The Dead Sea Scrolls: Challenging the Particularist Paradigm

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Colleges, School and Institutes

Abstract

Some of the most attention-grabbing hypotheses in Qumran studies are based on a smoking gun approach. A parade example is the so-called separation passage in 4QMMT. The prevalent interpretation of this passage as a reference to the emergence of the Qumran movement does not pass the Cinderella Slipper Test. It just doesn’t fit. The context would support a halakhic separation rather than a reference to sect-formation. References to “women,” “fornication,” and “abomination” sit better with the issue of abstaining from improper marriages with “foreign wives.” Even the most ardent proponents of the view that this is the smoking gun reference to the emergence of the sect spend some time justifying the text’s otherwise amenable tone. In addition, it is crucial to take into account that the people are portrayed as rather vulnerable and misled by their priestly leaders rather than a lost cause in this text.
This paper proposes a promising fresh avenue of engagement with scholars working on the equally complex emergence of Christian identity. Thus, William Horbury’s assessment, that “Jews and Christians shared a common sub-culture, the literary focus of which was the Jewish Scriptures” applies to Qumran Jews too. This calls to mind a Twitter hashtag #QumranJewsToo. I am, therefore, suggesting that the Scrolls present us with a much richer literary heritage than narrow sectarian assessments suggest. Here we can learn a great deal from the more nuanced accounts of emerging identities in the study of the parting of the ways between Jews and Christians – or perhaps the ways that never parted as Annette Reed and Adam Becker entitled a recent volume. While I am not suggesting that those who moved to Qumran never parted, I find it inconceivable that the social organization of the community emerged fully fledged – almost like a stroppy teenager walking out in the middle of MMT.
In short, our efforts at tracing the emergence of the movement behind the Dead Sea Scrolls can benefit from Switzerland and the CERN facility – let us think less Big Bang and more Higgs Boson – human and literary particles rubbing along in ways that are at first sight not easy to detect but which ultimately make up the basic constituents of matter, in our case ancient Judaism.

Details

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationTorah, Temple and Land
Subtitle of host publicationncient Judaism(s) in Context
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 29 Apr 2020