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Robert Feather's statement on Magen and Peleg

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  • kessler_paul
    The paragraph breaks in my comment on Robert Feather s statement re Magen & Peleg were garbled, so I m reposting it without the beta formatting to make it
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 29, 2007
      The paragraph breaks in my comment on Robert Feather's statement re
      Magen & Peleg were garbled, so I'm reposting it without the beta
      formatting to make it easier to read.

      Robert Feather offers an interesting statement, which in my view
      sheds considerable light on the current crisis in Qumran (and Dead
      Sea Scrolls) studies. Therefore, it is worth reflecting on some of
      what Robert says. To encourage such reflection I will here reprint
      the key paragraphs of his statement, following each paragraph with my
      own comments.

      > In general terms the thesis is that Qumran was not a religious
      > centre, but mainly a front line military outpost and later became a
      > pottery making site. This contention sets itself against the
      > heartland of Qumran scholars and archaeologists who maintain the
      > essence of de Vaux's original conclusion that Qumran was a religious
      > establishment, occupied by a group of so-called Essenes.

      Some readers may wonder exactly how we are to understand Robert's
      formulation of a "heartland" of scholars who agree with the "essence"
      of De Vaux's conclusion. The tricky word "essence" seems to imply
      that a little piece has been saved of De Vaux's conclusion, an
      essential grain of it. But what, in fact, is that retained "essence"?
      That Qumran was inhabited by Sadducees, as per Schiffman? That
      Essenes lived "around" the site, as per Humbert? Robert speaks of
      the "so-called" Essenes. Well, were they Essenes or not Essenes?
      What exactly does Robert mean by that? And we can take this a bit
      farther. Does the "essence" of De Vaux's theory hold that some, or
      many, or most of the scrolls were written by these "so-called
      Essenes" at Qumran, as per one scholar or another? Which of these
      alternatives constitutes that "essence"? The real fact, of course, is
      that De Vaux's theory has been going through many permutations --
      ultimately culminating in a fundamental paradigm shift. But instead
      of acknowledging this, Robert invokes the interesting concept of
      a "heartland" of scholars. Others, however, might conclude that the
      only archaeologist who really seems to maintain the purity of De
      Vaux's theory is Jodi Magness (see
      scrolls-conflict for a recent article that mentions her ASOR and SBL

      > Although Magen and Peleg do not specifically list those who support
      > the basic de Vaux conclusions, the implication is that they, like de
      > Vaux, have all got it fundamentally wrong. By continually referring
      > to de Vaux's religious centre conclusion as 'old' and the 'original
      > theory', implying it is out-of date, they ignore the fact that the
      > vast majority of current scholars hold to this conclusion. One could
      > include people like Broshi, the Eshels, Cross, Zias, Magness,
      > Roitman, Martinez, Schiffman, Davies, Freund, Metso, Vermes etc etc,
      > and me.

      Here again, what does Robert mean by the "basic" De Vaux conclusions?
      Do those conclusions include the idea that the scrolls were written
      at Qumran, or does it still qualify as a "basic De Vaux conclusion"
      to argue that some sect, possibly not Essenes, lived at Qumran and
      may have brought most of the scrolls "from elsewhere"?

      Robert gives a list of scholars who, according to him, agree with De
      Vaux. Well, let's take some of the names on this list. Does Davies,
      for example, really agree with De Vaux? I recall that in Neusner's
      Encyclopedia of Judaism, Davies stated that Golb's research had led
      to fundamental change in the nature of the basic questions asked
      about Qumran and the Scrolls. And how about Schiffman, who says the
      Scrolls we're written by Sadducees -- does this fit under De
      Vaux's "basic" conclusions? Have Rabbi Roitman, the director of the
      Shrine of the Book who Robert includes in this list, as well as Mezzo
      and Freund critically reexamined the old theory in the light of the
      research developments of the past decade, or do they just presuppose
      the truth of that theory? Most interestingly of all, Robert puts
      himself on this list. This leads me to wonder if Robert's claims
      concerning the Copper Scroll (see
      http://www.psitalk.com/robertfeather.html), and "the undeniable link
      between the Dead Sea community responsible for the scrolls and the
      religion of dynastic Egypt," fit under De Vaux's "basic theory"?

      Note that Robert also says that Magen and Peleg "imply" the old
      theory is out of date. Others might conclude that Magen and Peleg
      don't sneakily "imply" this, but rather demonstrate it at length by
      virtue of new discoveries.

      > Not content with attacking the main stream of scholarship, they also
      > contend that a number of minority alternative theorists are quite
      > wrong, notably Hirshfeld, Humbert, the Donceels, Crown and Cansdale
      > -- all proposing quite different conflicting theories.

      Here again, others might conclude that De Vaux's theory was the "main
      stream" of scholarship many years ago, but that the piling up of
      contradictory evidence exploited by various other scholars not
      mentioned by Feather is such that that theory can in fact no longer
      be called the "main stream." To be sure, it's a major stream, but no
      more than that. Magen and Peleg do indeed argue that the scholars
      Robert calls "minority alternative theorists" are wrong on certain
      points, but not on the principal contention which they all share
      (apart from Humbert, oddly included in Robert's list), that Qumran
      was not the site of an Essenic sect. Incidentally, why does Robert
      put Humbert in this category of "minority alternative theorists"?
      Humbert believes Essenes lived "around" Qumran. Shouldn't that fall
      under De Vaux's "basic" conclusion? Robert says that the "minority
      theorists" he lists "all propose quite different, conflicting
      theories" -- but the theories proposed by (for example) Martinez,
      Schiffman and Davies are all conflicting with one another on
      fundamental points. Why is there something important about
      differences among these "minority theorists," when there are so many
      deeper differences among those who share the "essence" of De Vaux's
      theory? At any rate, there's certainly nothing "disconcerting" about
      disagreements among scholars on various specific points, it's just
      the normal nature of scholarship. Yet Robert continues:

      > Just as disconcerting is the lack of strict scientific detail in
      > their reporting. One wonders if something gets lost in translation,
      > but some of the anomalous statements and inconsistencies cannot be
      > explained by this mechanism. For instance on page 24 we are told:
      > 'Its location both during the Iron Age and Hasmonean period was
      > chosen with great care: this was an optimal (and perhaps the only)
      > spot on the upper marl terrace along the northwestern shore of the
      > Dead Sea whose topographical situation afforded natural protection,
      > and where rainwater flowing from the fault scarp could be
      > conveniently collected with no danger of flooding. These two
      > advantages were the sole reason for the choice of location.'
      > Later we are told the Hasmoneans established a chain of fortresses,
      > of which Qumran was one, but because the Essenes were hostile to the
      > Hasmoneans, the earlier occupants must have been Hasmonean soldiers
      > and the Essenes came later (although confusingly, on page 32, we are
      > told these previous soldiers once out of a job turned to pottery
      > making). Then again, because Qumran was not capable of withstanding
      > the assault of an attacking army, its description is later changed
      > by the authors to 'a forward observation and supervision point'.

      First, Robert here appears to be misrepresenting what Magen and Peleg
      say: they never say that "the Essenes came later." Rather, Robert
      seems to be confusing something he himself believes, with what Magen
      and Peleg do say (namely, that Qumran was used as a pottery factory
      during a time when it was not, or not principally, used as a
      fortress). Second, there is no conflict in the propositions contained
      in these paragraphs that Robert quotes. That Qumran was a "forward
      observation and supervision point," benefiting from the "natural
      protection" of the escarpment, but incapable of sustaining a full-
      scale military assault (as demonstrated by the Roman mining of the
      massive watchtower) certainly doesn't mean it wasn't a fortress.
      Indeed, it makes good sense that one of the weaker Hasmonaean
      fortresses was put to an alternative use during a period when its
      military capacity did not respond to an actual need.

      > Strangely enough the authors do not quote Golb as a supporter of
      > their military fortress theories, which is rather surprising as he
      > quotes them extensively to support his extreme minority theory.

      Some readers might be puzzled by this assertion that Golb "quotes"
      Magen and Peleg "extensively," and what's this about an "extreme
      minority theory"? Last I recall, it certainly wasn't usual in
      scholarship for the proponents of different views to claim "minority"
      or "majority" status. Have I been missing something? Surely what
      matters is the evidence, which Robert hardly cites in his statement.

      > The numerous collection pools, 10 of which Reich identifies as
      > Miqvaout, Magen and Peleg reduce to only two. They argue most were
      > for use in pottery manufacture and the others don't qualify because
      > of halachic reasoning based on Rabbinic interpretations. This is
      > really an invalid argument as we just do not know if Rabbinic law
      > pertained some 200 years before it was developed.

      Robert's argument based on Rabbinic-law shows a lack of sensitivity
      towards the nature of many of the Qumran texts themselves, which show
      legal rules very close to those later developed in the Mishna and
      Tosseftah (see, e.g., MMT and the Damascus Covenant).

      > When it comes to the cemetery we are shown sealed storage jars found
      > in two of the graves, but no detail of where exactly they were
      > located. One wonders if the other graves that were excavated yielded
      > skeletal material, but are not described, because the authors are
      > aware excavating graves is against the law. Claiming that the form
      > of burial at Qumran was quite common, they fail to give adequate
      > examples, or explain why the bodies were all buried naked, with
      > heads carefully turned to the south, and there is no evidence
      > whatsoever of any military equipment.

      First, is Robert implying that Magen and Peleg are lawbreakers, when
      they were engaged in an official project of the IAA? Second, how on
      earth does Robert know that "the bodies were all buried naked," and
      how can he say there is "no evidence whatsover of any military
      equipment"? As is well known, only a small percentage of the graves
      were excavated to begin with, so these claims are simply
      unverifiable -- how does Robert know that none of the unopened graves
      contain clothed bodies and military equipment? Furthermore, how does
      Robert account for the broken bones in some of the skeletons that
      were excavated? To the extent Robert is suggesting that no fight took
      place at Qumran, he seems to be implying that De Vaux's description
      of the Roman attack on the site requires paradigm change. But this
      surely cannot be possible, since Robert is one of those scholars who
      share De Vaux's "basic conclusions."

      > The authors' final conclusion, that Qumran was the site of a large
      > pottery manufacturing industry and not a religious centre,is far
      > from convincing. When I met Magen and Peleg, at Qumran, they told me
      > that they had discovered a small oil/perfume manufacturing facility
      > nearby, connected to one of the larger cisterns on the main building
      > site. They showed me some very unusual clay vessels, which one would
      > be hard pressed to explain as being usable in pottery manufacture.
      > So far I have not seen illustrations of these odd items.

      What do any of the "odd items" cited by Robert have to do with the
      identification of Qumran? Some readers might find these to be petty

      > Unfortunately the weighting of archaeology seems to be far too great
      > in the authors' consideration of the Qumran role question. Having
      > spent 10 years digging at Qumran, it looks like they did not want to
      > end up producing a conclusion that was anything other than
      > controversial. There is little mileage in supporting other people's
      > ideas -- even if they are the correct ones!

      Robert here (1) accuses Magen and Peleg of seeking controversy, and
      (2) suggests that they give too much weight to archaeology, while
      neglecting the "evidence of the Scrolls." But where is Robert's
      recognition of the Copper Scroll and of the generally accepted view
      of it? For someone who speaks of majority and minority, why doesn't
      he acknowledge that the "majority" of scholars view this document as
      being from Jerusalem and as having nothing to do with any Egyptian
      religion, contrary to Robert's own claims? I have offered these
      comments with full respect for Robert's own path-breaking work on the
      Dead Sea Scrolls and, above all, on the Spear of Destiny. Let us only
      hope that he and other defenders of De Vaux's "basic conclusions"
      will extend the same respect to Drs. Magen and Peleg, who have had
      the courage to persevere in their research despite the opposition of
      the "heartland" of Scrolls scholars.

      Paul Kessler (New York, NY)
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