The Dead Sea Scrolls Turn 70

November 2, 2017 | Lawrence Schiffman

The first of the Qumran documents reached the eyes of Western scholars in 1947; the remaining texts were found over the course of the next nine years. After recounting the story of the scrolls’ publication, Lawrence Schiffman takes stock of how they have changed the study of ancient Judaism and Christianity:

[Since the scrolls have been studied systematically, scholars] have come to understand the varying modes of biblical interpretation that would later influence the authoritative texts of Judaism and Christianity. In the scrolls we find Jewish legal midrash, some of it as complicated as what we find in later rabbinic literature. We also find modes of interpretation, like the genre of rewritten Bible [books], that point toward the aggadic [i.e., narrative] midrash of the rabbis. [Another genre known as] pesher, contemporizing biblical interpretation, points toward the fulfillment passages of the Gospels. . . .

Many new details have [also] emerged about sectarianism in the Jewish community of the land of Israel in the late Second Temple era. Eventually, after the destruction of the Temple, a consensus developed around rabbinic Judaism that became the basis for the subsequent history of Judaism. Through the scrolls, one can trace many details of agreement and disagreement between groups, clear examples [both of] a common Judaism [shared across sectarian lines] and of the conflict between groups.

Indeed, the notion of common Judaism has become increasingly significant, and can be seen by studying Dead Sea Scrolls’ Sabbath codes and other legal tractates that often have numerous parallels to those found in the later rabbinic corpus. Even while this allows us to observe continuities in Jewish practice, such as in the mikva’ot (ritual baths) found at the sectarian site at Qumran, we must not forget that disagreements about Jewish law were the main factor that separated Jewish groups and movements in Second Temple times. Yes, many theological differences existed. However, these were manifested most clearly in the differing opinions about Jewish practice and ritual.

Read more on Jerusalem Post: