Magness-Bones at Qumran

Jodi Magness has her name on a couple of books about Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls.  So her chapter about the finds at Qumran in The Archeology of the Holy Land is based on much study and expertise.

Qumran is the site on the west shore of the Dead Sea where the scroll were discovered in the late 1940‘s.  People lived there during the New Testament period and for a century and more before. It consists of a bunch of caves that stored the scrolls, a complex of buildings, a water system and pools, a cemetery, and some stuff that was just left laying around–for instance, deposits of animal bones.  The buildings had been heavily damaged twice, once in about 40 B.C.E. by an earthquake, and once by fire and, apparently, violence in the first decade C.E.

The arguments about Qumran have partly been about whether the dominant theory of Roland De Vaux is correct or not.  He headed up the main excavation at Qumran beginning in 1951.  He was a Dominican priest.  The rap against him has been that, being familiar with monasticism, he read a kind of monasticism into his understanding of the Qumran community.  He saw the site as the home of a monk-like sect of Essenes.  There have been many proposed alternatives to his theory.  But they all have big problems too.

Most scholars still hold to some version of De Vaux’s theory.  Magness is no exception.

There is a very mysterious room that had inkwells.  De Vaux called it a scriptorium or writing room.  The room has long tables and we do not know how they used these (sitting at a table to write came to be a practice in the middle ages, but is unknown as early as Qumran–1st century B.C.E. and 1st century C.E.)  Some have thought it was a dining room or something else.  But you have to come back to the inkwells.  Some of the scrolls, at least, likely were written at Qumran.

In the cemetery we have found only three women buried and no children.  So Qumran was mostly a community of adult men.

The animal bones found in deposits at Qumran are all of kosher animals.  If people just wanted to dispose of bones, they could have dropped them over the cliff into the sea.  But they deposited them at fixed points around the outside of the settlement.  Magness explains what she thinks is the reason for this.

The temple at Jerusalem had designated places outside where the priests placed bones from the many sacrifices.  This preserved the purity of the Temple itself.  So Magness thinks the Qumran community consisted of disaffected Zadokite priests.  These priests did not practice animal sacrifice at Qumran.  At least, we found no altar there.  But they did practice ritual meals.  So Magness thinks that they treated the bones as priests had long treated bones at the temple.  They thought of Qumran as a kind of substitute temple, or wilderness tabernacle.

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About theoutwardquest

I have many interests, but will blog mostly about what I read in the fields of Bible and religion.
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