The Dead Sea Scrolls Turn 70

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.

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More about: Ancient Israel, ancient Judaism, Christianity, Dead Sea Scrolls, History & Ideas, Midrash

Maintaining Security Cooperation with the PA Shouldn’t Require Ignoring Its Support for Terror

In accordance with legislation passed last year, the Israeli government has begun to deduct from the tax revenues it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority (PA) an amount proportional to what the PA pays to terrorists and their families. Last year, a similar law went into effect in the U.S., suspending all payments to the PA so long as it continues its “pay-for-slay” policy. The PA president, Mahmoud Abbas, has retaliated by refusing to accept any tax revenue collected by Israel—raising concerns that the PA will become insolvent and collapse—while insisting that payments to terrorists and their families are sacrosanct. To Yossi Kuperwasser, Abbas’s behavior amounts to mere extortion—which has already worked on the Europeans to the tune of 35 million euros. He urges Israel and the U.S. not to submit:

Abbas [believes] that influential Israeli and European circles, including the security establishment, view strengthening the Palestinian Authority, and certainly preventing its collapse, as being in Israel and Europe’s best interests. They will therefore give in to the pressure he exerts through the creation of an artificial economic crisis. . . .

[T]he PA leadership’s insistence on continuing wage payments to terrorists and their families, even at the price of an artificial economic crisis, shows once again that . . . the Oslo Accords did not reflect a substantive change in Palestinian national aspirations or in the methods employed to achieve them. . . . If paying wages to terrorists (including the many terrorists whose attacks took place after the Oslo Accords were in force) is the raison d’être for the PA’s establishment, as Abbas seems to be saying, . . . one cannot help asking whether Israel has to insist on maintaining the PA’s existence at any price.

True, Israel cooperates on security issues with the PA, but that serves the interests of both sides. . . . The short-term benefits Israel gains from this security cooperation, [however], are of less value than the benefits enjoyed by the Palestinians, and worth even less when measured against the long-term strategic damage resulting from Israel’s resigning itself to the constant incitement, the promotion of terror, and the political struggle against Israel carried out by the PA. Israel should not do anything to hasten the PA’s breakdown, because it has no desire to rule over the Palestinians and run their day to day lives, but it also should not feel more obligated to the PA’s continued existence than do the Palestinians themselves, thereby leaving itself open to continuous extortion.

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More about: Israeli Security, Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian Authority, Palestinian terror