THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS: PART ONE
The Dead Scrolls have contributed greatly to scholarly study of the Old Testament and the religious sect responsible for the writing and preservation of the scrolls found at Qumran Israel. In this series of essays I will provide a comprehensive overview of The Dead Sea Scrolls and what impact their discovery has had on our understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures.
The Dead Sea Scrolls are associated with a site named Khirbet Qumran which is located in the Judean desert about 20 miles southeast of Jerusalem near the northwest shore of the Dead Sea. In July of 1994, I had the opportunity to participate in an archeological dig at Megiddo which is located about 40 miles north of Jerusalem. While in Israel, I was able to visit Qumran and explore some of the very caves associated with the discovery of the scrolls.
Looking east from the Qumran site you can easily see the Dead Sea. Just to the west of the site are limestone cliffs containing a number of caves. It was in five of these caves that a number of scrolls and scroll fragments were found. In addition to the documents found in these five caves overlooking Khirbet Qumran, many additional documents were found in six caves discovered in the soft sandstone mounds adjacent to the Qumran site. These six caves were manmade, having been carved out of the soft sandstone material.
All indications are that the Qumran site was home to a religious community that lived in the area from around the third century B.C. to sometime in the middle of the first century A.D. The group is generally referred to by scholars as the Qumran sect. Today it is an archeological excavation site.
The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls began in the spring of 1947 when a twelve year old Bedouin shepherd boy had one of his goats wander away from the herd and climb the cliffs above Khirbet Qumran. The wayward goat apparently entered one of the many caves embedded in the cliffs above Qumran and rather than climb the cliffs, the Bedouin shepherd threw a stone into the cave hoping to scare the goat out of the cave and entice it to return to the herd. Instead of hearing the expected sound of the stone hitting the walls of the cave, the shepherd heard a pinging sound and realized he had hit some object. He threw another stone into the cave and heard the same sound. Being inquisitive, the Bedouin shepherd climbed the cliffs and entered the cave to discover two earthenware vessels containing seven scrolls.
The young boy and the other Bedouin shepherds with him had no idea of the value of what they had found and proceeded to keep the scrolls for several weeks until they needed to go to Bethlehem to exchange some of their goat and sheep based products for supplies they needed. They took the scrolls with them and ended up selling them to a man named Kando who was a shoemaker but also doubled as an antiquities dealer. There are many antiquities dealers in the Middle East. This area of the world is a treasure chest of artifacts that have been discovered through various excavations of historical sites.
For reasons that remain unclear, Kando divided the scrolls into a group of three and a group of four. Kando didn’t know the significance of what he purchased but figured the scrolls may have value to those in the religious communities he had contact with. He ended up selling the group of four scrolls in July of 1947 to a man named Mar Samuel who was the Metropolitan of the Syrian Orthodox Church in Jerusalem. In November of 1947 he sold the three other scrolls to Professor Eliezer Sukenik of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Mar Samuel, who had purchased the group of four scrolls, contacted an institution in East Jerusalem called the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR). Samuel shared the scrolls with ASOR and gave them permission to publish the four documents. In the mean time, Sukenik went ahead and published the three scrolls he had purchased. By 1951, all seven scrolls were translated and published into Modern Hebrew so that scholars around the word could study what these scrolls were all about.
Included among the three scrolls purchased by Professor Sukenik was about one-half of the book of Isaiah which was found to very closely reflect the wording of our present book of Isaiah. Our English translation of Isaiah, as well as all other OT Scriptures, is translated from manuscripts based on the Codex Leningrad of the Hebrew Scriptures which dates to around 1100 A.D. Around A.D 700, a group of scholars called Masoretes worked to standardize the Hebrew text by comparing all known copies at the time and adding vowel points to standardize the pronunciation of the words. Prior to that time the Hebrew Scriptures contained only consonants.
The Codex Leningrad is the oldest surviving Masoretic text and was the oldest surviving Hebrew Bible prior to the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. All other manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible had been lost to antiquity. With the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, we now have a copy of Isaiah and other books and parts of books of the Hebrew Scriptures that date back to somewhere between 250 B.C. and 50 A.D.
BC AND AD VERSUS BCE AND CE.
Throughout this series I will use the designations B.C and A.D. even though it is no longer fashionable to do so in scholarly circles. Some time ago the scholarly community substituted B.C.E. (Before the Common Era) for B.C. (Before Christ) and C.E. (Common Era) for A.D. which derives from the Latin “Anno Domini” which means “In the Year of Our Lord,” which is equivalent to saying “After Christ.” It was determined that it was inappropriate to base discussion of historical events on theologically charged terminology and so the decision was made to use the theologically neutral designations of B.C.E. and C.E. It is interesting, however, that the same break in world history remains and tacitly still splits history into before and after the Christ event. If the scholarly community really wanted to get rid of any hint of religious affiliation with the dating of historical events, I would think they would simply get rid of the two designations of B.C. and A.D. and date everything in a straight line which would have us living in the year 7013 rather that 2013. Since I personally am not uncomfortable with B.C. and A.D., I will use those designations during this discussion.
THE SEVEN SCROLLS:
In addition to the Isaiah manuscript in the Sukenik collection, there was a document called Thanksgiving Hymns which was a collection of hymns in praise of God somewhat like the book of Psalms. The third text in Sukenik’s collection of three documents is called the War Scroll. The War Scroll speaks of the sons of light and the sons of darkness and the conflict between them. This text uses actual military terminology to describe a battle that is prophesied to occur between these two forces with the sons of light being victorious resulting in the ushering in of the messianic age.
The four scrolls published by ASOR included a complete copy of the book of Isaiah, a document called the Manual of Discipline (also known as the Community Rule), a text called Pesher Habakkuk and a document called the Genesis Apocryphon. While the incomplete Isaiah scroll from the Sukenik collection is very similar in wording to the eleventh century A.D. medieval Hebrew texts from which we get our modern translations, the complete Isaiah scroll from the ASOR collection differs considerably in wording and spelling from such medieval texts. We will discuss this matter later in this series. The Community Rule document provides us with the theological perspectives and organization of the Qumran sect. The Pesher Habakkuk is a commentary on the OT book of Habakkuk. The Genesis Apocryphon is written in Aramaic and provides extensive retelling of portions of the Biblical book of Genesis including the flood account and the story of Abraham and Sarah.
Needless to say, the discovery of the seven scrolls by the Bedouin Shepherd resulted in a great deal of investigation of the many caves located in the cliffs above Qumran and caves located closer to the Qumran site. Many additional documents were found during a period of exploration done between 1947 and 1954. All in all, a total of 930 documents have been found in eleven different caves at the Qumran site. In cave #5 alone, over 500 documents were discovered although most were fragmentary. Overall, the scrolls date to the years 250 B.C. to A.D. 50, a period of 300 years. However, most of the documents appear to be from about 150 B.C. to A.D. 50, a period of 100 years within the total 300 year period.
Of the 930 documents discovered, 230 are copies of the books of the Hebrew Bible and include portions of every book of the Hebrew Bible except for the Book of Ester. About 250 documents are non canonical religious texts used by the Jews during the 300 year period under consideration. An additional 350 documents are sectarian works that document the life style and general practices of the Qumran community. The remaining 100 texts are too fragmentary to identify as belonging to any of the above categories.
While the seven scrolls found by the Bedouin Shepherd were quickly published, it took 55 years for the all of the discovered documents to be deciphered, studied and published. Many of the documents were small fragments and very deteriorated. Most of the texts were written on parchment made from the skins of goats and sheep and many of the fragments were initially illegible. With the discovery of infrared technology in the 1960’s the initially illegible fragments were able to be deciphered. In 1977, the largest of the scrolls called the Temple Scroll was published. By 2002, all the scrolls were published.
The vast majority of the texts are in Hebrew. A few are in Aramaic and a few are in Greek. Aramaic and Hebrew renderings of the book of Enoch and the book of Jubilees were among the documents discovered. While most of the documents are written on parchment made from animal skins, a small number are written on papyrus. Papyrus is a sea weed type plant that was abundant in the Mediterranean area and used for writing on. One scroll was written on thin sheets of copper. It is designated the copper scroll. Very few scrolls were found totally intact. However, about a dozen scrolls were in good enough shape to allow for a continuous read. Most scrolls were fragmentized and such fragments had to be meticulously examined and then pieced together in order to arrive at coherency of meaning. Needless to say this took many years to accomplish but this has now been done.
HIDING THE SCROLLS:
How and why were these scrolls stored in the caves at Qumran? The theory that has the most support is that the Qumran community, which lived below the cliffs containing the caves, hid their scrolls in the caves during the Roman siege of Jerusalem that began in October of A.D. 66 and ended with the destruction of Jerusalem in August of A.D. 70. History shows that after destroying the temple and much of Jerusalem, the Romans marched southward through Qumran and then marched all the way to Masada at the southwest end of the Dead Sea where they laid siege against the Jews who had fled to this remote site. Since a scroll associated with the Qumran sect called “The Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice” was found around 30 miles south of Masada, it is speculated that some of the Qumran sect may have traveled to Masada and joined up with the Zealots who had escaped to Masada during the Roman war. The Zealots were a political/religious group that led the initial rebellion against Rome at Jerusalem in A.D. 66. The Roman war against the Jews came to an end in A.D. 73 when the Jews at Masada committed suicide rather than be taken by the Romans. The Jews who hid the scrolls at Qumran very likely intended to return and retrieve them once things had settled down but the Romans pretty much took care of that.
IDENTIFYING THE SCROLLS:
With there being 930 individual documents from eleven different caves, scholars had to organize them in a way that would allow for accurate record keeping of were they were found and what thy represented. The eleven caves were numbered and the appropriate number was placed in front of the letter Q to signify what Qumran cave a particular document came from. For example the complete Isaiah document found in cave #1 was labeled 1QIsa(a). Since the incomplete Isaiah document was also found in cave #1, it was labeled 1QIsa(b). As covered above, more than 500 documents were found in cave four. Many were fragments and initially could not be associated with a particular book of the Hebrew Scriptures or any other identified genre of material. Such documents were simply labeled as 4Q something such as 4Q294 or 4Q486. As these fragments became fitted to other fragments and recognized as being part of a specific genre of material, they were given letter designations to reflect that. Other scrolls were immediately given letter designations such as the Isaiah scrolls already mentioned. The Temple Scroll, which was found in cave 11, was designated as 11QT.
THE QUMRAN SECT:
What was the Qumran sect? Who were the people that produced hundreds of documents and placed them in the caves at Qumran? What is known about this group is largely gathered from the scroll identified as 1QS, also known as the Community Rule or the Manual of Discipline. This manual reveals that the group called themselves by the Hebrew name Yachad which means “community.” A reading of this manual reveals that the group viewed themselves as an oppressed minority within the larger matrix of the Judaism of the time. Members of the group pooled their wealth, ate communal meals and dedicated themselves to strict adherence to the Torah. For example, there are warnings to not alter the dates of the holydays and there are rules for very strict observance of the Sabbath even to the point where members of the sect would not defecate on the Sabbath.
1QS shows a distinct dualism in that they believed God had created spirits of light and spirits of darkness in all humans and the world is governed by the prince of lightness and the angel of darkness. There is a strong belief in predetermination as seen in the following quote from 1QS.
”From the God of Knowledge comes all that is and that shall be. Before things came to be, He has prepared all their thoughts, so that when they do come to be at their appointed times, accordingly to His glorious plan, they fulfill their action, a destiny impossible to change.”
The sect is seen as being supervised by priests called the sons of Zadok. Zadok was the first high priest of the temple built by Solomon. There is reference to the coming of the Prophet and the Messiahs of Aaron and Israel. Scholars believe this group not only believed in a messianic figure to come from the line of David but there would also be a priestly messiah to come from the line of Aaron. The sect is seen as practicing ritual immersion to remove not only ritual impurities but also sin and transgression. Such ritual immersion was part of the passage of initiation into the sect. There is no mention of women in the Community Rule Scroll. This has led some scholars to believe this was a celibate group.
There is a Statutes section in 1QS that dictates periods of confinement for various offenses. If you are caught speaking foolishly, you were confined for three months. Interrupting another community member while he was speaking got you ten days of confinement. For falling asleep during a meeting you got three months of confinement. Exposing nakedness in public got you six months confinement and spitting during a meeting got you thirty days.
As in the war scroll, the sons of light and the sons of darkness are mentioned in the Community Rule Scroll and it appears that the sons of light designation was a reference to themselves while the sons of darkness was a reference to all other Jews who it was believed were not living up to the standards of the Torah and therefore will experience the vengeance of God. As already mentioned there were warnings not to alter the dates of the holy days. Why was there this warning?
We know from rabbinic texts of the period that the rabbis’ would adjust the calendar to insure that the Day of Atonement would never fall on a Friday. Friday was the preparation day for the Sabbath when food would be prepared in advance since no cooking was allowed on the Sabbath. Since the rules of Sabbath also applied to the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), if Yom Kippur should fall on a Friday, you could not prepare any food for the next day which would be the Sabbath. Since the Torah requires that Yom Kippur be kept on the tenth day of the seventh month of the Hebrew calendar and the calendar months were determined by the sighting of the new moon, the rabbis’ would tweak the sighting of the new moon so that it would allow for the necessary adjustment to insure Yom Kippur did not fall on a Friday. The Qumran sect strongly condemned this practice as a violation of God’s law.
EXCAVATION OF KHIRBET QUMRAN:
Qumran is the name of the region 20 miles southeast of Jerusalem. Khirbet Qumran is the name of the archaeological site at Qumran believed to be the home of the Qumran sect responsible for the scrolls. Khirbet is an Arabic word that means archaeological ruin. Khirbet Qumran is on flat land near the shore of the Dead Sea. This sea is called the Dead Sea because the water is highly saturated with salt and other minerals to the point that no life can live in this water. The water is so dense with mineral matter that you remain buoyant when in the water and you virtual cannot drown. I personally have a difficult time floating on water but on the Dead Sea I had no trouble floating at all. In the OT Scriptures, the Dead Sea is called the Salt Sea.
Since you can’t drink the water from the Dead Sea or use it for watering crops or much of anything else, the Qumran sect depended on water collected during the winter rains which filled up a dry riverbed called a wadi located at a location near Khirbet. The wadi was actually called Wadi Qumran and from this wadi they diverted water into channels that flowed to reservoirs where they lived and worked.
Soon after the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, archaeologists began to excavate the ruins of Khirbet Qumran located about a mile below the cliffs where the scrolls were found. It was determined the period of settlement at the Qumran site was from around A.D. 134 to A.D. 68 with a short interruption around A.D. 31 when an earthquake hit this area. Three vessels containing over 500 coins were found at the site and the dates on the coins were used to establish the approximate period of occupation of the area. The fact that these coins were found all together in three vessels indicates the Qumran group had a central treasury of sorts. This appears to support the indications derived from the Community Rule scroll that upon joining this group you had to give up private procession of wealth and pool you money with everyone else. Carbon 14 dating has been done on snippets of the scrolls and other materials found in the caves which have given further verification to the general time frame determined for the existence of the Qumran community.
Excavations at Qumran discovered a pottery making area, a kitchen and pantry, a main meeting area, a scriptorium containing writing tables and ink wells and an elaborate system of cisterns and baths. We know from the Community Rule Scroll that the sect was very much into purification rites and the discovery of the baths and extensive plumbing system gives evidence to that.
As already discussed, the caves wherein the scrolls were found, were located in the limestone cliffs about Khirbet Qumran and in man made caves in the sandstone formations surrounding Qumran. The caves were numbered in order of their discovery. Therefore, the cave in which the first seven scrolls were found, was cave one. While the scrolls in cave one were found in clay vessels, the scrolls in the other caves were not in vessels but simply strewn around on the floor of the caves.
Excavation has been done at a cemetery located close to Khirbet where around 1,100 graves were found. I noted earlier that some scholars believe the Qumran sect was celibate because women are not mentioned in the Community Rule Scroll. However, female skeletons were found in the cemetery which indicates women were part of the community although it doesn’t tell us anything about their sexual habits. Women are also mentioned in a variety of other scroll documents.
A number of other caves in the area have been researched in an attempt to find more artifacts associated with the Qumran community. While no additional scrolls have been found, the usual pottery, coins and other artifacts common to archaeological investigations have been found. What also has been identified is a well defined path that leads from Khirbet Qumran to the area of the caves. Since no private dwellings have been found at Khirbet Qumran, there is speculation that the dwellers at Qumran either lived in tents adjacent to the village site and/or lived in the caves found close to the village. Since pottery and other artifacts have been found in these caves that relate to domestic activity, living in these caves appears very probable.
An interesting side note is how the source of the clay used to make a piece of pottery can be determined base on analysis of the mineral makeup of the clay. For example, it has been determined that about half the clay of the Qumran pots comes from Jerusalem. How do we know this? There is a lab test known as “neutron activation” which identifies the trace elements in the soil. By testing the trace mineral content of the clay in the pots found at Qumran and comparing it with the trace mineral content of soil from around the Mediterranean, one can determine where the pot was made or at least were the clay came from to make the pot. Since around half of the Qumran pots are made with Jerusalem clay, it is believed they either came from Jerusalem or clay was brought from Jerusalem to make the pots in the pottery making area discovered at the Khirbet Qumran site.
What is interesting about the Qumran pottery is that the jars found at both the Khirbet and cave sites are distinctive in style in so much that they are tall, thin and cylindrical with a large opening at the top and removable lids. This type of pottery is found no where else in Israel. Clay vessels found in other parts of the Mediterranean are typically shorter and fatter with a small opening at the top. The possible significance of the design of the Qumran jars will be addressed later.
In order to understand the development of the Qumran community and their theological perspectives, it is necessary to provide a short history of Israel and discuss the dynamics that led to the development of the various religious sects that were extant at the same time as that of the Qumran community. It is important to do this because a number of scholars believe the Qumran sect is the same as or at least a form of another religious sect that developed in Judea at the same time the Qumran sect developed. This sect became known as the Essenes. We know a lot about the Essenes because the first century Jewish historian Josephus wrote a lot about them. The reason scholars believe the Qumran sect may have been the Essenes or very similar to them is because what Josephus wrote about the Essenes greatly parallels what we know about the Qumran sect from their writings.
To understand the makeup of the Qumran sect it is also important we understand the development of the sect of the Pharisees, Sadducees and even the Samaritans who lived just north of Judea. By looking at these groups we will see the parallels and contrasts between them and between them and the Qumran sect. Let’s begin by providing an overview of Israel’s history and thus place into context what led up to the development of the religious groups that were present when Jesus walked on earth.
Abraham, Isaac and Jacob:
We know from Scripture that the development of the nation of Israel began when God called Abram to fulfill a special purpose. Abram, whose name was changed to Abraham (meaning father of a multitude), begat Isaac. Isaac begat Jacob, whose name was changed by God to Israel (contender with God). Israel had twelve sons who became know as the children of Israel. We all know the story about the sons of Israel becoming residents of Egypt and expanding into a large nation of people and being held in bondage for four hundred years.
The people of Israel were delivered from Egyptian bondage and were given the land of Canaan. After the time of Moses, the Israelites were ruled by judges and than by kings. During Solomon’s reign, a temple was built which became the center of religious worship. After Solomon’s death, his son Rehoboam became king but because of his governing style a number of the twelve tribes of Israel rebelled and broke away from Rehoboam’s rule and under the leadership of Jeroboam, established the northern kingdom in a part of the land of Israel known as Samaria. This became known as the Kingdom of Israel. Rehoboam continued to rule over three tribes that remained in the south and his kingdom became known as the Kingdom of Judah.
As time passed, the northern kingdom was taken captive by the Assyrians and many Israelites were assimilated into Assyrian society. The Assyrians also placed non-Israliteites in Samaria who then became integrated into the society and culture of those Israelites who remained in Samaria. This mixed group was the peoples living in Samaria during the time of Christ and known to the NT Scriptures as the Samaritans. The Samaritans practiced a hybrid form of Judaism which we will discuss later. Some time after the Assyrians took the northern kingdom captive; the southern kingdom fell to the Babylonians and the Israliteites living in the kingdom of Judah were largely removed from Judea and taken to Babylon and other locations. The Babylon Empire was subsequently subdued by the Persian Empire which allowed the Jews, under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah, to return to Judea and rebuild the temple which had been destroyed by the Babylonians. This rebuilt temple was greatly enhanced in size and magnificence during the reign of Herod the Great. Herod was the Roman appointed king of Judea at the time Christ was born. At the time of Christ, this temple was virtually one of the wonders of the world.
The Greek Empire:
In 333 B.C., Alexander the Great began his conquest of much of the known world. The Persian Empire was replaced by the Greek Empire. Greek culture and architecture spread throughout the Mediterranean area including the land of Israel. Greek philosophy based on the teachings of Plato, Aristotle and other Greek philosophers infiltrated the religious systems of many cultures including that of Judaism. Alexander the Great had been a student of Aristotle. The Greek language became dominant throughout the Empire and many Jews, especially those living outside of Israel began speaking Greek. This period is generally referred to as the Hellenistic period where Greek culture dominated.
Alexander died at the young age of 33 in 323 B.C. after which four separate Greek kingdoms developed with well defined boundaries. Two of these kingdoms are pertinent to our discussion. The kingdom of the Ptolemy’s ruled Egypt and that rule extended into Judea until around 198 B.C. Jewish religious life in Judea continued with little change during the reign of the Ptolemy’s. In addition to the Jews living in Judea, many lived in Egypt and became integrated into the Greek culture that pervaded Egypt at the time.
It was during this time the Torah of the Hebrew Scriptures was translated into Greek so that the increasingly Greek speaking Jewish population around the world could read these Scriptures in what had become their native language. This occurred around 250 B.C. when King Ptolemy the second sanctioned the translation of the Torah into the Greek language. The completed document became known as the Septuagint or LXX which is the Greek for the number 70. It is called the Septuagint because it is believed this translation of the Torah was completed in seventy days by a group of 72 Palestinian Jews. The rest of the Hebrew Scriptures were translated into Greek during the next 100 years and included the Apocrypha, a collection of writings not found in the Hebrew Scriptures but nevertheless included in the Septuagint. A number of these Apocryphal writings are included in the Catholic Bible but have been rejected by the Protestant community.
It is interesting to note that Scholarly research has revealed that many NT quotes of OT Scriptures are from the Septuagint which means the NT authors were reading and studying the Hebrew Scriptures in Greek. Therefore, when NT authors quote the OT, they are generally quoting from the Greek translation of the OT. Some Septuagint fragments were found at Qumran which indicates some in the Qumran community were reading the Hebrew Scriptures in Greek.
The other successor kingdom to Alexander pertinent to our discussion is the Seleucid Empire. The Seleucids ruled from Antioch which at that time was located in northern Syria but today would be seen on a map as southern Turkey. Since the Seleucid kingdom ruled over all of Mesopotamia and Persia and since there were a number of Jews living in those areas at the time, the Jews were simultaneously living under two separate kingdoms, the Ptolemy’s and the Seleucid’s.
In 198 B.C., the Ptolemy’s and Seleucid’s fought each other at the battle of Paneas, a city in northern Israel. The Seleucid’s defeated the Ptolemy’s and gained control over Judea. Jewish religious practices continued unaltered during the first twenty or so years of Seleucid rule. However, this all changed at the ascension of Antiochus Epiphanes the third to the throne in 175 B.C. During the time of the Ptolemy rule and early into the rule of the Seleucid’s over Judea, the Jewish community in Judea was ruled by their High Priest. During the reign of Antiochus, two Jewish priests, Jason and Menelaus, competed for the position of High Priest. Both of these men were enthralled with Greek civilization and wanted to Hellenize Jewish culture.
Menelaus won the competition with Jason by apparently outbidding Jason before Antiochus. In other words, Menelaus bought his way into the priesthood. Furthermore, Menelaus was not even from the priestly tribe of Levi but was of the tribe of Benjamin. Menelaus, with his desire to Hellenize the Jews, played right into the hands of Antiochus who apparently wanted to totally Hellenize the Jews. Antiochus decreed that the Jews could no longer engage in their traditional forms of worship. They were forbidden to observe the Sabbath or the Festivals. Circumcision was outlawed and the Jews were forced to sacrifice swine at the temple.
The Maccabean Revolt:
These moves by Antiochus met with immediate resistance. Initially a group of Jews called the Hasidim, which means “pious ones,” began to practice peaceful civil disobedience resulting in many of these Jews being killed for their efforts. Then a priestly family named the Maccabees formed an army to lead an outright rebellion against the armies of Antiochus. The Maccabees were successful in defeating the Seleucid’s and the Jewish religious practice was restored. The temple was cleansed of pagan influence and rededicated to God. This dedication is celebrated to this very day as the holiday Hanukkah. The word Hanukkah means “dedication.”
With their victory in war against the Seleucid’s, the Maccabees took over the reigns of government in Judea and began what is known as the Hasmonean dynasty which ruled in Judea from around 164 B.C. to 63 B.C. Jonathan Maccabee assumed the role of high Priest in 152 B.C. Here we begin to see a possible connection with the Dead Sea Scrolls. In the scrolls is allusion to a Wicked Priest. Some Dead Sea Scroll scholars believe this to be a reference to Jonathan Maccabee. Why would Jonathan be considered a wicked priest? Didn’t his family just save the Jews from pagan rule? As already discussed, the Qumran sect believed that the position of High Priest could only be filled by descendants of the sons of Zadok, the first High Priest installed by Solomon. Jonathan Maccabee apparently was not of that lineage even though he was of the tribe of Levi. Remember, all indications are that the Qumran site was home to a religious community that lived in the area from around the third century B.C to sometime in the middle of the first century A.D. Therefore, this sect was in existence at the time of the Maccabean revolt.
Other Dead Sea Scroll scholars believe the reference to a Wicked Priest in the Scrolls is a reference to the previous high priest Menelaus who was not even of the tribe of Levi and had bought his high priesthood from Antiochus and conspired with Antiochus to Hellenize the Jews.
The Hasmonean’s were successful in not only ruling Judea but they also conquered neighboring lands such as Idumea located to the southwest of Judea. Idumea was the former Edom spoken of in the Hebrew Scriptures and the Edomites were the descendants of Esau. The Hasmonean’s forcibly converted the Idumeans to Judaism. The Hasmonean’s also conquered Samaria to the north of Judea and destroyed their temple at Mount Gerizim. Remember, the Samaritans were a mix of Israelites, Assyrians and other ethnic peoples who had developed their own brand of Judaism and actual had their own temple.
Around 63 B.C. the Roman general Pompey gained control of Judea and surrounding territory and the Romans began to rule the land of Israel through puppet Hasmonean kings. In 37 B.C. Herod became king and ruled until 4 B.C. Herod was an Edomite who had marred a Hasmonean princess and thus wormed his way into the ranks of leadership within the Hasmonean dynasty. Somehow he convinced the Roman Senate to make him king over Judea.
As the years went by, Roman rule became more and more oppressive which led to the development of a political/religious party called the Zealots who rebelled against Roman rule and precipitated the war with Rome that began in A.D. 67 and ended with the siege of Masada in A.D. 73. It was sometime during this war that the inhabitants of Qumran where either killed or escaped. They either hid their scrolls in the caves above Qumran hoping to retrieve them at a later time or they may have used the caves on an ongoing basis to store the scrolls. Since artifacts associated with domestic activity were also found in some of the caves and since there is no evidence of residential housing at the Qumran complex that has been excavated below the cliffs, it is possible that at least some of the Qumran residents actually lived in the caves.
In part two of this series we will look at various Jewish sects that existed before and after the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 and begin to take a close look at some of the documents discovered at Qumran.