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Dead Sea scrolls study raises new questions over texts' origins (theguardian.com)
124 points by diodorus 38 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 48 comments

The "big picture" background here is that the scholarly consensus, established prematurely before all but the scrolls in the 1st cave were found, was that they belonged to an Essene "monastic" settlement at the ruins of Khirbet Qumran nearby. This has been challenged in a number of ways, yet the consensus of the local, Essene origin remains in tact. A Jerusalem origin hypothesis was developed principally by Norman Golb and advanced by a few others, yet the history of Scrolls scholarship has proven to be nasty to say the least. This new evidence, while saying little in the grand scheme, does possibly hint at a non-Dead Sea, i.e. Jerusalem origin of the scrolls.

Not a historian so I may be missing something, but how would one possibly differentiate between the origin being the Dead Sea or Jerusalem based on things like materials used? I mean, Jerusalem and the Dead Sea are less than 35km apart (according to google). Even thousands of years ago, it would have been a non-issue to transport materials or techniques between these two locations. I can't imagine that our knowledge of scroll-making at the time is so specific that we could possibly rule out a craftsman taking a camel from one location to another.

Agreed. An ancient document storage pit was found (in Iraq?) which was the records of a merchant over several generations. It included trading records from many surrounding settlements. From the time of Hammurabi.

Yeah the scale of trade always seems to surprise everyone. It's hard for me often to understand how folks draw the archaeological lines here.

Materials could have been traded and the scrolls written near the Dead Sea ... or even folks from the Dead Sea traveled to Jerusalem, used local materials and made some scrolls, and traveled back.

I think it's instructive to consider bronze. To make bronze you need copper, which is very common, and tin, which isn't. Tin was only mined in a small handful of locations around the world: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tin_sources_and_trade_in_ancie...

So from that, it's clear to see that extensive trading networks were necessary for these civilizations, not just for luxuries like exotic herbs and spices, but their basic industrial needs.

Well not exactly true; you can use Arsenic instead of Tin and there is evidence that they certainly did use it; I am not sure of the breakdown of ancient tin-Bronze vs arsenic Bronze in use. In any case your point still stands as we also know there was tin bronze in use and likely much of it may have come from the British isles.

Would arsenic bronze have any added toxic effects?

More to the people producing it than using it. But metallurgy and mining must have been awfully dangerous industries to be in back then regardless of the arsenic.

I was thinking more along the lines of "added weapon poison damage", ex. https://worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/99646/can-...

Seems that lethal dose for arsenic is likely too high to be transmitted by even a pure arsenic trioxide blade, unless it was manufactured with the intent of leaving bits inside the wound, like maybe a blade a rough brittle surface to leave grit. Even so, would have to introduce ~50+mgs worth, which sees like a tall order.

Seems arsenic bronze is even less toxic, so probably not poisoning anyone. I wonder if the minor local toxicity of arsenic blade cuts would reduce the chance of the wound causing sepsis.

Perhaps an arsenic bronze arrow head broken off inside of somebody could poison them slowly over time.

You basically have to look at the availability and cost of transport of the goods. Salt was abundant in the Dead Sea area so the need to import salt would have been pretty low.

As for the movement of writers, or the scrolls post creation, you'd look at where scripts were generated and where they sourced their materials. Just speculating, as I haven't read the background material on this new discovery, but it would make sense that the monasteries in Jerusalem would have a reproducible sourcing process since they would be generating manuscripts often. Same would go for monasteries around the Dead Sea.

Having been to both locations, I can easily say that they are extremely close (relatively speaking). People would walk MUCH longer distances than this at the time (ie Egypt to Bethlehem). There was also war, famine, an extremely lack of safety services, and an entirely different world back then. Storing things that were sacred or considered extremely important would have been placed in a safe location regardless of the distance (35 miles back then is like 2 miles for us now).

Couple hours on a horse one way. I'm sure there were people who made the trip (and back) daily.

But, researchers have to find something to research or they're out of a job.

I went on an archeological dig in the area in June (as a tourist) and can answer part of this. Part of the answer is writing materials; in Jerusalem a variety of different things were used to make the writing materials, whereas the Dead Sea region, used a specific type of charcoal that was significantly softer than the charcoal found in the Jerusalem region.

It's a good point, and the distinction is not one that most historians would deal with being more scientific in nature. However, in the long and heated debate about the scrolls' origins, scientific analysis of the scroll and jars has been offered.

Specifically, one of the more likely theories is that a good number of these scrolls were deposited in the desert by various religious communities for safe keeping before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE.

Yes, there was one article published a number of years ago (the author's name escapes me), who did a good job of parsing out the various communities that could have been responsible for certain caves, priests, Zealots, etc. I'm not sure it got much traction, but I found the exercise intriguing.

Doesn't really mean anything if the materials aren't local to the region. People in bronze age scandinavia were trading for copper with the mediterranean so there was a "global" trade network already in place.

> People in bronze age scandinavia were trading for copper with the mediterranean

Sorry to make a minor point, but while the goods scandinavian and mediterranean goods travelled that far, doesn't mean the people did.

Perhaps more likely, each was traded a dozen times with someone 50km away, and the goods reached people the manufacturer had no idea existed.

Given that goods typically moved by water (far less energy than overland), possibilities of longer voyages are somewhat more credible.

I don't know the actual history / archaeology, or quantities involved.

Europe does have a remarkably good inland navigable river network.

There's mention here that Scandinavians raided Mediterranian coastal towns and villages:


This map suggests a possible eastern route (the accompanying web page makes no mention of Sweden, scandinavia, or the Baltics):


(from: http://theancientneareast.com/the-bronze-age-world-system/)

Travel along the Donau, Dneiper, or Don rivers could have reached the Black Sea:


This article and map suggest sea routes, through the Straits of Gibraltar:


Re: more likely, each was traded a dozen times...the goods reached people the manufacturer had no idea existed.

Some things never change: https://www.steelavailable.com/en/counterfeit-steel-big-worr...

Transaction costs limit how many people are in these chains. It’s far more common for individual merchants to be paying taxes to several groups vs large numbers of groups being involved in the trading.

It has to do with the scholarly consensus of the local, i.e. Khirbet Qumran, origin of the scrolls, namely that they were produced at that settlement. Contrary views say that they scrolls were principally produced in or around Jerusalem and brought to Qumran during the Roman invasion of CE 70.

while I don't doubt trade was a thing then, isn't your comparison an anachronism, like BC vs AD?

This sent me down a little rabbit hole. I love the history of this time. Shwep.org is a great, great source of inspiration and history.

I just got this Kindle book to satisfy my dead sea scroll interpretations, even though the author is a bit antiauthoritarian! He apparently had a direct influence on the public release of the scrolls.

"Breaking the Dead Sea Scrolls Monopoly: A New Interpretation of the Messianic Movement in Palestine"


Is this a typo? Domain does not appear to exist.

Guessing it's https://shwep.net/

Thank you. Highly recommended. It's probably the most intellectually satisfying podcast I've ever listened to.

I find the study of materials in papyrology/religious studies/history truly fascinating. I'm more familiar with the history and content of the Nag Hammadi library, but it really is fascinating how much experts can tell from the materials, the word usage, the language they were written in.

Have they released all the scrolls yet?

Yes, the scrolls have been published in their entirety in the series Discoveries in the Judaean Desert numbering some 40 volumes. These are the official "first editions". There are numerous other collections of a non-critical nature as well as translations. A simple search should yield the relevant results.

The ones in the title ? I'm not sure but you can browse most of the originals in:


and some with translations in:


The Dead Sea scrolls need a serious re-examination by modern scholars not biased towards mainstream Christianity, similar to the work on Jesus mythicism that has been done over the past 20 years that draws on Gnostic, Essene, and other historically contemporary sources. John Allegro's work on the Dead Sea scrolls needs a non-biased re-examination: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Allegro

The Christian bias on scroll scholarship was widely corrected in the 90s with the Scrolls' public release. Since then Jewish scholarship of the Scrolls has contributed an enormous amount, cf. Lawrence Schiffman, Emanuel Tov, et al.

How about research unencumbered by deeply held beliefs relating to the scrolls? Jewish scholars are hardly unbiased.

Click bait title

I'll call out click-bait when I see it, but I don't see it here. "Dead Sea scrolls study finds salts used in construction are not common to region" is not particularly meaningful to non-archaeologists. I think the important point is the increased mystery, and "raises new questions" is a reasonable way to phrase it.

I actually like your version of the title better :).

This is a technical forum, and people is expected to understand this and understand that if the salt is uncommon there is something unexpected. [I didn't know that is was common to cover the parchment with salts, but it's not so hard to understand the relation anyway. IANAA]

And it's almost the subtitle:

> Dead Sea scrolls study raises new questions over texts' origins

> Salts used on Temple scroll are not common to Dead Sea region, researchers find

Perhaps the mods will agree to change it.

The headline makes people wonder if they are fake.

> "Dead Sea scrolls study finds salts used in construction are not common to region"

I think it gives more information, since it tells what has been discovered, even non-archaeologists can understand what it's about. And "raises new questions" can easily be added.

It's now not far-fetched to believe they're fake.

I don't believe any of the scrolls that overlap with biblical canon are believed to be originals, so what do you mean by fake? It sounds like you just want to take a jab at them because they're of religious significance, which is just as irrational as religious people who don't like scientific theories they don't even understand because they feel it's an enemy to their rrligion.

"I don't believe any of the scrolls that overlap with biblical canon are believed to be originals, so what do you mean by fake?"

That's true of any bible text we have. The original texts are lost, hence biblical exegesis and hermeneutics exist as disciplines. And which "canon" are you talking about? The 5th century canon before the East-West schism of the Eastern Orthodox-Catholic church? The 16th century canons of the Roman Catholic or the Church of England? There are a lot of canons out there.

@CelestialTeapot - that's my point - this is like claiming someone's Bible is fake. Well... fake like it's not true? Because that's irrelevant to this evidence. Fake like it's an unlicensed forgery or something?

On the contrary I'd like them to be genuine.

By fake I mean made to look older than they are; and possibly planted in the caves.

And note I said "not far-fetched"; not likely, just less improbable than previously.

Depends what fake means to you

Alternative fakes?! :-)

I men they could contain fake stories(very likely) or the documents themselves can be "fake"/forged

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