Ken Penner on the Hebrew Verbal System of the Dead Sea Scrolls

The Center for Ancient Christian Studies (SBTS) has posted an interview I did with Ken Penner on his forthcoming book The Verbal System of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Here are the questions he addresses:

  1. What is the argument of the book?
  2. What piqued your interest in the verbal system of the Dead Sea Scrolls?
  3. How has the work developed between dissertation and publication? Any advice for students who hope to publish their dissertation?
  4. What tools or methodologies did you find most useful in your research?
  5. How does your analysis of the verbal system shed light on interpretive debates in the broader field of Dead Sea Scrolls scholarship?
  6. How does the verbal system of the Dead Sea Scrolls compare and contrast with the the verbal system(s) of the Hebrew Bible?
  7. Do you plan to extend your research and publish on the verbal system of the Hebrew Bible?
  8. Where does your view of the verbal system of the Hebrew Bible fit within the spectrum of recent debates?
  9. How accurately do the written sources reflect the spoken Hebrew of the time? Does the verbal system of the Dead Sea Scrolls result from natural linguistic development or intentional archaism? Do the Dead Sea Scrolls attest to a single common verbal system, or are there numerous parallel systems evident in the sources?

You can read the full interview here.

Collins on the Essene Hypothesis

In chapter 2, Collins provides a clear summary of the arguments for and against understanding the community behind the Dead Sea Scrolls as the Essenes.
He notes prominent scholars who have held to the Essene hypothesis: Millar Burrows, Yigael Yadin, Geza Vermes, J. T. Milik, Frank Moore Cross, and Roland de Vaux (56).

In short, Collins believes the Essene hypothesis “remains probable” because no alternative proposal has been found plausible. He maintains that this is an issue “on which reasonable people can disagree” (63).

Cross with a Left Hook!

So, the Essenes are described in the ancient sources (Josephus, Philo, et al.). What Jewish group do these descriptions most resemble? Collins includes a quote from Frank Moore Cross that is worth quoting in full:

The task, therefore, is to identify a major sect in Judaism. To suppose that a major group in Judaism in this period went unnoticed in our sources is simply incredible. The scholar who would “exercise caution” in identifying the sect of Qumran with the Essenes places himself in an astonishing position: he must suggest seriously that two major parties formed communistic religious communities in the same district of the desert of the Dead Sea and lived together in effect for two centuries, holding similar bizzare views, performing similar or rather identical lustrations, ritual meals and ceremonies. He must suppose that one, carefully described by classical authors, disappeared without leaving building remains or even potsherds behind; the other, systematically ignored by the classical sources, left extensive ruins, and indeed a great library. I prefer to be reckless and flatly identify the men of Qumran with their perennial houseguests, the Essenes. (58-59)

Unsettled Issues

Collins notes that Cross’s position assumes that the DSS were the library of the community that lived at Khirbet Qumran, an idea that is now contested. Collins briefly discusses a few issues that remain troubling for the Essene hypothesis: minor differences in the ancient accounts of the Essene admission process, the issue of celibacy and the community’s relations with women, and the fact that the ancient accounts of the Essenes’ beliefs do not mention the apocalyptic and messianic ideas found in the Scrolls.

At the end of the chapter Collins points readers to further reading, including a more nuanced statement of his understanding of the people and circumstances behind the DSS in Beyond the Qumran Community: The Sectarian Movement of the Dead Sea Scrolls (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2010).

Related Posts: Collins’ Biography of the DSS, Chapter 1 and Reading to Beau for the First Time

MT and the “Oldest Text” of Jeremiah

Last week in our Hebrew syntax class we finished going through Jonah, and during the last few minutes of class we read through a passage in Jeremiah. At the end of class, a student raised  his hand and said,

“I heard that the oldest text of Jeremiah does not include certain messianic passages. Is this true?”

I told him I would put together some information over the weekend. The result: an introduction to the challenges associated with comparing the MT text of Jeremiah with that of the LXX and Dead Sea Scrolls. I’ve tried my best to keep this from being a “data dump.” The key points of each section are underlined. Hopefully, a bit of the complexity of the problem is presented, while keeping the discussion accessible to students with as little as two semesters of Hebrew.

Thanks to Abram K-J, Ryan Vasut, Matt Miller, and Jerod Harper for taking the time to look over and comment helpfully on an earlier draft of this handout.

Was Greek Spoken at Qumran?

For the most recent answer to this question and an argument for exactly how the members of the Qumran community employed the Greek language, see the latest issue of the journal  Dead Sea Discoveries. Matthew Richey, “The Use of Greek at Qumran: Manuscript and Epigraphic Evidence for a Marginalized Language,” Dead Sea Discoveries 19, no. 2 (2012): 177–197.

Richey’s article is clearly written and provides a helpful summary of the available evidence. I hope the following sketch of the article’s salient points will send you looking for a copy of the full article. In “The Use of Greek at Qumran,” Richey argues,

The Covenanters employed the Greek language in a clearly defined context, namely, that of economic transactions, both intramural and extramural. (178)

To support this thesis he looks at two texts (4Q350 and 3Q15, the Copper Scroll) and the epigraphic evidence recently published by André Lemaire (see below). This material is especially significant because it represents writing original to the Qumran community and the content of these writings reflects day-to-day affairs.

4Q350 (4QAccount gr)

This is the only unambiguously documentary (as opposed to literary) manuscript among the relatively small percentage of Greek fragments found at Qumran (178). Richey states,

On the whole, 4Q350 is, unlike all of the other Greek texts uncovered at Qumran, a text that participates in common Hellenistic conventions for registering quantities of goods. (183)

Some would argue that the unique nature of 4Q350 argues for a provenance outside Qumran. Richey, leaning partially on the work of Catherine M. Murphy (Wealth in the Dead Sea Scrolls and in the Qumran Community [STDJ 40; Leiden: Brill, 2002]), argues that the evidence suggests 4Q350 should be considered a genuine Qumran fragment.


Summarizing the significance of Lemaire’s work on Qumran epigraphy (“Inscriptions du Khirbet, des grottes et de ʿAïn Feshka II,” in Khirbet Qumran et Aïn Feshkha, II. Etudes d’anthropologie, de physique et de chimie [ed. Jean-Baptiste Humbert and Jan Gunneweg; Fribourg: Acodemic Press, 2003], 341-88), Richey writes,

On the whole, Lemaire’s epigraphic work has demonstrated that the use of Greek at Qumran, while not widespread in comparison to nearby first century sites, must be taken into account in any characterization of language use at the site. (188)

Richey cites Lemaire, “The use of Greek… seems rather greater in the documents of practical life than in the literary manuscripts,” (Lemaire, 381, as quoted by Richey, 188-189) and adds,

I would claim, furthermore, that our evidence suggests Greek usage at Qumran to have been connected with prospective economic dealings; some of these may have involved outsiders, many of whom would have spoken Greek as a first or second language. (189)

3Q15 (Copper Scroll)

The mysterious Greek letters at the end of certain lines of the Copper Scroll have long been noted, but there is no consensus as to what they mean. Richey summarizes the two most plausible explanations of this apparent shorthand writing. The Greek letters represent either numbers or names. He eliminates the numbers option by pointing to the work of Judah K. Lefkovits (The Copper Scroll 3Q15: A Reevaluation, a New Reading, Translation, and Commentary [STDJ 24; Leiden: Brill, 2000]), and concludes,

The inferences to draw from all of these possibilities is that some of the Covenanters spoke Greek, or they could reasonably expect one of their number to have both the opportunity and desire to learn Greek in the near future… The most intriguing correspondence between the Copper Scroll and the epigraphic material is the use of Greek for onomastic inscriptions. This manuscript usage might provide support for the conjecture that Greek was used, at least in profane contexts, to preserve the non-Semitic names of initiates. (195)


Richey concludes,

Taken together, these pieces of evidence suggest that Greek was used by the sect when they engaged in both affairs releated to trade and treasure hiding and seeking, a closely related activity. That a greater number of both Greek and Semitic documentary texts has not survived is likely the result of the conditions that prompted the Covenanters to hide their manuscripts in the first place; it is unlikely that, in the face of imminent danger, the Covenanters would deem most papyri detailing ephemeral transactions to be worthy of preservation. (197)

On top of writing very clearly about a complex topic, I think Richey makes a persuasive case. Any thoughts?