Friday, September 16, 2016

Fact-Checking the Torah -- why are we here?

It’s that “except for Esther” thing.  Reports on the finds at Qumran say that it contains basically the Tannakh, except Esther.  The urban legend that has been repeated to me is that Qumran confirms Septuagint.
Qumran was founded by ultra-conservative Jews.  They documented their reason for establishing themselves at the site.  They gave 20 specific ritual disagreements with mainstream Judaism of the time.  One of them is exactly the Sadducean position cited in Mishnah Yadaim 4:7.
The Tsadokites founded Qumran and then they wrote something called the Temple Scroll.  This scroll organizes Jewish law by subject.  The language in it reflects the time when the Hasmoneans were first consolidating their power, taking on the high priesthood as well as the kingship in the person of Jonathan, brother of Judah Maccabi, about 150 BCE.  The Tsadokites objected because this removed the priesthood from the descendants of Tsadok.  (Tsadok was high priest during King David’s reign and anointed Shlomo as David’s successor.)  The 150 BCE timing agrees with carbon-14 dating performed on material from Qumran and also with analysis of the lettering.
The urban legend is that the Septuagint found at Qumran is close to the Hebrew found at Qumran, closer than the Masoretic text is.
Let’s get some statistics, like I did with the Masoretic annotation.  There are some 981 scrolls known from Qumran.  225 of them are books found in the Tannakh, and there are multiple copies of 13 of the books of the Tannakh, including some of the “minor prophets” like Amos and Hoshea.  So lots of the scrolls at Qumran are not Jewish scripture.
Between 1950 and 1992, a limited number of people had access to the material in the scrolls, either curating the manuscripts or preparing the first publication, Discoveries in the Judean Desert.  It was completed about 2009.  Each volume costs hundreds of dollars, shutting out access for everybody except patrons of libraries with the right funding level.
Up to about 1990, the scholars who published claims about Qumran, based on access to the scrolls, could not be refuted except  by people who had access to the bare data, and that is not how science works.  Science relies on providing access to the data as well as the method.
All this has changed.  The millennium and the Internet provided new ways of dealing with the fragments for the masses to evaluate the scholarly work to that point.  And the evaluation has barely begun as I will discuss next week.
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved

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