Found in Qumran, located in the Judean Desert, these scrolls have been a controversial topic in an archeological sense as well as in a religious aspect.
Which brings us back to the questions asked by DSS researchers fifty years ago: Who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls, and who stored them in the caves? At present, there is no generally accepted answer to either question. Some scholars now argue that the scrolls possibly came from one or more ancient Jewish collections, including the Temple library in Jerusalem. They were copied by many different hands and represent several types of Jewish literature produced in the intertestamental period, including some apocalyptic and sectarian writings authored by communities that might be called "Essenes". During the Jewish uprising and before destruction of Temple in 70 CE. so goes this tentative argument they were transported to the caves around Qumran for safety. Despite such arguments (and they remain arguments, not proofs), many highly reputable scholars continue to affirm that an Essene community existed at Qumran and produced or collected many of the documents we call the Dead Sea Scrolls.
In the last two decades of the twentieth century, several objections to the Qumran-Essene thesis of the Scrolls' origins were voiced within the academic community. Even louder objections arose over continued refusal of the Dead Sea Scrolls "team" to allow all qualified scholars open access to unpublished materials in the collection. After forty years, Scrolls research remained the exclusive domain of a small, self-selected team of scholars. Worse still, over several decades the group had made woefully little progress publishing material from the collection, particularly the large cache of scroll fragments discovered in Cave 4. The whole project was becoming an academic scandal, intermittently punctuated by conspiracy theories suggesting occult purposes motivating sequestration of the yet unpublished materials.
The "Qumran-Essene dogma" was originally developed to explain a relatively small number of newly discovered documents, including texts in a previously unknown literary style that apparently represented a divergent, "sectarian" voice within Judaism. Early studies of the DSS identified this voice as Essene, and viewed the Scrolls as a remnant of the sect's library. As the numbers and kinds of scrolls discovered multiplied however, critics argued that the probability all these manuscripts had been collected, copied, and archived by a single Essene community living at Qumran dwindled. Over 800 distinct documents have been identified among the scroll fragments found in the caves of the Judean desert. A large number of these are previously unknown works written in several styles. Hundreds of different scribal hands are found in the manuscripts, including fragments in Greek script. In addition, as Dr. Golb argues, the collection is almost devoid of the type of "historical autographs" works in an author's own hand, such as personal and official letters, lists of names, inventories, deeds of ownership that might link a cache of documents with a specific source community. Objective archeological scrutiny of the Qumran site also suggests it may have functioned in ancient times as a military fortress, and not principally or exclusively as a religious and scribal commune. Persuaded by such arguments, several scholars have completely rejected the traditional "story of the Dead Sea Scrolls".
In 1955, literary critic Edmund Wilson published an influential series of articles in The New Yorker magazine (later release in book form) which help cement in popular imagination this accepted story of the Dead Sea Scrolls and their creators, the Essenes who dwelt at Khirbet Qumran. Indeed, Wilson took the tale a tantalizing step further, fleshing out the possibility (broached in 1950 by the French academic André Dupont-Sommer) that the first Christians may have borrowed ideas from the people of the Scrolls. Similar to the first Christians, Wilson explained, the Essenes at Qumran had honored an anointed Teacher of Righteousness, performed ritual washings or "baptisms", and shared a sacred meal. Popular interest in the Scrolls has continued ever since to be stimulated by conjectured links between the Qumran scrolls and early Christianity.
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Popular interest in the Scrolls has been manipulated by suggestions encouraged by at least some of those who once controlled DSS research that the discovery would shed a startling new light on the origins of Christianity. Of course, the original hypothesis about the Scrolls and the Qumran community appeared replete with just such promising possibilities for Christian-focused scholarship. Many Jewish scholars have rightfully resented this focus and bias.
The intense public fascination with the Qumran scrolls was fueled by the expectation that documents contemporary with the beginnings of Christianity would provide valuableor even revolutionarynew insights into the origin of that religion. The Christian scholars who controlled much of the research into the scrolls made every effort to uncover allusions to Christian concerns, and tiny fragments were fancifully pieced together so as to produce theological statements about divine or suffering messiahs. The archeological site at Qumran was even described as if it had housed a medieval European monastery.
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5. De Vaux and other early scholars of Qumran and the DSSs have been criticized for their use of monastic practices in descriptions of the sectarians. Is this an instance similar to that of interpretatio hellenistica?
There’s been a lot of speculation as to the true origin of the scrolls, but common opinion has it that they were copied at Qumran, a settlement near the site that they were found, and then were stored in near...
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Early in this period of discovery an hypothesis about the source and authors of the scrolls had formed in the minds of de Vaux and his associates. In retrospect, it was only a working hypothesis. But it became a story fixed in history. Faced with several pieces of a puzzle ancient Hebrew scrolls stored in a cave, a manuscript among those scrolls tentatively identified as the rule of an Essene community, and the ruins of an ancient community's dwelling directly below the cave de Vaux fit the puzzles pieces into a temptingly obvious picture: The Dead Sea Scrolls were the library of an Essene community that once occupied the ruins at Khirbet Qumran. Details disclosed from early excavations at Khirbet Qumran all worked neatly into the story: the ruins contained a large room that would have been a scriptorium (a term previously used to describe rooms in medieval monasteries); remnants of long tables were found that could have served for copying lengthy scrolls; and three ink wells were found.
The "Qumran Hypothesis" attributing the origins and authorship of the scrolls to an Essene community at Khirbet Qumran, a theory perhaps more accurately called the "Qumran-Essene dogma" became a party line in Dead Sea Scrolls studies for the next 40 years. The integrity of this thesis was buttressed by highly restricted access to the scrolls. Manuscripts were parceled out for study and translation to a small clique of academics, directed by de Vaux.