MRBlog: Joan Taylor responds to Jodi Magness


Joan E. Taylor, The Essenes, the Scrolls, and the Dead Sea, Oxford University Press, 2012, 418pp., $55.00

I very much appreciate the time Jodi Magness has put into reading and commenting on my book The Essenes, the Scrolls and the Dead Sea (reviewed at MRB on May 1, 2014), her validations of discussions in the book and her critique of certain parts. I also appreciate that in the chapters concerning archaeology our interpretation will be different in some respects.

I would just like to note here the following inaccuracies in this review, in summarizing what I stated about archaeological details, simply to ensure that my actual views are correctly presented in this internet forum. I therefore provide here 11 points made in the review and indicate passages in the book showing what I actually wrote:

Points 1, 2, 3: Taylor’s argument is: ‘After the Romans destroyed Qumran in 68 CE (de Vaux’s Period III), the site was occupied until the Bar Kokhba Revolt [135 CE] (1) by Jewish soldiers serving as Roman auxiliaries and “Jewish deserters” (including Essenes) (2) who processed the costly opobalsam for the Romans (3).’

(1) I suggest that the site of Qumran was abandoned not in 135 but in 115 CE.

Caption to Figure 25: ‘Period III at Qumran, according to Roland de Vaux (courtesy of Jean-Baptiste Humbert, EBAF). This form of the settlement was dated by de Vaux as existing only from 68 to 73 CE, but it is more likely that it lasted to the end of the first century and even into the second, when it was badly damaged by an earthquake (in c.115 CE).

p. 265: ‘Period III (temporary Roman auxiliary post followed by re-instated Essene settlement) 68–115 CE.’

p. 268: ‘Given that Qumran’s water system appears to have been damaged in the earthquake of c.115 CE …’

p. 342: Qumran functioned ‘at least until the earthquake of c.115 CE destroyed most of the buildings and water system, even with some occupation of Qumran in Period III by Roman auxiliaries for a time, since the Essenes would have continued to live in Ain Feshkha.’

(2) I state that the occupation of the site of Qumran post-68 CE by Roman auxiliaries (which at this time included pro-Roman Jews) is to be differentiated from a possible subsequent re-occupation by Essenes.

p. 261-2: ‘I have argued elsewhere that from 68 to at least the mid-90s of the first century Qumran was most likely occupied by Jewish soldiers serving as auxiliaries, and including a percentage of women. These used the site in Period III of the settlement; since the Roman legions worked as a fighting force as single entities, securing sites by means of auxiliaries and others loyal to Rome (Josephus, War 4: 442). The militarized population of Qumran under the hegemony of the Romans in the area would have been similar to that of the Hasmonean period; in Period III the manufacturing elements of the site disappear, and it is reduced to a form much more like it had been at the start, with a roughly square enclosure, this time surrounded by trenches and with room partitions. Yet, there is continuity in terms of artefacts; Mizzi has supported this by demonstrating the continuity of diverse artefacts between Periods II and III at Qumran as indicating the same culture of inhabitants, not an alien group of Roman soldiers, and a far more extensive period of occupation than de Vaux supposed (Plate 26). Even with this site being partly destroyed and requisitioned for an auxiliary Roman military purpose, both for its strategic location and its role in a balsam route, we may yet have Jews. In addition, it is unclear from the archaeological record whether the auxiliary troops stayed at Qumran for long: if the site did continue for decades, it may have reverted to habitation by its previous occupants.’

(3) I do not suggest in the book that anyone in Period III processed balsam at the site of Qumran for the Romans, or worked in any other industrial processing.

Points 4 and 5. ‘the natural caves were used for the burial of damaged or obsolete manuscripts (4) that were prepared for burial in the man-made marl caves (5).’

(4) I indicate that the question of which manuscripts were selected for burial in caves is more complex than a simple determination of damaged or obsolete manuscripts.

p. 288: ‘In the case of the Cairo Genizah collection, it clearly contained a vast array of different texts, including entirely secular pieces—by no means only sacred scriptures. It is difficult to assume a criterion of selection. Likewise, we cannot know what led scrolls to be buried in the case of Qumran, but a simplistic criterion of ‘only old scrolls’ would be too narrow. If a text had been superseded by a new edition, would they keep the older one? If a text led to interpretative innovations that were problematic, did they assign it to burial? What were their policies in sustaining active library holdings? In terms of a biblical or other sacred manuscript, how damaged did it have to be before it was deemed too worn? If one column was no longer readable, did that mean it should be replaced, or did it need to be quite tattered around the edges? Could there have been an accident or destruction in the first century which resulted in damage to a number of recently made scrolls? We simply do not know. One cannot even say that any given manuscript was in too good condition for burial—or the opposite—without knowing anything about the criteria of assessment, or the original state of the entire manuscript.’

(5) I do not suggest that the manuscripts were prepared for burial in the man-made caves, but rather somewhere above them on the plateau.

p. 293, re the artificial caves: ‘Were these hiding places? Could the people of Qumran have quickly hidden manuscripts here? In fact, the marl terrace caves are not good hiding places, since they are easily visible from both the plateau and from below. They were not noticed by archaeologists only because their entrances had collapsed over time. However, it is possible that the occupants of Qumran managed to save some of their manuscripts from out of the buildings, just ahead of the Roman burning of the buildings in 68 CE, by quickly taking them and throwing them into the marl caves. … Over time, they disintegrated. They were not processed for preservation. They were not left in a neat state. The separation of the scrolls from the buildings of Qumran in Cave 4Q may also indicate the mentality of a genizah, prior to the burial of the shemot, the texts potentially containing the name of God. It was important to separate them out in some way, even when there were only a few of these items.’

p. 294-5: ‘However, the collection of scrolls in Cave 4Q, and associated artificial caves, cannot have been designed for long-term burial. Some corroborating evidence that this area of the site was linked to scroll processing for preservation-burial comes from the curious evidence of many pieces of fine leather straps and tongues for binding scrolls in Cave 8Q, as well as remains of fabric and thread. Only 7Q and 8Q contained jars and lids, though much of the contents of these damaged caves have been lost when they collapsed into the Wadi Qumran. If this processing took place close to cave cluster 7Q–9Q then manuscripts would have been taken up from the marl terrace caves, treated with preservatives, … before being placed in jars and carried off for burial to a cave further away. If so, the processing area would have been close to these caves on the plateau itself.’

Point 6. ‘According to Taylor, the Essene settlement at Qumran was a center of the production of pottery, opobalsam, and other “pharmaceuticals’’’(6)

(6) I do not suggest that Qumran is a ‘center’ of anything but burial of scrolls, but in addition I explore the attested Essene interest in ‘roots, remedies and properties of stones’ (War 2.136) in relation to the distinctive pharmaceutical resources of the Dead Sea region. The suggestion is made that products may have been processed in Qumran, as an Essene site, in the poorly-understood industrial area. Qumran had kilns for the production of pottery, but I do not suggest it was a centre of commercial pottery manufacture.

Point 7. ‘Her identification of Qumran as a Hasmonean fortified settlement is contradicted by the fact that, according to de Vaux, the tower (which is the only ‘fortified’ feature) did not exist in Period Ia but was added in Period Ib.’(7)

(7) I do not use de Vaux’s schematic and basic concept of Period Ia, which excludes the tower, but rather Humbert’s Hasmonean model, which includes it:

p. 252: ‘Importantly, on archaeological evidence alone, Jean-Baptiste Humbert has also rejected de Vaux’s sequence of phases, and configured a new series of stages of development ranging from an initial Hasmonean square enclosure through to an expanded form with complex water systems and industrial units. In this sequence, the building of the initial Hasmonean villa is dated to the time of Alexander Jannaeus (Level 2, Phase A)… There was, in this scenario, an initial Hasmonean phase, but not one that is either as early or as rudimentary as de Vaux’s Period Ia. Following it, there was the expanded settlement of Qumran, de Vaux’s Period Ib.’

p. 254: ‘Moreover, a definition of the site as a ‘villa’, ‘manor house’, ‘fort’, and so on
assumes that there is a standard by which it can be judged. In Samuel Rocca’s study, the categories of fortification (fortresses) are very carefully analysed, as ‘forts’, ‘fortlets’, ‘towers’, and Rocca inclines to the view that fortlets precede agricultural functions, which then become associated with a site with strategic importance, which complicates the classification of ‘fortified manors/estates’. In addition, Rocca notes that numerous great Herodian ‘fortresses’ had adjacent villages (e.g. Machaerus, Herodium, et al.) and palace complexes, and could include agricultural elements, bathhouses, etc. (Masada, Machaerus, Hyrcania, et al.), so a classification of a ‘fortress’ as being essentially one thing avoids addressing these royal hybrid types. In fact, rather than assuming
a sequential mode of ‘fortlet’, to which agriculture is attached, the hybrid nature of Hasmonean and Herodian sites is important to bear in mind, whether these are large or small. Like the Iron Age sites that preceded the Hasmonean developments, these enclosures are ‘fortified’—with a concern for defence and strategic locations—while yet also having other functions in order to maintain a certain economic sustainability.’

Point 8. ‘While there is no doubt that pottery was manufactured at Qumran, there is no evidence it was ‘marketed’ anywhere else.’(8)

(8) I do not suggest that the pottery was marketed, but that products manufactured in the industrial complex may have been.

p. 254: ‘The pottery workshop was necessary for whatever product was being stored
in the pots produced here, which presumably continued to be marketed. It would have been useful to manufacture pottery containers for whatever else was being processed at the site, and the presence of a date press, and an industrial complex on the western side of Qumran, indicates that there was much more going on here than pottery manufacture. This area indicating manufacturing interests has led to a variety of researchers doubting the so-called ‘Qumran-Essene’ hypothesis, as they adopt a very narrow concept of the Essenes, prioritizing Pliny’s caricature, so that any money, industry, women, commerce, or connectivity apparently is good cause to undermine this theory. For example, Alan Crown and Lena Cansdale have suggested that Qumran was a commercial entrepôt located on a significant trade route, with the settlement serving as a fort designed to guard an important pass or villa, though recent study has shown that the roads are in fact a legacy of Iron Age settlements in the region—with Qumran existing also as an Iron Age site—and were maintained but not developed by the Hasmoneans and later occupants.’

Point 9. ‘Taylor’s reassignment of the earthquake that destroyed Qumran to 115 CE instead of 31 BCE is based on Yitzhak Magen and Yuval Peleg’s erroneous claim that material in the eastern dump dating to the time of the First Revolt was riven by a crack.’ (9)

(9) I do not utilise any claim regarding the eastern dump but rather argue from the buildings and water system.

p. 264 ‘The site [post-68 CE] was reduced in size, fortified, and lacked industry, but it continued to be occupied. The definitive end for the eastern side of the site appears to have been at the time of an earthquake that created two significant north–south rifts: major fissures which damaged the aqueduct system and cistern 48 irreparably, meaning that the site became uninhabitable, though some transient use could still have been made of parts of the surviving buildings. This damage was assumed by de Vaux to have occurred at the time of the earthquake of 31 BCE, but since many elements essential in Period III (e.g. cistern 48) were damaged and never repaired, it seems that this earthquake terminated Period III settlement.’

Point 10. None of the ancient sources Taylor cites refers to the cultivation or production of opobalsam anywhere along the western side of the Dead Sea outside of Jericho and Ein Gedi.(10)

(10) I do not suggest in this book that the cultivation of opobalsam was taking place along the north-western side of the Dead Sea, or around Qumran.

p. 312: ‘In Judaea the cultivation of balsam remained a royal Hasmonean monopoly, passed on to Herod and his successors (though also held briefly by Cleopatra), until it was eventually directly controlled by the Roman administration after 70 CE. Galen notes the superiority of En Gedi balsam: it had a name ‘Engaddine’, and was ‘superior in quality to the [balsam] that grows in other parts of Palestine’ (De Antidotis 1: 4). Incidentally, in noting ‘other parts of Palestine’, this proves Pliny’s point about its wider propagation than in former times at the end of the first century CE and into the second. As Fischer, Gichon, and Tal point out, the passage of b.Shab. 26a refers to balsam plantations of Rabbi Judah ha-Nasi near Scythopolis, while those of the Roman emperor were located at En Gedi. The plant was represented in various parts of the cultivated region of the lower Jordan valley in the sixth century Madaba mosaic map (Plate 43).’
312, n. 30: ‘This means that it is unlikely that Essenes cultivated opobalsam. As with other plants growing locally, the Essenes would have had to buy the product, or else glean it from the edges of cultivations: gleaners of opobalsam ‘from En Gedi to Livias’ are mentioned in b.Shab. 26a.’

Point 11. ‘there is no evidence of opobalsam or any other commodity in this phase [of Period III]’ (11)

(11) See above, I do not suggest there was manufacturing of any kind at Qumran in Period III.