Self-fashioning in the Dead Sea Scrolls: thickening the description of what rule texts do

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This essay draws on the idea of self-fashioning that has been influential in research on the Early Modern period to shed fresh light on the Dead Sea Scrolls. The overall framework of this contribution challenges common readings of the Rule Texts – particularly the Damascus Document and the Community Rule – “from an I-am-a-camera ‘phenomenalistic’ observation” of the practices, laws, and history of the wider movement associated with the Scrolls. The notion of fashioning oneself goes back to the French Renaissance philosopher Michel de Montaigne, especially his essays “Of Giving the Lie” and “On the Lame.” Montaigne’s notion of self-fashioning has been fruitfully developed by Early Modern historians. In his monograph on Renaissance Self Fashioning: From More to Shakespeare the distinguished literary historian Stephen Greenblatt notes the emergence of the concept of self-fashioning in the 16th century but also acknowledges its rootedness in the ancient world. Drawing on the work of Greenblatt, who applied the notion of self-fashioning both to individuals as well as literature, Natalie Zemon Davis explored the prevalence of self-fashioning in 16th century French peasant life.
The notion of self-fashioning is particularly helpful when reading the Dead Sea Scrolls, in particular those texts that portray the movement associated with the site of Qumran as offering unadulterated access to the thought world and social structure of the movement. Instead, the cultural norms of literary production that drove the authors of other ancient literature, including the emerging Hebrew Bible, will have been drivers also behind sectarian texts such as the Community Rule and the Damascus Document. The idea of self-fashioning applies both on a literary level and on the level of individual community members. The Rule Texts fashion a carefully crafted presentation of the movement which was, in turn, intended to shape individual members’ behaviour through powerful evocations of the consequences of disloyalty. In concluding it is argued that we have demonstrated how members of the movement reflected in the Damascus Document and the Community Rule (re-)fashioned their identity as they joined, thrived in, struggled or departed from the movement driven, amongst other factors, also by kinship and economic pressures.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSocial History of the Jews in Antiquity
Subtitle of host publicationStudies in Dialogue with Albert Baumgarten
EditorsMichal Bar-Asher Siegal, Jonathan Ben-Dov
Place of PublicationTübingen
PublisherMohr Siebeck: Tübingen
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)9783161607080
ISBN (Print)9783161606946
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2021

Publication series

NameTexte und Studien zum Antiken Judentum
ISSN (Print)0721-8753
ISSN (Electronic)2568-9525


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