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where's the evidence?
, January 30, 2007
This review is from: Who Wrote The Dead Sea Scrolls?: The Search For The Secret Of Qumran (Paperback)
On page 10 Golb wrote, "Since no coins of the reign of Herod the Great (40-4 BC) were found in the excavation..." But De Vaux did find coins of Herod the Great, and reported this plainly, for instance on pages 22-23 of Archaeology and the Dead Sea Scrolls. (Later digs found Herod coins, also.) This is one example of inaccurate presentation of the facts. The book is not reliable factually, nor in its interpretations. Let's take a more complicated example, the text known as 4Q448. Golb's long section on this starts on page 256. Ada Yardeni discovered what had been overlooked by previous readers: this fragment mentioned King Jonathan, otherwise known as Alexander Jannaeus. So, most would agree, it has potential to tell us something about history. Golb wrote belittling the skills of Yardeni and her publication colleagues. Golb claims to give the right reading of the beginning of the poetry in which the king's name appears. I think a scholar or 2 or 3 accepted his reading for a while years ago, but I can't think of any scholar today who uses Golb's reading. Furthermore, 4Q448 is increasingly seen, not as Golb thought, as a hymn of praise of King Jonathan, but a condemnation of him. Then, not long after, Golb found that he agreed with Yardeni on the reading of an ostracon found at Qumran. He changed his tune, and had high praise of Yardeni as a skilled paleographer (as she is). So his interpretation of 4Q448 is unreliable.
Golb claimed the sequence of Qumran discoveries misled historians--but that is merely a non-falsifiable claim. Golb claims Qumran was a fort, but the walls are not fortified. Aside from a small skirmish in c. 68 CE between Romans and (probably) zealots who came after the Essenes fled east, there's no Hellenistic/Roman battle evidence. In fact, in most periods of history, Qumran was uninhabited, because it is not strategically located. Golb downplayed or ignored sectarianism. But the initiation described in the scrolls involves giving all one owns to the yahad--a big step--and this is also described of Essenes in Josephus War Book 2. Sadducees, according to Josephus, persuaded "few," and were an aristocratic group, smallest of the three probably. Sadducees are not known for writing books, except perhaps for a "Book of Decrees," which is not found at Qumran. Sadducees were Torah-only conservatives; they did not believe in named angels nor resurrection--teachings present at Qumran, and matching Essene teachings. Just as there are no Sadducee texts among the circa 900 Qumran texts, similarly, there are no Pharisee texts there: rather, the Qumran texts apparently belittle Pharisee oral tradition. Qumran texts disapprove of the temple administration (on purity and calendar practice, for example). The pro-Maccabee book 1 Maccabees, though likely available then in Hebrew, is totally absent at Qumran. Neither, in all the Qumran calendar texts, is there a single mention of the pro-Hasmonean festival of Hanukkah. Hirschfeld proposed locating Pliny's Essenes at a site uphill of Ein Gedi; among the many archaeologists unpersuaded by Hirschfeld's site are Magen and Peleg, and Magness and Amit. The best reading of Pliny locates Essenes on the "north-west shore" of the Dead Sea, as C.D. Ginsburg wrote in 1870, and as did several others before the scrolls came to light in 1948. Golb's book is out of date in regard to scholarship on Pliny, who never set foot in Judaea and who used a source on Essenes from the time of Herod the Great (for details see the online paper, "Rereading Pliny on the Essenes: Some Bibliographic Notes").
Of course not all the scrolls were penned at Qumran--though Qumran now has more inkwells than any other published site in the area and era--but who ever claimed that they were? Sure, some were brought from outside, likely including Jerusalem, but not all Jerusalem only, nor all at once. Golb's book never provides real evidence that the scrolls came at once from Jerusalem. It appears to be just a story of what he imagined or wished had happened. The book offers more about his sense of grievance than about history backed with evidence. Where's the evidence for his proposal? If the texts were deposited from Jerusalem libraries, why are there not marks of ownership for retrieval?
As is increasingly being realized, the Hebrew origin of the name Essenes is in the scrolls as a self-designation. That is, the many Greek spellings (e.g. Ossaioi) of what in English we call "Essenes" come from Hebrew, osey hatorah, observers of torah. Of course, the Pharisees and Sadducees would not call them that. But scholars through the centuries knew that this was the Hebrew origin; for example. Ph. Melanchthon, writing in 1532: Chronica...Wittenberg, 1532 f68v. "Essei / das ist / Operarii / vom wort Assa / das ist wircken." Here's a 1550 English version: The Thre Bokes of Cronicles...London. "The thirde were Essey, the whiche when they perceived that both the Phariseyes and Sadduceyes folowed their appetites under the coloure of honest titles, nether did ought in a maner that were worthy their profession: therfore semed it them good, to declare the straitnesse and severitie of lyfe with the dede, and would be called Essey, that is workers or doers, for Assa, whence the name Essey commeth, sygnifieth to worke..." The real opportunity for historians is to learn more about Qumran and Essenes, subjects which ineluctably overlap. Though there once was a problem getting access to the scroll texts, they are now all available. We have ancient text that (some of it as interpreted pre-1948) placed Essenes in the Qumran/Feshkha area; we have no ancient text that tells Golb's story that all the scrolls came from Jerusalem--(implausibly) during the siege--to Qumran, but texts that contradict that story (scrolls salvaged by Josephus in Jerusalem, others up in flames; hiding in Jerusalem, not outside; and items looted to Rome--remember the Arch of Titus, which shows items taken from the Temple to Rome). The theories excluding Essenes contradict one another; none is a viable alternative. Who Wrote these scrolls? Some of these scrolls, Essenes. For additional information on the relevant history, see the online paper, "Jannaeus, His Brother Absalom, and Judah the Essene."
Some of the Dead Sea Scrolls *do* self-identify as Essenes. The evidence is in the scrolls and discussed in detail in Goranson, Stephen. "Others and Intra-Jewish Polemic as Reflected in Qumran Texts." In The Dead Sea Scrolls after Fifty Years: A Comprehensive Assessment, ed. Peter W. Flint and James C. VanderKam, 2:534-551. Leiden, 1999, and in VanderKam's essay in that volume.
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