The Dead Sea Scroll found near Qumran are still being studied and new ones are being published. So, even though the scrolls have been part of the background for biblical studies since they were found in 1948, the results are still preliminary.  David M. Carr in a long and technical chapter about education and textuality at the Qumran community stresses this.

Nevertheless, he says the old theory that the residents of Qumran correspond to Josephus’s Essenes is plausible.  What is more important is that they were a community of radical priests.  They first called themselves sons of Aaron.  After their reform and reeducation by someone called the Teacher of Righteousness, they called themselves sons of Zadok.

They were radical priests in that they renounced participation in the Jerusalem Temple. They seem to have tended toward dualism in theology and toward an apocalyptic expectation for divine intervention. However, their originating disagreement with the Jerusalem priesthood seems mostly about the purely priestly matter of the calendar.  The Qumran community held to the older solar calendar.

For education and scribal activity, their documents are important because they give us direct evidence for a system of scribal and priestly education.  There was a year of probation for initiates with an examination at the end.  Disciples who completed that could then share in the community meals.  Another year of study and another examination led to full membership in the community.

Every group of 10 had to have a priest who was learned in the “scroll of recitation/meditation”, which was probably the Torah.

Because so many Wisdom texts have turned up among the scrolls, Carr thinks that these played the role of fundamental educational texts.

The other major foundational text was the Torah.  It played a role in education at Qumran much like the role played by Homer in Greek education.

In fact, for all the separatism of the Dead Sea sect, they often parallel Hellenistic models in education.  The importance of Wisdom literature is one example.  But the very existence of the collection of scrolls may be another.  The collecting of archives or libraries of scrolls was a practice in Greece and Egypt

Carr says that the collection of texts at Qumran might be modeled on the collection at the Temple in Jerusalem–a collection that he thinks may have existed based on a tradition to that effect in Christian-era rabbinic sources.

Education at Qumran intended to extend priestly learning beyond just the priests.  The community was involved in the education of other children and women.  The Dead Sea Scrolls are the only texts where we have direct evidence for this kind of socialization and education for nonpriests in Israel.

I have tried to hit just the highlights of Carr’s extensive discussion of Qumran.  In the earlier chapters Carr was surmising much about scribal activity and education based on a few clues and hints.  Here he has a mass of direct evidence about how one ancient Jewish community engaged in the writing and collecting of texts and how they used these texts in education.


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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