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The Dead Sea Scrolls

28 July 2010
Ancient history

Is this another important discovery – or rather, interpretation (see http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2010/07/100727-who-wrote-dead-sea-scrolls/ July 27th. The mystery is solved according to the headline – but is it? New clues suggest the scrolls my have been the textual treasure of a number of groups that were hidden away during a time of war between Jews and Romans. It was thought they were texts from an Essene community from the first centuries BC and AD but now it is thought the scrolls originated from a number of places and were written at different times by different Jewish religio-political groups, stshed away after the Roman seige fo the Temple in Jerusalem in 70AD. This somewhat watered down or conciliatory solution to the problem is to be aired in a TV documentary on the National Geographic Channel – but they acknowledge this view is controversial and will bring a lot of criticism down on their heads. Recently, Yural Peleg, an Israeli archaeologist who excavated at Qumran for 16 years, challenged the Essene theory and said Qumran was actually a pottery factory and the so called ritual baths were pools of water used to soften and separate the clay. Others suggest the Essenes were priests from the Temple who went into voluntary exile in the 2nd century BC. Now, in this programme, the suggestion is that priests and religious people wrote the documents – but at different points in time, thereby embracing bits of all the theories. Essenes were probably the authors of some of the scrolls – but not all of them. Critics of this idea say the scrolls fit into a coherent theme which includes the messiah and a common interpretation of scripture via Jewish Law. In fact, the Law appears to play a major role in the texts, suggesting that in Roman times it was thought the Law was not being applied – or was being abused in some way (by gentiles perhaps). However, if the scrolls are the product of Jews hiding away after the rebellion against the Roman presence this may explain the common theme – but where is Jesus in the scrolls?

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