The historical backdrop of the scrolls is thus set
safely back in pre-Christian times, where it becomes disarmed of any
possible challenge to New Testament teaching and tradition.
If the Roman
invasion referred to in the scrolls was that of Pompey, it would
have involved the armies of republican Rome. Yet the 'War Rule'
speaks of a 'king' or 'monarch' of the invaders. And the 'Habakkuk
Commentary' is even more explicit in its reference to victorious
invaders sacrificing to their standards. It would therefore seem
clear that the invasion in question was that of imperial Rome - the
invasion provoked by the revolt of AD 66.
His statements, however, elicited a vicious attack from Father de Vaux, who recognized that they led inexorably to the conclusion that 'the historical background of the scrolls therefore is the war against Rome'.3 This, of course, de Vaux could not possibly accept. At the same time, however, he could not refute such precise evidence.
In consequence, he contrived to dismiss the evidence and attack only Driver's general thesis:
It was, he declared, for professional historians 'to decide whether [Driver's] motley history... has sufficient foundation in the texts'.5
It is interesting that de Vaux, who
taught biblical history at the Ecole Biblique, should suddenly (at
least when he had to answer Professor Driver) don a cloak of false
modesty and shrink from considering himself an historian, taking
refuge instead behind the supposed bulwarks of archaeology and
palaeography.6 In fact, archaeological data reinforce the
indications of chronology provided by the internal data of the
scrolls themselves. External evidence concurs with internal evidence
- evidence of which the consensus would seem to remain oblivious. At
times, this has led to an embarrassing faux pas.
In his eagerness to distance the Qumran community from any connection with early Christianity, de Vaux rushed his conclusions about dating into print. In some instances, he did not even wait for archaeological evidence to support him. As early as 1954, the Jesuit professor Robert North noted no fewer than four cases in which de Vaux had been forced to retract on his dating. North also found it distressing that, even on so crucial a matter, no specialists 'independently of de Vaux's influence' were asked to contribute their conclusions.7
But it was not de Vaux's style to invite
opinions that might conflict with his own and shed a more
controversial light on the material. Nor was he eager to announce
his errors when they occurred. Although quick to publish and
publicize conclusions that confirmed his thesis, he was markedly
more dilatory in retracting them when they proved erroneous.
Even if it did, a number of experts concluded, it could probably be ascribed to erosion.9 For de Vaux, however, the crack, such as it was, seemed the result of one of the many earthquakes the region has suffered over the centuries. Instead of trying to identify the cause of the crack, in other words, de Vaux went rummaging for an earthquake that might have been responsible.
As it happened, there was a more or
less convenient earthquake on record. Josephus speaks of one that
occurred towards the beginning of Herod's reign, in 31 Be. This, de Vaux concluded, had caused the fire which led to the abandoning of
the community. He did not bother to explain why rebuilding did not
commence for a quarter of a century before, suddenly, proceeding
with noticeable rapidity.
But why should that be
the case if the community were on as congenial a footing with Herod
as de Vaux maintained, and if the destruction of the community
resulted from an earthquake? It would appear much more likely that
the community was destroyed deliberately, on Herod's orders, and
that no reconstruction could begin until after his death. But why
should Herod order the destruction of a community so placid, so
universally loved, so divorced from political activity?
In 1957, Milik wrote of the fire and the alleged earthquake that:
Whether the fire was caused by earthquake or by deliberate human
agency cannot be definitively established. Certainly the evidence
offers less support to de Vaux than it does to Milik and Eisenman,
who, on this unique occasion, are in accord. Nevertheless, many
adherents of the consensus still invoke the earthquake, and it still
figures with metronomic regularity in their texts.
cite Josephus, he also said that the 10th Legion had conquered
Jericho, eight miles away, in June of AD 68. Everything seemed to
fit nicely. On the basis of his coin, de Vaux argued that Qumran
must have been destroyed by the 10th Legion in AD 68. 'No manuscript
of the caves', he later declared, waxing dogmatic on the basis of
questionable data, 'can be later than June, AD 68.'12
The 10th Legion had remained a considerable
distance to the north, guarding the top of the Jordan Valley. In the
second place, the coin de Vaux had found proved not to be from the
10th Legion at all, or, for that matter, from any other. Although
badly damaged and oxidized, the coin, when subjected to expert
scrutiny, proved to have come from Ashkelon and to date from AD 72
On the whole, de Vaux tended to be shamelessly cavalier in his
conclusions about coins. When he found any that did not conform to
his theories, he simply dismissed them. Thus, for example, he found
one dating from the period between AD 138 and 161. He shrugged off
its possible relevance with the comment that it 'must have been lost
by a passer-by'.17 By the same token, of course, an earlier coin, on
which he attempted to establish his dating and chronology for
Qumran, could also have been lost by a passer-by; but de Vaux seems
not to have considered this possibility.
Prior to Eisenman, however, no one had bothered to question their misinterpretation. Roth and Driver, as we have seen, endeavored to establish a chronology on the basis of the internal evidence of the scrolls themselves. De Vaux and the international team were able to discredit them simply by invoking the external evidence supposedly provided by the coins.
evidence had been spuriously interpreted went unnoticed. Eisenman
recognized that Roth and Driver, arguing on the basis of internal
evidence, had in fact been correct. But in order to prove this, he
had first to expose the erroneous interpretation of the external
evidence. He began with the coin distribution, pointing out that
they revealed two periods of peak activity.
The following table groups them according to the reigns in which they were minted:
The distribution of coins would appear to indicate two periods when the community at Qumran was most active - that between 103 and 76 BC, and that between AD 6 and 67. There are a total of 143 coins from the former period, 254 from the latter.
For adherents of the consensus, this did not mesh as neatly as they would have liked with their theories. According to their reading of the scrolls, the 'Wicked Priest' was most likely to be identified as the high priest Jonathan, who lived between 160 and 142 BC - half a century before the first concentration of coins. In order to support his thesis, Father de Vaux needed a very early date for the founding of the Qumran community.
He was thus forced to argue that the solitary coin
dating from between 135 and 104 BC served to prove the thesis
correct - even though common sense suggests that the community dates
from between 103 and 76 BC, the period from which there is a
concentration of 143 coins. The earlier coin, on which de Vaux rests
his argument is much more likely to have been merely one that
remained in circulation for some years after it was minted.
And finally, it is hardly
surprising that the coins subsequent to AD 68 should be Roman. In
the years following the revolt, Roman coins were the only currency
in Judaea. This being the case, they need hardly have been dropped
solely by Romans.
Nor, Eisenman adds, is the consensus correct in assuming that the destruction of the main buildings at Qumran necessarily meant the destruction of the site.21 There are, in fact, indications that at least some cursory or rudimentary rebuilding occurred, including a 'crude canal' to feed water into a cistern. Rather unconvincingly, de Vaux claimed this to have been the work of the Roman garrison supposed, on the basis of the coins, to have occupied the site.22
But Professor Driver pointed out that the sheer crudeness of the reconstruction does not suggest Roman work.23
De Vaux maintained that his theory,
conforming as it did to the alleged destruction of Qumran in AD 68,
was in accord with 'les données d'histoire’ the 'accepted givens of
history' - 'having forgotten', as Professor Driver observed drily,
'that the historical records say nothing of the destruction of
Qumran in AD 68 by the Romans'. In short, Driver concluded, 'the
"données d'histoire" are historical fiction'.24
It is clear, however, that he nevertheless
thought of Qumran as a species of monastery. This is reflected by
his uninhibited use of such monastic terms as 'scriptorium' and
'refectory' to describe certain of the structures. And if de Vaux
himself had some reservations about dubbing Qumran a 'monastery',
other adherents of the consensus did not. In his book on the Dead
Sea Scrolls, for example, Cardinal Danielou babbled happily about
the 'monks of Qumran', even going so far as to state that 'the
monasticism of Qumran can be considered as the source of Christian
Less obvious, but just across a small passageway from the tower, there is another structure whose function may not be immediately apparent. In fact, it is what remains of a well-built forge - complete with its own water supply for tempering the tools and weapons crafted within it. Not surprisingly, the forge is something of an embarrassment to the scholars of the international team, clinging to their image of placid, pacifist 'Essenes'.
Thus de Vaux scuttled away from the issue as fast as tongue and pen could carry him:
Which is rather like not venturing to define the purpose of empty
cartridge cases and spent projectiles of lead scattered around the
OK Corral in Tombstone, Arizona. Professor Cross, following in de
Vaux's footsteps but incapable of the same disingenuousness,
grudgingly alludes to 'what appears to have been a forge'.28
According to Golb, the scrolls were never composed or copied at Qumran at all, but were brought there, from Jerusalem, specifically for protection.
Apart from coins and the physical ruins, the most important body of external evidence used by the international team for dating the Dead Sea Scrolls derived from the tenuous science of paleography.
Paleography is the comparative study of ancient calligraphy. Assuming a strictly chronological and linear progression in the evolution of handwriting, it endeavors to chart developments in the specific shape and form of letters, and thus to assign dates to an entire manuscript. One might find, for example, an old charter or some other document in one's attic. On the basis not of its content, but of its script alone, one might guess it to date from the 17th as opposed to the 18th century.
To that extent, one would be
a species of amateur paleography. The procedure, needless to say,
even when employed with the most scientific rigor, is far from
conclusive. When applied to the texts found at Qumran, it becomes
feeble indeed - and sometimes tips over into the ludicrous.
Nevertheless, de Vaux invoked paleography as another corpus of
external evidence to discredit the conclusions, based on internal
evidence, of Roth and Driver. It was, therefore, the alleged
paleographical evidence pertaining to Qumran that Eisenman had next
He goes on to explain:
Why internal evidence should necessarily be more 'subjective' than
that of archaeology and paleography Cross does not bother to
clarify. In fact, this statement inadvertently reveals why
paleography should be deemed so important by adherents of the
consensus: it can be used to counter the internal evidence of the
documents -evidence which makes sense only in the context of the 1st
parry the copious criticism to which Birnbaum's exegesis was
subjected, Cross asked his readers to remember 'that it was written
by a professional paleographer tried to the limit by the Lilliputian
attacks of non-specialists'.34 Such is the intensity of academic
vituperation generated by the question of paleographical evidence.
Thus, in one instance, he takes a text of Samuel found in Cave 4 at Qumran. Having methodically combed this text, he cites forty-five specimens of a particular calligraphic feature, eleven specimens of another.
For reasons the gods themselves must find mind-boggling, Birnbaum then proceeds to set up an equation: the proportion of 56 to 11 equals 368 to x (368 being the number of years the texts span, and x being the date he hopes to assign to the text in question).
The value of x - calculated, legitimately enough, in purely mathematical terms - is 72, which should then be subtracted from 300 BC, Birnbaum's hypothetical starting point. He arrives at 228 BC; 'the result', he claims triumphantly, 'will be something like the absolute date' for the Samuel manuscript.35 To speak of 'something like' an 'absolute date' is rather like speaking of 'a relatively absolute date'. But quite apart from such stylistic solecisms, Birnbaum's method, as Eisenman says, 'is, of course, preposterous'.36
employed his technique, such as it was, to establish 'absolute
dates' for all the texts discovered at Qumran. The most alarming
fact of all is that adherents of the consensus still accept these
'absolute dates' as inexpugnable.
Eisenman is rather more scathing, describing Birnbaum's endeavors as 'what in any other field would be the most pseudo-scientific and infantile methods'.38
To illustrate this, he provides the following example.39
Everything suggests they had a ritual
or semi-ritual function as well, and were lovingly produced so as to
preserve an element of tradition. It is therefore highly probable
that later scribes would deliberately attempt to reproduce the style
of their predecessors. And, indeed, all through recorded history,
scribes have consistently been conservative. Thus, for example,
illuminated manuscripts of the Middle Ages contrived to reflect a
sacred quality of antiquity, not the latest technological progress.
Thus many modern Bibles are reproduced in 'old-fashioned' print.
Thus one would not expect to find a modern Jewish Torah employing
the style or technique used to imprint a slogan on a T-shirt.
Cecil Roth of Oxford was, if anything, even more emphatic:
He warned that 'a new dogmatism' had arisen in the field of paleography, and that,
He even, in his exasperation at the complacency and intransigence of the international team, had recourse to the unscholarly expedient of capital letters: