We get a couple of newsletters from different archaeology organizations and the one we received today had the title of this article as its question. They also hade the following as a lead in:
Villa, fortress, pottery factory, caravanserai. Essene, Sadducee, Christian
The debate about who wrote the dead sea scrolls and what was Qumran probably will go on for a long time. That is until someone comes to their senses about Qumran and see that it could have been everything described in that lead in. It is quite possible that Qumran was fortified when the news of the approaching Roman legions finally reached the area.
It would be hard to tell when exactly that fortification took place. The buildings could have been a prison prior to the Essene occupation and fortified at that time. Then it could have been a pottery factory prior to the Essenes moving in, or the Essenes could have made pottery to support themselves. Archaeology can be a guessing game at times.
Where does the truth actually lie–if indeed any undisputed truth has even yet been established?
As we have studied Qumran and the Essenes, we have come to the conclusion that Qumran had a variety of uses including the Essene sanctuary. The presence of mikvahs helps support that last idea. The truth may not be found in this case as to many people look for a single answer. They dismiss the idea that the buildings existed for a long time prior to the Roman destruction and went through a variety of owners who used the space for their own purposes
The Essenes of Qumran were a community formed and guided by a party of Zadokite priests. In the latter half of the second century B.C., having lost hope of regaining their ancient authority in the theocracy of Jerusalem and under active persecution by a new house of reigning priests, they fled to the desert and, finding new hope in apocalyptic dreams, readied themselves for the imminent judgment when their enemies would be vanquished and they, God’s elect, would be given final victory in accordance with the predictions of the prophets.
We have an article written a while ago on the Essenes. We just forgot where we put it. We like the author but do not run into many of his published works so we have forgotten his name for now. We will try to look for it and put it up here if we can. In the meantime, it is a great article on who Jesus was talking about in those verses where he mentions the Pharisees, Sadducees and the scribes. The author made a very strong case that Jesus was refering to the Essenes when he used the word scribes.
Jesus wouldn’t have used the name Essenes as that was a name created many centuries after Jesus walked the earth. They may not have had an organizational name at that time. Since the Essenes had the reputation as being scribes, it would make sense that Jesus would use the term for scribes. If that author is correct, that would solve one biblical mystery.
Certainty was short-lived. By 1990, in Bible Review, Lawrence H. Schiffman was convinced that either the sect at Qumran was not Essene, but was Sadducean, or that the Essene movement must be totally redefined as having emerged out of Sadducean beginnings.
But archaeology being what it is, there will always be those people who do not accept the facts and continue to push for their ideas. The origins of the Essenes are shrouded in mystery. They could have taken in disgruntled former Sadducees, they could have been formed by the those men who quit that group. We don’t know for any credible documents talking about their origin either were never written or have never been uncovered. Religious groups start up almost every year and the Essenes could have come from anywhere.
They could also have been started by men who were not part of any religious tradition but saw the need or heard a speaker they liked and decided to form their group. Again, we cannot be sure because documentation is missing.
Scholars used to think that the library was entirely the product of the inhabitants of Qumran. Instead, it can now be stated, this hoard of manuscripts includes material representing a variety of Jewish groups as well as polemics against other Jewish groups.
The scrolls could have been written or copied by the Essenes or they could have purchased them from a businessman who dealt in religious works. It is highly likely that they wrote the scrolls that pertained to their beliefs and the teacher of righteousness. The other scrolls could be their own work or… pick your theory. Again, archaeology can be a guessing game.
Because so little evidence refering to the Essenes remain, we may never know the complete truth. One thing is for sure, Robert Cargill’s, the new editor at BAR, theory that men smuggled the scrolls out through underground tunnels in pottery jars while the Romans had circled Jerusalem and were starting to enter the city, is unrealistic and void of any logical or rational proof. The scroll were placed in those caves long before the Romans cut the area off with their troops.
Sometimes we must be content with the mystery.