using the Josephan categories of Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes as if these were distinct and different entities in the first century B.C.E. …But he was writing toward the end of the 1st century C.E., nearly 200 years later…the three parties he knew did not necessarily exist in the same form in the 1st century B.C.E. How much are today’s Democrats and Republicans like the Whigs and Tories of 200 years ago? …After the Romans came to power, the situation changed. The movement could no longer hope to influence the political course of events directly, although the priests could still attempt, by collaborating…while others were not willing to cooperate with the Romans. Some chose the latter option, and they may have been described by Josephus under the umbrella term “Essenes.”
With the passage of time it seems that the Essene movement was in flux. Their writings don’t all reflect what their members adhered to at all stages of the time the Scrolls were being written. There are a few points the writings seem to retain cohesion about, like a different solar-based calendar from the main-stream lunar-based calendar used by most of the Jews. But the arguments for and against these 3 theories are complicated enough that my personal conclusions are not definite yet. After publishing my blog just last week, I had to adjust what I wrote about the Essenes significantly. Having already read this same source two times and trying to read it a third to summarize it better here, I changed my views on them again and again.
It’s easy to draw rash conclusions, and hard to study, analyze and conclude objective views. For many things in life, do you try not to jump to conclusions prematurely?
I took the above picture in Israel when I was at Qumran in 2002.