The Essenes and Pliny

Ancient reference at the heart of the association of Qumran with the Essenes
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Essenes and Qumran

The statement by Pliny the Elder that the Essenes lived above Ein Gedi, adjacent to the Dead Sea, has been a matter of contention for those who wish to locate the Essenes at Qumran as well as for those who wish to locate their settlement elsewhere.

The critical term in Pliny's writings is his use of a Latin preposition in describing the location as being, infra hos, which has been correctly translated as “above.”  But in what way did he mean this?  Was it to be considered in a vertical sense or was there some other directional reference given in his writing that would help us understand the term? Joan E.Taylor has examined this question in detail in a chapter of the latest issue of Dead Sea Discoveries. Taylor’s abstract states:

Pliny wrote that the Essenes lived west of Lake Asphaltites, and that infra hos was En Gedi. Some scholars associate Pliny’s reference with Qumran, others with a location above En Gedi. Given that Pliny writes about Judaea by following the course of the land’s remarkable water, it would be most natural to read infra hos as “downstream from them.” The Dead Sea itself has a current, and there was a belief that the lake had a subterranean exit in the south. From a survey of scholarship produced prior to the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, it appears that Pliny’s reference was usually believed to indicate a wide region of the Judaean wilderness, understood to stretch from En Gedi northwards and/or inland. When En Gedi was identified in the mid-19th century, the suggestion that Essenes occupied caves just north of and above the ancient settlement was made, but this was not seen as exclusive. If we again read Pliny appropriately, as referring to a region which the gens of the Essenes held, we can move away from either-or dichotomies of possible Essene sites.

The entire chapter can be read at Joan Taylor’s website.  Compliments to Stephen Goransonof Duke University for highlighting this material.



Tags: Archaeology, Essenes, Judaea, Ein Gedi, Joan E. Taylor, Pliny the Elder, Qumran

ASOR gets off to a traditional start

Opening evening shows how traditional approaches of archaeology still defy postmodern theory
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The opening event of the annual gathering of members of theAmerican School of Oriental Research (ASOR) got underway in San Diego this evening. Scholars and archaeologists from many parts of the world gathered to hear the opening comments and lectures.

What was evident was an organization that was fighting back against the tides of post modernism that influences so much in academia today. In his opening remarks, president Eric Meyers of Duke University harked back to a discussion with Yigal Yadin who had anticipated a divide in the academic sphere. Yadin’s solution was to establish endowed chairs in biblical archaeology in at least 10 American universities. As a start toward raising the necessary funds, he had offered his draw as a speaker.  Sadly, Yadin left for Israel after that meeting and died the next day without being able to start on the challenge. In his place, Norma Kershaw rose to the challenge and with her husband endowed two chairs in Southern California.

Norma Kershaw was part of the welcoming committee this evening, as was David Noel Freedman of the University of San Diego. In his remarks Freedman followed Meyers lead in discussing a ring found on a female skeleton at Meggido 75 years ago in a controlled dig supervised by a licensed archaeologist. The inscription on the ring has challenged epigraphers ever since. Freedman offered his interpretation. In his opinion, the inscription lines up with a woman mentioned in Judges 5:28the mother of Sisera, a warrior who battled against the Israelite forces under the leadership of Deborah and Barak. To Freedman, the inscription on the ring is cause for accepting that the Bible contains historical information relating to the beginning of Israel.

The focus of the evening was a lecture by Jodi Magness, a religious studies professor of at the University of North CarolinaChapel Hill, titled “The Current State of Qumran Archaeology.”  Magness tied the confusion on the subject to those who wished to separate the archaeology from the textual evidence associated with the site. For Magness, this is characteristic of the post-modern approach to archaeology. Magness went on to show that by the use of both archaeological and textual evidence an understanding of the intimate purity regulations of the Essenes could be understood.

Eric Meyers, in a brief discussion during the reception following the meeting spoke to the vitality of the traditional approach to archaeology. According to Meyers, the difficulty is that younger members are too interested in anthropology by itself and won’t consider the textual evidence that needs to be brought into the discussion.

So the first evening ended on a high note with a reception.

Tags: Dead Sea Scrolls, Archaeology, Essenes, Qumran, ASOR, Eric Meyers, Jodi Magness, Norma Kershaw, post-modernism, Yagel Yadin

Virtual Qumran Creator Interviewed

Qumran and Dead Sea Scrolls links explained

Robert Cargill, a doctoral student at UCLA is interviewed on Biblioblogs.  Links are provided to his project of creating a three dimensional model of Qumran.  In the interview, Robert outlines how his interest in both Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls developed. Robert provides a succinct outline of the personalities that have driven the research in the area, including Norman Golb Not too much info on how he came to produce the model. For more on that see his blog

Tags: Dead Sea Scrolls, Archaeology, Qumran, Golb, Robert Cargill

Dead Sea Scrolls Exhibition, San Diego

A really useful afternoon in San Diego

Sunday, I spent several useful hours in the Dead Sea Scrolls Exhibition hosted by the San Diego Natural History Museum.  While I am reasonably well acquainted with the history, issues and details of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Qumran, I found the exhibition to be a profitable exercise.  A wide range of material is provided to help put the Scrolls into an appropriate context.  In developing the exhibition, care has been taken to make the issues of the Scrolls relevant to the present day.  

The exhibition is in three parts, starting with a general photographic and video introduction toIsrael and the general area of the Dead Sea.  Coupled with this is a series of exhibits dealing with pottery and its importance to archaeology.  Moving downstairs into the Gallery, one is introduced to the archaeology of Qumran and the discovery of the scrolls.  Photos of early participants in the recovery, purchase and translation of the Scrolls are presented.  Then one moves into the area where the Scrolls are displayed. 

The museum has naturally anticipated that some periods will have a larger attendance than others.  Monday, for instance, is a low attendance period while Sunday afternoon is peak.  I’d recommend that you try to attend in one of the low periods.  A helpful timetableis provided on the official museum site. The museum has wisely sought to control the number of viewers at any one period, but on a Sunday afternoon, there were just too many people to do justice to viewing.  On the other hand it is great to see so many from Southern California spending a Sunday afternoon in a museum rather than on the beach! 

I speak of numbers mainly because it is desirable to get as close as possible to the enlarged photographs and documentation of the fragments.  The documentation frequently poses a question of the viewer, but unless you can get close enough, it is a forlorn hope to respond. I also question what may have happened to the lighting of the scrolls when I was there.  No lighting effectively illuminated the scrolls themselves with the exception of the Copper Scroll.  Now, I appreciate that the lighting has to be controlled and limited for the preservation of the documents themselves.  But the lack of direct lighting meant that the Scrolls couldn’t be fully appreciated in their own right given the subdued ambient light available in the room.

The Natural History Museum has joined forces with the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Dead Sea Scroll Foundation to assemble this display.  What is fascinating is that fragments held by the Department of Antiquities of Jordan are also part of the exhibition, an encouraging sign of co-operation.  Further materials are on loan from the Russian National Library of St. Petersburg as well as from local collections. 

UCLA’s virtual Qumran was also on display, but that highlights another concern about numbers.  The flat screen panels for displaying videos and the virtual display could have been larger. Given the crowds of people wishing to view the media, the size of the display screen in critical.  To any readers who plans to visit the exhibition, my advice would be that you avoid rushing the experience.   

The exhibition ends with a focus on the interests of those who wrote the scrolls some two thousand years ago.  Those issues as to humanity and its place in the universe are as relevant today as they were then. Here at Vision, we seek to address many of those issues.

Tags: Dead Sea Scrolls, Qumran, San Diego Natural History Museum

Paul the Jew

New considerations about the context of Paul's usage of Torah

The Apostle Paul and his writings have increasingly been of prominence at the annual conference of the Society of Biblical Literature, held each November. Currently, abstracts of papers to be presented this year are being made available. Here is one that is of great interest which was posted today on Torrey Seland on his Philo of Alexandria Blog.

Markus Tiwald, University of Vienna Paul: 
Apostle of Christ and Jew
The interpretation of the “Tora” – and all that was included in this very complex expression – was the central topic in early Judaism and was handled in a wide range of different theological concepts. The diversity of these concepts can be highlighted by the differing theology in the scriptures of Qumran, Jewish pseudepigrapha and the writings of Philo and Josephus. According to these results it can be shown, that the theology of the apostle Paul has to be understood as an inner-Jewish dialogue about the right fulfillment and interpretation of scripture – but not as an “abrogation of the Tora”, as often suggested by some exegetes. Paul was Jew – and he remained Jew also in his Christian times. As a Christian he did not abrogate the Tora, but adopted the position of a liberal Tora-interpretation that was already present in early Judaism.

This is a valuable topic as Paul is so often seen and read outside of the Jewish milieu from which he came.

Tags: Apostle Paul, First Century, Qumran, Paul, Philo, Josephus, Law, Nomos, Torah

Dead Sea Scrolls in San Diego

Documents that existed at the time of Jesus and the disciples will be on display in Southern California.

The Dead Sea Scrolls, discovered in 1947 at Qumran and now belonging to Israel, are coming to San DiegoCalifornia. Beginning June 29, 2007, the San Diego Natural History Museumwill be hosting the longest and largest exhibition of the scrolls. The six-month-long exhibition, which undergoes a change at the mid point, is being produced in conjunction with the Israel Antiquities Authority’s Dead Sea Scrolls Foundation 

The display will highlight some 27 different scrolls, 10 of which have never been displayed previously. These include remaining parts of scrolls of Deuteronomy, Isaiah and a Commentary of Job. A number of faculty who teach at San Diego area universities and have been closely associated with the Scrolls will spearhead a lecture series that will run in conjunction with the exhibition.  

At the same time, the University of California at Los Angeles is launching a virtual Qumrantour which will be available to visitors to the exhibition. Designed initially as a teaching tool, the virtual tour has been enhanced to recreate the location where the scrolls were found.

Unfortunately, the tour doesn’t allow visitors to search for more artifacts in the caves. However some of the original equipment used in the excavations and recovery of the scrolls will be on display.

Tags: jerusalem, Dead Sea Scrolls, Temple, First Century, Qumran, San Diego

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