Who Wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls?. Norman Boone's Golb
the Dead Sea Scrolls?
The Search for the Secret
Copyright 2012 Norman Golb,
All rights reserved.
Published in eBook format by eBookIt.com
The study of old manuscripts is not a popular subject at universities, and until the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls it was not one that the public followed closely. Starting in 1947 there has been a notable change in the cultural atmosphere. Reading about the discoveries taking place in the Judaean Wilderness and later perusing some of the texts, a wide audience began to perceive how much of the history of two great religions, and of those times in general, was shrouded in silence. By piecing together fragments of long-lost writings, magnifying bits of words and letters, and slowly building new vocabularies of meaning and connotation, students of ancient languages and civilizations were laying the foundation for a better understanding of the past and casting new light on it. It was apparent that such understanding was the result of a dynamic process, achieved through discovery and the fundamental investigation of ancient sources.
This public awareness of the value of ancient manuscripts probably would not have occurred except for the particular circumstance that those texts were what they were, and were found where they were found. The Greek papyri of Egypt discovered in such relative abundance during the past two centuries, the fifteen hundred Greek and Latin scrolls brought out from under the lava of Herculanaeum, the remarkable Coptic gnostic manuscripts revealed virtually at the same time as the first Qumran scrolls, the multitude of medieval Hebrew treasures extracted from the Cairo Genizah—all these together never moved the Western world as did the treasures from the caves near the Dead Sea. The wisdom of the Greeks and Romans, their literary treasures, formed a cultural monument powerfully shaping European consciousness—and yet in our own century, prevailing at the heart of this consciousness, were the values articulated by writers of the ancient Hebrew books forming the Bible of the Jews. Lying behind the social and intellectual vigor of the Jewish people in antiquity, those books and values had acted as a mesmerizing force upon the Hellenistic world when it conquered Palestine and then in turn was conquered by the faiths of its inhabitants, as first Judaism and then a nascent Christianity placed their indelible stamp on the Roman empire. The West will not tire of seeking to solve what remains the profound puzzle of its own metamorphosis into its Jewish and Christian self, and no other discoveries of modern times have approached the scrolls in their potential for casting light on that remarkable phenomenon.
My preoccupation with this theme and others related to it began well over forty years ago, when I worked on the scrolls as a graduate student. In my own case, these ancient texts, representing several centuries of Jewish history, initially served not as an end in themselves, but as an introduction to the study of Hebrew manuscripts written over a far longer period. While I eventually drew the conclusion that the discipline of scroll studies could not properly be divorced from other Hebrew manuscript investigations, the scrolls still came to form one of my primary fields of teaching and research at the University of Chicago over more than three decades. This book began as an effort, based on that experience, to clarify my views on the question of the scrolls’ origin and meaning, always in relation to wider historical themes.
For reasons described in the first several chapters that follow, by the late sixties I had become disenchanted with the traditional belief that the scrolls derived from a small, extremist Jewish sect living in the desert near where they were found. In the specialized studies and more general articles that followed, I explained why the increasing burden of evidence made the traditional theory untenable. While expressing my admiration for the work of pioneers in Qumran studies, I also expressed the hope that my critique, and the new interpretation of Qumran origins that I offered in place of the old, would be useful in the overall elucidation of the remarkable contents of these texts. I increasingly urged free and open debate on that basic question in the course of the 1980s and into the early nineties—and thereby met face-to-face with the reality of Qumran scholarship as it had come to be practiced. It became starkly clear to me that traditional scholarship on the scrolls had become a highly politicized endeavor whose purpose was to protect the old sectarian theory at all costs, rather than a collegial effort welcoming new ideas. What had begun as a scholarly enterprise, in other words, had transformed itself—despite all appeals for open debate—into an ideological agenda. I have found myself obliged to deal with that agenda in the following pages, in the hope of contributing to a greater awareness of what is at stake in the controversy. My criticisms are offered in a spirit of constructive fellowship, and in the hope that they will encourage a higher quality of discourse.
In view of the fact that the scholarship and politics of Qumran studies have become so deeply interwoven, and in view of the way my own scholarly labors were affected by this process, it cannot be said that this was an easy book to write. I was aided, however, by many friends, colleagues, and students, as well as by my immediate family. I primarily owe the idea of developing a critique of Qumranology into book form to my son Joel, an editor and scholar, who took the crucial first steps in encouraging my discussions with the publishers and in helping us reach our mutual decision to publish this work. He thereafter served as the editor of the manuscript, offering a searching critique of all drafts of the work; and his insights and overall sense of logic and balance proved indispensable. Over more than a decade, my son Raphael has uncovered precious information with an unerring eye for detail; in addition to his careful editorial reading, he has played a vital role in furthering the publication of several of my studies on the scrolls. Elements of these studies appear, usually in changed and developed form, at several junctures in this book.
While not directly engaged in the process of writing this book, my daughter Judy was ever a source of deepest love and inspiration as the project unfolded. And my wife Ruth, through her grace and sense of beauty, turned whatever periods of difficulty might otherwise have accompanied the work into days of warmth and friendship. I am deeply thankful to her for the steadfast encouragement she gave me, particularly in the face of her own work and responsibilities.
During my abundant years at the University of Chicago, I have benefited from association with many versatile and erudite colleagues in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations and at the Oriental Institute. I have learned much about the goals and values of scholarship from them, as well as from many outstanding students, both graduate and undergraduate. I am particularly grateful to the director of the Oriental Institute, Prof. William Sumner, for his aid and encouragement. Under his leadership the Institute sponsored, with the New York Academy of Sciences, the 1992 International Conference on the scrolls—held just one year after the texts were made accessible to the world of scholarship; and he was instrumental in establishing the Institute’s Dead Sea Scrolls Research Project.
My colleague and former student Professor Michael Wise offered countless important insights on the scrolls and their cultural and historical background. I am grateful to him for his incisive comments on many passages in this work, which were of much help to me in the course of development of the manuscript. Over a two-year period, our student and research assistant Anthony Tomasino unstintingly offered his time and knowledge; his grasp of ancient Christianity and the intertestamental history of the Jews is reflected in several of the chapters that follow.
My colleague in historical studies, Michael Maas of Rice University, offered many helpful comments on parts of the manuscript, as did Matthias Klinghardt, a friend and New Testament scholar at Augsburg University. I would also like to express a special word of remembrance regarding the late Katharine Washburn, a superb editor and belletrist in the best sense of that term, for her incisive comments