No, this is not the beginning of a joke. Yesterday, I went with a few of my students to the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia where the IAA is running a six-month exhibition. While it was fun to see actual scroll fragments, there were only 10 small portions and it was overcrowded so you only had a minute or two to see each one. Also, they keep the scrolls under very soft light (for preservation, I am sure), so it is hard to see them in detail. My last qualm is that they had only Hebrew fragments, I was really interested in seeing a Greek text, though I know they are rare.
The more exciting part of the evening was that the Institute sponsored a lecture series and last night featured two lectures, one by John Collins and the other by Lawrence Schiffman. I have only heard Collins speak once before (at SBL) and I had never heard Schiffman before. Both of them did a marvelous job – they are both jovial characters and excellent lecturers.
Their subject was the “theology of the Dead Sea Scrolls.” Truth be told, that was not really what they talked about. However, their lectures were absolutely terrific. Four points were made that I had never heard before or thought about before.
Point #1: Collins does not believe that the scrolls should be linked in their entirety to the Qumran community. He thinks it unlikely (perhaps even impossible) for one small community to have had such a massive library. He argues that at the time of the Jewish war, when the Roman victory was imminent, Essenes brought their collective works (from all over) to the most remote location (Qumran) and eventually hid their collection in the nearby caves.
Point #2: Collins does not think the Qumran community was bent out of shape primarily over matters of priestly leadership, but rather in opposition to Pharasaic power that gained special favor during the reign of Salome Alexandra (first century BC).
Point #1: Schiffman repeated claimed to be confident that the Jewish canon was “closed” by the time of the Qumran community, but he admits to have a minority position.
Point #2: He wondered whether Qumran was not quite an exclusivist community. Perhaps it was a community that had its own private Essenic life, but welcomed non-sectarian Essenes for “intense periods of study.”
Both Collins and Schiffman try to resolve the problem of having one “rule” for the community that seems to envision men only (1QS) while another (Damascus Document) relates to whole families. How can this be? For Collins, one probable answer is that these are two different standards because they do not both derive from Qumran, but different Essenic communities that ended up putting their “rules” together in one place for safe-keeping. For Schiffman, he thinks (as I understand) both rules were “active” at Qumran. The community itself focused on men, but if others came for a period to the encampment, an accommodating “rule” was in place if their brought their families. In terms of archaeological finds, there are about 10x the number of male body remains in the cemetery than there are women. Also, the men were buried basically in one important site, whereas the women were buried around the periphery. What does this mean? What role did they play in the community? Again, this is all debated.
If you are in the Philly area, the DSS are “still in town” until Sunday, so catch it while you can!