24 May 2011

Who wrote the Scrolls?

To find out the origin of the Scrolls, and most of all, who the authors of these ancient texts are,  is a fundamental issue for a complete understanding of  the Dead Sea Scrolls. 

No one has doubts about the authenticity of the Scrolls but many theories, hypothesis and interpretations arose throughout the years about their origins and  their authors.
If you  have the chance to visit Qumran, the place of the discovery, you will certainly notice that is a quiet, deserted and desolated area.  Instead for Risa Levitt Khon,   who curated an exhibit about the Dead Sea Scrolls in San Diego in 2007, Qumran is “an enigmatic and confusing site, a powder keg among normally placid scholars” and  it must be  true if you consider that Qumran has prompted bitter feuds and even a recent criminal investigation.
The reason of all these controversies among  scholars and archaeologists is found in the question of the authorship, that has implications for understanding the history of both Judaism and Christianity.

The Essene Theory
It is important now to give an historical view  to our research.
In the 164 B.C. a group of Jewish dissidents, the Maccabees, overthrew the Seleucid Empire that ruled Judea. The Maccabees established an independent kingdom and, in so doing, tossed out the priestly class that had controlled the temple in Jerusalem since the time of King Solomon. 

Lawrence H. Schiffman
Professor of Hebrew and Judaic Studies
In relation of this event, the theory of New York University professor of Jewish and Hebraic studies Lawrence Schiffman  is that the Scrolls were written by one of the many rival sects, which were fighting against Maccabees dominance. Schiffman affirms: “While some sects were accommodating themselves to the new order in various ways, the Dead Sea group decided it had to leave Jerusalem altogether in order to continue its unique way of life."

Many scholars identify this sect with the Essenes and James Charlesworth, a scrolls scholar at Princeton Theological Seminary declare: “the Scrolls disclose the context of Jesus' life and message and John the Baptizer probably learned from the Qumran Essenes, though he was no Essene”. 

Charlesworth supports this theory referring to the  beliefs and practices of the Qumran Essenes as described in the scrolls, vows of poverty, baptismal rituals and communal meals.
Here is the explanation of Essene Theory according National Geographic web site:

If we agree with Charlesworth a question immediately arises: Was Qumran centre  the first Christian monastery where the community was living according to the vows described into the Scrolls and after in the Gospel?
The conclusion of this historical mystery is not so simple.
In fact if the Essenes were the authors of the texts, why the word “Essene” is never mentioned in any of the Scrolls? And why some of them are written in sophisticated Greek rather than a prosaic form of Aramaic or Hebrew that would be expected from a community of ascetics in the Judean desert?

 The Sadducees Theory
Probably  the question of who wrote the scrolls, is more likely to be resolved by archaeologists scrutinizing Qumran's every physical remnant than by scholars poring over the texts.
In fact there is another important event that had a huge impact in the Jewhis History: The destruction of the Temple by the Romans.  The Jerusalem Temple for the Hebrews is more than a Synagogue, more than a place where people pray. It is the pride of the nation, the symbol of an entire culture, and to destroy  it, is the equivalent of destroying a people. After such catastrophe the Hebrews had no place where to gather, no identity, and they were spread everywhere.
Consequently one of the theories says that the scrolls did not originate at Qumran but some Judeans brought the scrolls there, in order to save them from the Roman’s fury, before  the destruction of the temple in A.D. 68.
Schiffman brings also the hypothesis of the Sadducees. A religious community of scribes based on Qumran. This could explain the variety of religious texts, and rejects the “Essene theory”.

Reasons of controversity
The Qumran controversy took a bizarre turn, when Golb's son, Raphael, was arrested on charges of identity theft, criminal impersonation and aggravated harassment. In a statement, the New York District Attorney's office says that Raphael "engaged in a systematic scheme on the Internet, using dozens of Internet aliases, in order to influence and affect debate on the Dead Sea Scrolls, and in order to harass Dead Sea Scrolls scholars" who disputed his father's findings. The alleged target was Golb's old rival, Schiffman.

Many scholars with many different theories fighting each other’s,  Jodi Magness, an archaeologist at the University of North Carolina said: “there are more interpretations than data” and Schiffman added: ”Popular books with new theories about Qumran sell” Even jurisdiction over Qumran is a source of contention. The site is located on the West Bank, where Palestinians and some Israeli archaeologists say that Peleg's excavations are illegal under international law.
The only thing that the adversaries seem to agree on is “Money is root of every problem”.  It must be written in some passages of the Scrolls!

'Risa Levitt Khon' [image], Royal Ontario Museum, viewed 23 May 2011, 
'Lawrence H. Schiffman' [image], The Skirball Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies, viewed 23 May 2011, http://hebrewjudaic.as.nyu.edu/object/lawrenceschiffman.html>
Schiffman, LH 2006, The dead sea scrolls, Biblical Archealogy Society, Atlanta, GA.
Lawler, A 2010, 'Who wrote the dead sea scrolls?', Smithsonian, Vol.40 Issue 10, pp 40-47, Australia/New Zealand Reference, Ebscohost, viewed 24 May 2011.
Greyshark09 2009, National Geographic - Riddles of the Bible: Dead Sea Scrolls 1/5, viewed 23 May 2011,

For this blog I used Trove, Ebscohost, Articles, web search engines and books.
There are a lots of materials about the Dead Sea Scrolls, specially on the Internet the only issue I had is to find something trustable, authorized references. Therefore I based my research on Professors and theological Scholars works, and official website, such National Geographic web site. 


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