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Notes from Limmud 2006

Has the Teacher of Righteousness Been Found?

Rabbi Dr Richard Freund

Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found, has been excavated many, many times; and is falling apart now.

Why is it so important to study Qumran? Until the beginning of the twentieth century, when people talked about the Bible in scholarly quarters—or in the Encylopaedia Britannica—there was a fundamental problem: that there were no original copies of it. The oldest complete MS of the Hebrew Bible was only a thousand years old. Bible scholars were saying that the Jews made it up—because if it had been ancient, surely wouldn't one ancient manuscript survive? It was made up to facilitate their history that the Jews had made up for themselves.

And then Solomon Schechter discovered the Geniza fragments in Cairo in 1896. They still didn't have a whole complete Bible, though—because during the Crusades and the Inquisition there was systematic burning and reuse of Bible manuscripts. The legacy of this is that the largest Hebrew Bible collection anywhere in the world is in the Vatican.

In 1946, a Bedouin discovered the Dead Sea Scrolls, throwing a rock into the cave to try and get his goat out. (There was a taboo against going in, according to one theory—Dr Freund believes this was the reason because [remainder of sentence lost; I think it might have been: if there hadn't been, do you think the Scrolls would have remained unpillaged into modernity?]) The importance of this to the Jewish people cannot be minimised by dismissing the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls as just a piece of archaeology. The Dead Sea Scrolls gave manuscripts of every single book of the Bible except only the Book of Esther, reaching nine hundred manuscripts in total. If they had not been discovered, Bible scholarship would have been very different today.

The oldest Dead Sea Scrolls go back to the third century BCE. One third of the above library of 900 manuscripts is basically Bible books. After that, 30-40% are para-Biblical texts: commentaries on the Bible, and on very weird sections of the Bible. The other 25-30% are sectarian texts; texts related to a specific group that—officially—lived on the Dead Sea, and have been associated with the Essenes mentioned by Josephus. Where did they live?

When the first seven scrolls were discovered in Caves 1 and 2, the Bedouin did not realise their importance; they were illiterate. Seeing they were made of leather, they took them to Kando, a shoemaker in Bethlehem. He was also an antiquities seller. He didn't know what to make of them, so he takes them to his church in Jerusalem. The head of the church, who thought they were Syriac, couldn't figure them out, so he brought them to the best expert he knew, Eleazar Sukenic, archaeology professor at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

On November 29 1947, Sukenic wrote in his journal that he had just seen the oldest Hebrew texts on the planet. He realises the importance of the discovery. He wanted to buy them for the [not yet existent] State of Israel. This was the same day that the United Nations declared the partition of Palestine [to create a Jewish and an Arab state]—and all hell broke loose: he didn't get the manuscripts.

Between 1946 and 1956 eleven caves were found, all centred within a mile to a mile and a half of the small town of Qumran. Scholars tried to figure out where the Bedouin got them from. Roland de Vaux of the Ecole Publique tried to find where

Between 1948–1952 no archaeology could be done. Finally, John D. Rockefeller gave money for a ten year excavation. Now, people still did not know where the scrolls came from. The Dead Sea is fifty miles long, and there are thousands of caves along its length, resulting from water places drying up as the water table sank due to the major earthquakes occurring every hundred years along the East African Rift Valley, over the course of 25,000 years.

People have been putting stuff in these caves for thousands of years... and then mislocating it; also the caves keep collapsing due to the earthquakes. Dr Freund was using the ground-penetrating technology referred to in my previous posting.

What does Qumran mean? Some say from Qumra, a local Arabic word for the moon. Others say it's a bastardisation of עמורה `Amorrah (Gomorrah).

In 1946-7 the first two caves were finally found about a mile from Qumran. People thought there was some association with Qumran, but did not know what the association was. And in then 1952 they found Cave 3, several miles to the north. Words started getting out that lots of fragments were reaching Jerusalem; and people started searching for more caves.

The caves ring Qumran. [map] Note also that the water runs down from the hills to Qumran.

De Vaux started excavating in November 1951. The first big decision that you have to make before starting excavating is... where you dump your stuff. Every single time Dr Freund has ever been on an excavation, the dump site turns out ten years later to be the most important place on the site. De Vaux, to his credit, took a valley to the east for his dump site.

In 1952 in February they discovered where the Bedouins were bringing these manuscript fragments in from: it was Cave 4, right across from the dump site. In '55 they discovered 7,8,9 and 10, right at Qumran; then finally Cave 11, right near Qumran.

Pottery is identified using neutron activation, to discover whether it was made at one site or another. Certain pots [photo] were found to have been made at Qumran. This makes it likely that someone from Qumran put the manuscripts in the pots and brought them to the caves.

In the first century, caves were where Jews buried their dead. People also lived in the caves; they're a constant 20 degrees when it gets up to 40 degrees outside. But in these caves nobody lived in the caves or buried people there; they merely put manuscripts there.

The reconstruction of Qumran—which Dr Freund referred to as "Disneyland"—looks like a monastery; this is because De Vaux, who oversaw the reconstruction, was himself a monk!

So the Essenes were living on the Dead Sea because they didn't like the status quo in Jerusalem. They were a peaceful people (the War Scroll is about an apocalyptic war). They spent all day studying—and writing manuscripts. But not one living quarter was found in the entire site! So where did they live? The current theory is they lived in tents on the outside. Why didn't they live in the caves?

There is a big defensive tower at Qumran. What did they need this for? Maybe Qumran was used multiple times by different peoples. It was destroyed for the last time probably in 68, by the Romans on their way to Jerusalem.

Dr Freund was on the way to the Cave of Letters, when the Antiquities Authority asked him to have a look, given that he had all his equipment for non-invasive archaeology, at Qumran. He protested that he was on the way to the Cave of Letters, and did not have time—for time was money, and money was limited—but was eventually persuaded to put a couple of hours' work in. [I might make some notes about his work at the Cave of Letters some time; this was a fascinating talk, which I heard on Shabbos (not at Limmud) so could not make notes about.]

Now the most important part of the site is somewhere where nobody can dig: the cemetery. This is the largest ancient cemetery in Israel. Instead of caves, they are all buried in individual graves. In the fifties you could still get away with digging up graves. Back then they dug up a whole load of bones and sent them off to a lab in Germany... and then they disappeared. In the seventies, an attempt to re-locate them discovered this lab had closed. They eventually turned up to be in the home of the researcher in the lab, in Munich, in shoeboxes!

Today it is impossible to excavate graves, because the Jews (and Native Americans and so forth) get upset—unless it's really exceedingly important.

They went to count the number of graves, and went over the graves with magnetometers. The magnetometer went off the chart on a single grave. They tried other graves, and none of the others had anything major. The Antiquities Authority recommended Dr Freund applied for a licence to excavate. So he did, but the process took a year... and when he came back a year later, he found the site had already been excavated. Someone had seem him going over the ground, and getting a graduate student to mark the site, and had come back later to loot that specific grave. The Antiquities Authority insisted Dr Freund excavate the other 1213 graves, to see if anything else is there. (This gained him the nickname Dr Death.)

Why were the people buried in separate graves? Why were they buried in different directions, some east-west, others north-south? Both sets of graves were six feet deep, but some of the east-west graves were only three feet down. This was a case of later reusing of the graves.

One thing of note about Qumran is that there's lots of bathing pools. They're not mikvas, at least not by rabbinic standards—because they can't change the water! [Not least because this is a site with negligible rainfall.] Instead they had some kind of bathing rituals. Which leads some people to think that Qumran was not an Essene settlement but a religious spa, to purify pilgrims on the way up to Jerusalem—for half the price of that in Jerusalem!

ERT on the hill facing Cave 4—directly over the rubble pile of De Vaux's excavation—showed there was a cave underneath it.

In the abovementioned looted grave, the grave robbers left the whole bottom of the grave; they dug out the sarcophague and did not dig any deeper. The metal in the grave, of which traces were still left, turned out not to be a lead sarcophagus—which were common at the time for people brought from a far distance to be buried—but zinc. This is not indigenous to Israel; it is found in Syria and Iran. Somebody had wanted a lot to be buried there, and was taken a long way (zinc is much lighter than lead). Why did that person want to be buried there?

In the middle of the cemetery, not far from the graves, there's a hill. Why is it there? Everyone told Dr Freund it wasn't important, as De Vaux had said so. It turned out in midsummer the sun as it rose was blocked, from the looted grave, by this hill.

The hill turned out to have a building on. In the middle of the building was one grave, six feet down. They discovered this at 5:30—which meant they until 8:30, when the park opened, to dig the whole thing: Excavating a grave normally takes a week!

They had a physical anthropologist on site within hours; the whole excavation was recorded on public TV. The teeth were carbon dated within hours. There were bones also two feet down at the door of the building. They turned out to be two women, an older woman and a younger woman, from the first century CE. The grave in the centre was that of a man in his late thirties, early forties. There was one cooking pot in his grave by his foot, with a hole punched in so no one else could use it. His head was facing the east.

So who was this person buried on top of this hill overlooking 1212 graves? Every day when the sun rose it would strike this mausoleum and cast a shadow over the rest of the cemetery and Qumran.

Dr Freund thought this was מורה הצדק, the Teacher of Righteousness, the elusive leader of the Essenes. He's mentioned dozens of times in the library. The Essenes had come down from Jerusalem because they were angry. They lived at Qumran, they died at Qumran; they buried their teacher at the most important site.

Dr Freund called his university to tell them to call Time magazine to say the Teacher of Righteousness had been found. His university, however, went off to Wikipedia or whatever, and came to the conclusion that it was John the Baptist—who was only one of the possible candidates for the Teacher of Righteousness. And that was on the press release which went out.

The first Dr Freund knows about this is when Time magazine called him back to say "We here you've discovered the grave of John the Baptist! Was his head in the grave or not?" He tried to put them straight, but by now it was too late, and the press release was circulating everywhere.

As a result, his colleagues disavowed him. They said, the Teacher of Righteousness is found in texts from the second and third centuries BCE [i.e. before the time of John the Baptist]! Dr Freund said: was it not a title that might have been used again and again, like rabbi? He did some researching, and discovered the answer was: yes! It was even used in synagogues.

So if (according to his colleagues) it wasn't the Teacher of Righteousness, who was it? They said it was... wait for it... his accountant. The פקיד. And they put the accountant of most important person in Qumran in this unique site, in the most important grave on the site!? <rolls eyes>

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