Who wrote the Bible? This question is central to the General Academy of Religious Studies’ discussion of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Three researchers from the Groningen Qumran Institute talk about their work. Preview.
Let’s start with a negative point: the question “Who wrote the Bible?” Will not respond within General Academy About the Dead Sea Scrolls. But if there is an answer at all, the research carried out in Groningen on these astonishing archaeological finds will have made an important contribution.
The Qumran Institute in Groningen has been a world-leading center for more than sixty years of studies on nearly a thousand scrolls found by Bedouins in the Judean Desert between 1947 and 1956. In caves near the Qumran settlement, on the shores of the Dead Sea, they found tens of thousands of flakes and larger fragments. These contain the oldest known biblical texts, but also many other Jewish writings that were largely unknown until then.
Mladen Popović, director of the Qumran Institute, said: “There is an Orion Center in Jerusalem and we. Of course, important research on manuscripts over 2000 years old is being conducted at universities all over the world (Helsinki, Oxford, Göttingen, Leuven), but it is often included in other research areas. “What distinguishes us is the focus on the materiality of texts, along with the cultural context of the content.”
Perhaps this is where the answer to the above question lies, but more on that in a moment. Because how could Groningen in particular house an important research center for these manuscripts from the biblical country? The simple answer: money. When the importance of the exciting discoveries became clear and the Bedouins offered more and more manuscript fragments at increasingly higher prices in the early 1950s, foreign investors had to be called in.
When Cave No. 11 was discovered in 1956 by Bedouins, who knew the desert much better than the archaeologists who were also searching, the Netherlands contributed around one million euros. Thus our country obtained the exclusive right to research, translate and publish the texts from Cave No. 11. This led to the establishment of the Qumran Institute in 1961 by the Frisian-Groningen researcher Adam van der Woude.
Over the years, other authoritative scholars of Dead Sea Scroll research have worked in Groningen. The name of the research institute affiliated with the University of Groningen has grown, and its current highlight is the major exhibition of the Dead Sea Scrolls at the Drenz Museum in 2013. This was an initiative of Popović, who also served as guest curator. Sixteen Qumran fragments were on display at Asin.
The term “Bible” does not apply
All texts have now been found in the eleven caves published The search has expanded. The texts are increasingly studied within their original context: the Greco-Roman world in which the texts operated 2,000 years ago. Research in Groningen also focused on the material. “You do not immediately look at the content of the text, but first at the material itself, without too many presuppositions,” sums up Arjen Bakker, a faculty member at the Qumran Institute.
He says that the Qumran texts are often classified as biblical or non-biblical. But the Jewish Bible (the Old Testament in the Christian Bible) as we know it today did not exist at the time these writings were created, sometime between 300 BC and 50 AD. “The concept of ‘Bible’ doesn’t really apply to this period,” Packer says. “We have to take a few steps back.”
Manuscripts of texts were found at Qumran, some of which were later included, in one form or another, in the Bible, the body of books considered sacred. “In order to understand what happened at Qumran during that period, we have to abandon concepts and models that were formed later,” Packer says. “This also applies to our ideas about the community at Qumran that wrote or collected these texts.”
“For a long time it was thought that this did not fit with our idea of Judaism at that time, so a sectarian group had retreated into the desert,” Packer explains. “And now we say: these texts are the only rare evidence we have from this period. What information can we extract? Who to rewrite history?
Distribution of letters and ink
This process is now underway. One conclusion is that Judaism 2,000 years ago, in the time of Jesus, was more diverse than we previously thought. “All these categories and name tags on the Dead Sea Scrolls obscure more than they clarify,” Popovich says.
Under his leadership in the research project The hands that wrote the Bible Since 2015, research has included the Qumran manuscript of the book Isaiah, Using artificial intelligence. A wealth of new data has been exploited using newly developed artificial intelligence techniques and computer analytics.
By mapping the shape of letters and the distribution of ink down to the smallest details, insight is gained into such basic matters as writing posture, the training of graffiti writers, and their interrelationships. This may not sound very amazing, but it is an important first step. As Popovic said when presenting the first results in 2021: “It seems like we can now shake hands with the writers.”
Popovich will discuss this in more detail during the General Academy. “The nice thing about researching using AI and dating texts using C14 is that you get down to the level of the individual writer. My dream is to reconstruct the Qumran treatises from the ground up in this way. Who wrote what and when? How many writers were there? And who were those writers? Do it first.” By planning everything out and then seeing how the results compare to our models, testing whether it is sustainable or not.
Written material on both sides
This is a long process of very modest steps forward. “This is science,” Popovich says. “It may sound boring, but you can build a world from this kind of detailed analysis.” He cites as an example a sub-study of his project, which includes: Gemma Hayes He received his doctorate in Groningen at the beginning of this year. By analyzing writing and writing habits using artificial intelligence, I was able to link eight different Qumran texts to a single scribe.
Popović: “These were texts that could never have been pieced together by literary approach alone, from old categories like ‘non-biblical’ or ‘sectarian’. What could that mean? Suppose you could identify dozens of writers in this way, then “You get closer to the big picture. Or you come to the conclusion that there is no big picture.”
Ayhan Aksu, the third speaker at the General Academy, received his doctorate last year on double-sided text fragments from Qumran. “These texts have often been studied individually rather than in context,” he says. “I have argued that scribes deliberately combined texts on a scroll or manuscript to build small collections, whereas previously this had been assumed to involve reusing materials.”
It is these kinds of small steps, based on text-based materials, that push research on the Dead Sea Scrolls further. “It helps us gain insight into how the writers themselves thought about using these texts,” Aksu says.
It’s a complicated issue because we don’t know much about Qumran outside of the texts. Aksu: “In addition, you cannot look at Qumran society in a static way. It is a society that has evolved over more than two centuries.
Time is a central concept
Popović has sometimes spoken in the past of a “community of scholars.” “I’m not going to put that image on it anymore. I’ve become more careful. You see aspects of the scholarship, but also other things. And there’s an evolution. The danger of such a label is that you allow one side to dominate the whole.”
Arjen Bakker focuses primarily on the history of ideas in his research. “We are now at the stage of research for the Dead Sea Scrolls where the material must be integrated into the broader historiography.” He looks in particular at the Greco-Roman cultural context in which the texts operate.
Packer will speak on the topic of “time” in the Qumran texts at the General Academy. He earned a doctorate in wisdom texts, many of which have been found at Qumran, as well as in calendar texts. “As I was working on it, I discovered that time plays a central role.”
“The week comes straight from Judaism”
He adds that Qumran also thought philosophically about how reality works. “Time was used as a fundamental principle to explain why things happened the way they did and the order in which they happened. It was thought about at a very abstract and high level.
This also occurred in the philosophical schools of the Greco-Roman world at that time. Packer: “It seems as if there is an interaction, while the vocabulary used is derived from biblical texts. It is interpreted in its own way. This is something we learned from the Dead Sea Scrolls.
It’s research that also sheds new light on things we take for granted today, like the unit-time week. “The week and the number 7 come directly from Judaism,” Packer says. ,, This goes back to the commandment to keep the Sabbath holy, which is the fourth commandment of the Ten Commandments.
This is an important vision for the history of thought. Packer: “The week is a fundamental thing that still plays an important role in our daily lives. Our work week ends on Friday evening and begins again on Sunday evening.
“We will not appoint Janetti or Marietti.”
We return to the original question: Who wrote the Bible? “This question will remain unanswered for some time,” Popovich says. “Through our research on the writers at Qumran, we are getting closer to the writers of the Bible. We will not refer to Jantji or Maritji, but we will ask: How did these people work? There is an overlap in terms of writing culture: Daniel, It is one of the newest books in the Bible, dating back to around 160 BC. We also have the Dead Sea Scrolls from that time.
Packer believes the research may eventually change our perspective. “We are highlighting a key period in history in a completely different way than before. It is about the origins of Judaism, and the origins of Christianity and Islam, which come from both. The Dead Sea Scrolls form the basis for that because they are the oldest material we have.
Free lecture (also online)
General Academy for Religious Studies on the Dead Sea Scrolls It will be held on Wednesday 27 September in the Academy building at Broerstraat 5 in Groningen. Being speakers Three researchers from the Qumran Institute: Professor Mladen Popović, Dr. Ayhan Aksu, and Dr. Ergin Bakker. The meeting starts on 7:30 pm. Access is Free of charge, reservations can be made at rug.nl/rcs/publieksacademie . The evening can also be followed online via a link on that website and can be watched later. One general academy Cooperation from college Religion, Culture and Society at the University of Groningen And this newspaper.
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