Posted by: chuckbumgardner | October 12, 2012

Collins, Qumran, Essenes, and the Dead Sea Scrolls

Qumran cavesA post by Nijay Gupta caught my eye today.  He had the joy of seeing the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit in Philadelphia (as I did in Minneapolis awhile back — great exhibit!), and the added bonus of hearing John Collins speak on Qumran.  Nijay reported one intriguing point by Collins as follows:

Collins does not believe that the scrolls should be linked in their entirety to the Qumran community. He thinks it unlikely (perhaps even impossible) for one small community to have had such a massive library. He argues that at the time of the Jewish war, when the Roman victory was imminent, Essenes brought their collective works (from all over) to the most remote location (Qumran) and eventually hid their collection in the nearby caves.

Now, I had never thought of it in quite that way.  But it makes eminent sense.  Masada near the Dead Sea was the last holdout so far as fortresses went, and the isolation of nearby Qumran makes Collins’s hypothesis quite plausible.  This assumes, of course, that Qumran was a community of Essenes, but if it was (and I tend to think so), it was certainly not the only place they lived, according to Josephus: “They have no one certain city, but many of them dwell in every city” (Jewish Wars 2.8; here’s Josephus on Jewish sectarians).  The Roman invasion took time–it was not exactly a blitzkreig–and the transportation of treasured documents to a safer haven where they would remain under the watchful eye of a remote Essene community would have been, I would suppose, easily achievable.  Josephus’s description of the Essenes as spread across the land need not, I think, demand that Qumran as “one certain city” would be ruled out as an Essene community — it may be that it was too small to be considered a city in Josephus’s thinking.



  1. Ah, but here is an excellent point to consider in response to Collins’s perspective: . Professor Schiffman notes that the pottery in the caves with the scrolls is from the entire period of sectarian occupation of Qumran, not just the very last part of the period. Not a death blow to Collins’s theory, I think, but a good point against it.

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