Seventy Years On, What Scholars Have Learned from the Dead Sea Scrolls

July 24 2018

Over 70 years have gone by since the discovery of ancient scrolls in the Judean Desert by Bedouin shepherds, a discovery that led in turn to locating even more documents from the Qumran caves. Lawrence Schiffman, a leading expert on the scrolls, reflects on how their study has changed scholars’ understanding of ancient Judaism:

Many new details have emerged about the phenomenon of sectarianism—the various approaches to Judaism that competed for the allegiance of the Jewish community in the Land of Israel during late-Second Temple times. Eventually, after the destruction of the Temple, a consensus developed around Pharisaic-rabbinic Judaism that became the basis for the subsequent history of Judaism. Through the entire corpus of the scrolls, one can trace so many details of agreement and disagreement between groups . . . that there is simply no comparison between what we know now and what was known before the scrolls were made available to us.

Indeed, the notion of a common Judaism, [i.e., an understanding shared by the various sects], has become increasingly significant and can be seen by studying Dead Sea Scrolls Sabbath codes and other legal tracts 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.

One cannot overstate the impact of the scrolls on our understanding of the early history of halakhah, Jewish law. With the help of the scrolls we have been able to reconstruct the Sadducee system of Jewish law that competed in Second Temple times with the Pharisaic-rabbinic system that is the basis for later Judaism.

[Moreover], the scrolls tell us [much] about the inner ferment and debate that took place in the Jewish community in the 2nd and 1st centuries BCE and the early-1st century CE. After all, the apocalyptic messianism that we see in the scrolls would propel the Jewish community towards two revolts against Rome, both of which had at least some messianic overtones. Further, the expectation of a soon-to-come redeemer and numerous other motifs found in Dead Sea Scrolls apocalyptic tradition have left their mark on the rise of Christianity and its eventual separation from the Jewish community.

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Read more at Lawrence Schiffman

More about: ancient Judaism, Christianity, Dead Sea Scrolls, Halakhah, History & Ideas, Messianism, Pharisees, Sadducees

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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Read more at Israel Institute for Strategic Studies

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