Texts without Qumran and Qumran without Texts: Searching for the Latrines

By: James D. Tabor, The University of North Carolina at Charlotte

 On the other days they dig a small pit, a foot deep, with a paddle of the sort given them when they are first admitted among them; and covering themselves round with their garment, that they may not affront the rays of God, they ease themselves into that pit.                                                                                  Josephus War 2.148

  This paper explores the complex and shifting dynamics of comparing texts with texts, texts with “sites,” and sites with themselves, but without texts. I use the term “sites” loosely to refer to the material or archaeological evidence that may or may not be related to a given text from antiquity. I see this as an extension of Jonathan Z. Smith’s interest and fascination with  “comparisons” so evident in much of his work over the past three decades.  But more particularly I have in mind the Louis H. Jordan Lectures in Comparative Religion, delivered at the University of London in 1988, subsequently published as Divine Drudgery[1]. Fascinated by the “thick dossier of the history of the enterprise,” i.e., the comparison of “Christianities” and the religions of Late Antiquity, Smith undertakes what he calls “archaeological work in the learned literature” in order to highlight both theoretical and methodological issues. His operative question is what is “at stake” in the various comparative proposals? I am convinced that some of the same dynamics Smith finds operating in the development of the study of “Christian Origins,” namely Roman Catholic and Protestant apologetics and presuppositions, have been present from the beginning in considering the textual corpus known as the “Dead Sea Scrolls,” and in interpreting the physical site of the adjacent ruins of Qumran, as well as in the combining of the two—that is, texts and site. I want to expand a bit the comparisons of “words,” “stories,” and “settings” beyond their purely “textual” levels, and explore the methods of bringing in non-textual evidence, that is, evidence of “place.” In that sense I find Smith’s metaphor of the “archaeological” more than intriguing, and in this paper, with spade in hand (or perhaps I might say with “paddle” in hand!), I want to explore how the proverbial “mute stones” speak, or remain silent, in the presence of texts, and the ways in which the texts inform “place,” and “place” might enlighten the texts.

The inclusion of selected archaeological evidence related to Roman Palestine, and more particularly the Galilee under Herod Antipas, has added an interesting new dimension to the methodologically depleted study of “Christian origins.” Indeed, Crossan and Reed, in the most ambitious synthesis to date, attempt to “excavate” both texts and sites in their reconstruction of what we can know of Jesus and his earliest followers[2]. In the end, unfortunately, their use of “place” ends up being as arbitrary and as ambiguous as that of the textual layers of the Jesus “traditions.” What is lacking is a “fit,” or a series of case studies or “checks” through which one might actually achieve some meaningful results in the comparative correlation of text and place.

The Site of Qumran

Qumran is arguably the one of the most famous and controversial archaeological sites in the Mediterranean world.  It has attracted millions of tourists, especially since the 1970s, having become, along with Masada, a “must see” site for any Holy Land tour. Yet both its fame and its controversy arise because of the discovery of ancient texts—the Dead Sea Scrolls—in caves adjacent to and near the site. It is unlikely that Qumran would have attracted much attention on its own, were it not for its possible connection to the community that wrote the Scrolls.

In a passing remark, reporting on his excavation of Cave 1 with Harding in 1949, Fr. Roland de Vaux concluded that their initial survey of the site of Khirbet Qumran showed no archaeological connection between the settlement and the cave with its manuscripts. For centuries the site of khirbet Qumran had remained largely undisturbed though a few ruins were visible above the ground.  In the mid-19th century one begins to see reports from various travelers and surveyors of the site[3], particularly de Saulcy (1850)[4], Rey (1858)[5], Conder and Tyrwhitt-Drake (1873)[6] and Clermont-Ganneau (1873)[7].  De Saulcy, a Flemish explorer, was convinced he had found the ruins of the biblical Gomorrah (Gen 19). Clermont-Ganneau rejected this identification.  He records that the ruins were “insignificant” but took special note of the cemetery, and even opened one of the tombs, concluding them to be a mystery, neither Muslim, Jewish, nor Christian, due to their odd north-south orientation and their lack of artifacts or emblems. In the 20th century the reports continued: Masterman of the PEF (1903)[8]; Abel, who did a cruise of the Dead Sea, stopping at Ain Feshkha and Qumran (1909)[9], Dalman (1914)[10], Noth (1938)[11], Baramki (1940),[12] and Husseini (1946)[13]. One recent but largely unexplored source, to my knowledge, are the records and diaries of some of the early Zionist pioneers and travelers who took an interest in the Dead Sea area, from Jericho to Masada, such as David Horowtiz (1926)[14].  Typically these observers made special note of the tower, the extensive boundary walls, the reservoirs and cisterns, and the aqueduct.  Noth ventured that the ruins were the City of Salt mentioned in Joshua 15:62.  Dalman thought it to be a Roman fortification of some type.  What seemed to stump everyone, however, was the extensive cemetery of at least 1000 graves, with their odd, mostly north-south, orientation.

De Vaux’s  subsequent five seasons of excavating the site (1951-56), coupled with the discovery of caves 4-10 (1952-55) in the very “backyard” of the settlement, seems to have forged an inseparable link between the scrolls and Qumran.  Such identification was further cemented by the rapid publication of the initial sectarian texts from cave 1 (1948-49 Sukenik; 1950-51 ASOR), and an analysis of the classical texts from antiquity that describe the Essenes (primarily Pliny, Philo, Josephus). Based on Pliny the Elder’s (23-79 C.E.) description, that the Essenes lived north of Ein Gedi and Masada (their reading of the disputed infra hos), and Dio Cocceianus’ reference to a prosperous city “not far from Sodom” (which many in ancient times placed at the north end of the Dead Sea), they settled on the ruins of Qumran as a likely possibility.  What intrigued them most was the large cemetery of over 1000 oddly oriented graves, signaling to even the casual observer two related concepts: “sectarian” and “community.” The two made a surface examination of the site and opened two tombs.  They returned in November, 1951 and subsequently carried out five seasons of excavations, identifying 144 schematic loci and opening 43 of the graves.  The main cemetery seemed to contain only males, but in the north, south, and eastern extensions tombs with five females and four children were also found, but apparently oriented east-west.  Three of the five women’s tombs had some poor ornaments.

What de Vaux uncovered at Qumran was rather remarkable by any measure.  He discovered three main phases of sectarian occupation, which he labeled as periods Ia/b, II, and III), running from mid-second century BCE down to the 1st Revolt.  He had complied a composite list of “Essene” characteristics from the classical sources, primarily Pliny, Philo, and Josephus.  They were a celibate or mostly celibate group, separatist in their view of society, shunning wealth and property and sharing a single treasury and a common table.  They practiced rites of ritual cleansing, and ritual meals and enforced a strict and high standard of community conduct.  Although they apparently opposed the sacrificial system at the Jerusalem Temple, it was not clear as to whether they shunned sacrifices totally, nor was it completely clear as to whether they were strictly pacifists in their attitudes toward outside enemies.  Although de Vaux was later criticized for interpreting his evidence in the light of a pre-determined “Essene hypothesis,” the correspondence he found between the material site and what he assumed as the social and religious life of the community, was rather impressive.  After all, the main cemetery did appear to be predominantly male, and the orientation of the corpses was not toward Jerusalem.  Their careful interment appeared to reflect the solemn dedication of a separatist community.   Locus 77 could have served as an assembly room or dining hall, and adjacent thereto, in loci 86 and 89 he found more than 1000 vessels, including jars, dishes, jugs, bowls, and plates.  Locus 114 also contained what might be seen as a “dining set,” with 40 plates and 40 goblets as well as other associated wares.  Loci 111 and 121 in the western part of the settlement are adjacent and might have served as smaller areas for ritual dining. The water system looked to serve not only the daily needs of a group living in the arid Arava, but also many of the pools appeared to be suited for ritual cleansing as well.  The remains of meals (bones of sheep, goats, and cattle), carefully deposited in the open spaces of the settlement, (especially in loci 130, 132, 136 in the northwest and loci 90 and 98 near the south walls) sometimes in closed vessels, seemed to reflect some sort of cultic practices.

 Although Magen Broshi, Jodi Magness, Yaaqov Meshorer, and others have suggested important modifications in de Vaux’s original chronology (i.e., no period Ia at Qumran, moving the sectarian occupation to the 1st century BCE; no abandonment of the site from 31 BCE to 4 BCE), his essential interpretation of the site as a sectarian settlement still makes the most sense.  Professor Magness has also convincingly interpreted the pottery of Qumran as an archaeologist should, in terms of what we might deduce about the community that used these items. Jean-Baptiste Humbert has developed a comprehensive reinterpretation of the archaeology of Qumran, revising some of de Vaux’s views, but nonetheless understanding the settlement as an Essene place of ritual sacrifice and worship.

Given the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the now excavated site of Qumran, we face a number of very limited possibilities.  First, is the library we know as the Dead Sea Scrolls indigenously connected or unconnected to the site of Qumran?  If so, we can now combine the work of spade and text in a way that was impossible with the classical sources, in that the texts themselves are an integral part of our material evidence.  Second, do the Scrolls represent a coherent group? Finally, if they represent a group, is it one known or unknown to us in sources outside the corpus?  The answers appear to be yes, yes, and yes.

However, this “consensus” is not without its detractors. Norman Golb has argued that Qumran is a military installation or fort[15]. Pauline Donceel-Voûte has put forth the interpretation of Qumran as a villa rustica.[16] Most recently Yizhar Hirschfeld has published his grand interpretation of Qumran as a manor house of an agricultural estate—wholly unconnected to the sectarian life reflected in the Scrolls.[17] Although these views have been exhaustively reviewed and critiqued, particularly by Jodi Magness and Magen Broshi, the press continues to sensationally report that the “consensus” has been broken, as if some vast academic conspiracy has been at work promoting the so-called “Essene Hypothesis.”[18]

We are not certain who first suggested the Scrolls from Cave 1 might be connected to the Essenes.  It was most likely Eleazar Sukenik, professor of archaeology at Hebrew University, who viewed both the Thanksgiving Hymns and the War Scroll in the days following November 29, 1947.  John Trevor, however, reports that in February 1948, Father Butrus Sowmy’s brother, Ibrahim, who was a customs official at the Allenby Bridge suggested such a connection, when the two brothers brought four of the texts to him and William Brownlee at ASOR (1QS, 1QHab, Isaiah, GenApoc).  In the April, 1948 ASOR news release, three Protestant scholars living at ASOR, Burrows, Trevor, and Brownlee, speculated that the Community Rule, at least, might be connected to some “little known monastic order, possibly the Essenes.”  Now that we are in a position to examine closely the entire corpus it seems to me that we can definitively identify the Dead Sea Scrolls group, first, with the site of Qumran, and second, with the ancient “sect” of Judaism known to us in classical sources as the “Essenes.”  With Stephen Goranson and others, I find the link between the Greek forms of the term “Essene” and the Hebrew term “doers of the Torah,” to be most convincing.  We are operating here in the thought world of Daniel 11:32 and associated texts. Though there are important differences in our indigenous and classical texts (did the group completely shun sacrifice, slavery, marriage, and warfare as Philo would have things?), and many remaining issues to resolve at the site itself, from an archaeological perspective, the “fit” between classical texts, Scrolls, and the site of Qumran is rather striking.

Students, media representatives, and the general public often ask—do you agree that the group that wrote the Scrolls were the Essenes? One is tempted to reply—yes, but how does one know what an “Essene” is in the first place? This is a label, a single word, and by positing the identification we are really only affirming that Pliny, Philo, and Josephus indeed know and mention a group by this name, not that their descriptions can be taken as hard historical evidence.  As a bare label it is hardly more helpful than the label of “Sadducee” that Shiffman, Reeves, and others prefer, based on certain halachic positions taken in some scroll documents (mostly MMT). We have long realized that the highly stylized reports of Pliny, and more especially Philo and Josephus, were more social and cultural propaganda than historical reporting, though they surely contain accurate information on the Essenes.  Like the stock praises of the Gymnosophists of India in pseudo-Callisthenes’ Alexander Romance or Philostratus’ Apollonius of Tyana, or the idealized portraits of the Magi that run through ancient Mediterranean literature, both Philo and Josephus want their readers to know that among the Jews there are indeed are these highly virtuous souls, dedicated to spiritual pursuits.  For Josephus, the Pharisees are like the Stoics, the Sadducees like the Epicureans, but most admirable of all, the Essenes, are like the ancient Pythagoreans. As with his description of the Pharisees, in terms of their views on Fate and immortality of the soul, he is writing for his Roman audience, who would find the actual Pharisaic halachic system, with which he surely must be familiar (as reflected in early parts of the Mishnah and other rabbinic tradition), completely alien and strange.

“Essene” or not, it is the content of the scrolls themselves, and the material evidence at Qumran that should have privilege.  Did Josephus know, but not tell, that the “Essenes,” were an intensely xenophobic, anti-Roman, contra-establishment, messianic, apocalyptic, “baptist” wilderness group that saw itself as living in Daniel’s “time of the end?”  It might well be that his reasons for not letting those “cats out of the bag” has to do with his sympathies with the Essenes themselves in the volatile post-Revolt atmosphere, living in Rome in the former palace of Vespasian.  He does let us know in several places that they were skilled in the interpretation of prophecy.  His apologetic purposes in both the Jewish War and the later Antiquities are well documented.

In the grand hierarchy of things there is a sense in which we must allow the material evidence to predominate.  Whatever theory we have about the site of Qumran, and however dependent it might be on the reading of our texts, whether classical or the Scrolls, ultimately it must be tested on the ground.  As James Strange has put it, what we need is an open investigation of the entire site and all its environs backed by a series of testable hypotheses that can actually yield results.  Such hypotheses are not to be formulated in isolation from our texts.  Indeed, as often as not, the texts themselves suggest to us certain possibilities that would not have otherwise occurred to us.

Hershel Shanks, editor of Biblical Archaeology Review, once put it like this to Qumran archaeological specialist Jodi Magness: Would we interpret Qumran as a sectarian religious settlement had the Dead Sea Scrolls not been found? In other words, to what degree does our reading of the Scrolls shape and form our interpretations of the material, almost wholly non-textual evidence, found at the site itself?  Magness replied that she did not think we would interpret it as a religious settlement, but neither would we conclude it was a villa or a fortress.  The site would remain anomalous because it has too many unusual features that resist any standard interpretation (especially the extensive ritual baths, animal bone deposits, and cemetery).  She then remarked—but why would we want to disregard the evidence of the Scrolls?  They appear to be an integral part of the archaeological evidence and can provide us with indispensable clues as to how to interpret the non-textual data.[19]

In looking at Qumran with and without the texts, and the texts with and without Qumran, one must first distinguish between two very different types of textual evidence.  On the one hand we have the scrolls and ostraca, which are themselves part of the archaeological data, being subject as material evidence to paleographic, AMS, DNA, and other types of scientific testing.  Yet, as texts, they also offer us insight into beliefs, practices, and history, any of which might shed light on the material evidence at the site of Qumran, or vice versa.  On the other hand, we have our classical sources on the Essenes, which though textual, and thus providing witness to beliefs, practices, and history as well, are decidedly non-archaeological and non-indigenous.  In order to work our way through this rich “evidential” complex it is important that we carefully distinguish, at every turn, what type of evidence we are using, how it might look in isolation or in combination, and what assumptions go into our constructions and conclusions. How might one read the sectarian scrolls along side the classical sources on the Essenes?  Can those results in turn be connected or correlated with the material record, and with what methods and assumptions?  Finally, what happens when one goes “hunting” for material evidence with texts in hand?

The Toilets

In 1995 I began to explore the idea of searching for the communal latrines at Qumran based on the very general hypothesis that they would be located some distance northwest of the settlement[20]. Having participated in several surveys and excavations at Qumran in the 1990s, the possibility of locating the toilets at Qumran intrigued me[21].  The textual evidence that gave me the idea was a complex mix of possibly unrelated materials from Scrolls themselves as well as Josephus’s descriptions of the Essenes and their toilet practices. Taken together as a conglomerate these sources seemed to indicate the possibility that communal latrines would be located 1) at some distance from the settlement; 2) most likely to the northwest with easy access to a communal pool for immersion upon return; 3) in an area where pits could be easily dug into the soil; and 4) perhaps hidden from sight of the settlement itself for purposes of modesty and privacy. Here are the main texts I had in mind:

CD 10:20  A man may not go about in the field to do his desired activity on
CD 10:21  the Sabbath. One may not travel outside his city more than a thousand cubits.

1QM 7:7  between all their camps and the latrine of about two thousand cubits, and no shameful nakedness shall be seen in the environs of all their camps.

 11QT 46:13  You are to build them a precinct for latrines outside the city. They shall go out there,
11QT 46:14  on the northwest of the city: roofed outhouses with pits inside,
11QT 46:15  into which the excrement will descend so as not to be visible. The outhouses must be
11QT 46:16  three thousand cubits from any part of the city.

 War2:147 ( They also avoid spitting in the midst of them, or on the right side. Moreover, they are stricter than any other of the Jews in resting from their labors on the seventh day; for they not only get their food ready the day before, that they may not be obliged to kindle a fire on that day, but they will not remove any vessel out of its place, neither to go aside  [οὺδἐ ἀποπατεἳν]. Nay, on the other days they dig a small pit, a foot deep, with a paddle (which kind of hatchet is given them when they are first admitted among them); and covering themselves round with their garment, that they may not affront the divine rays of light, they ease themselves into that pit, after which they put the earth that was dug out again into the pit; and even this they do only in the more lonely places, which they choose out for this purpose; and although this easement of the body be natural, yet it is a rule with them to wash themselves after it, as if it were a defilement to them.

War5:145 ( But if we go the other way westward, it began at the same place, and extended through a place called “Bethso,” [δἐ τοὓ βησοὓ καλουμένου χὡρου] to the gate of the Essenes; and after that it went southward, having its bending above the fountain Siloam, where it also bends again towards the east at Solomon’s pool, and reaches as far as a certain place which they called “Ophlas,” where it was joined to the eastern cloister of the temple.

 The Investigation and Its Results

The area that intrigued me as the most likely possibility was a flat level plain area located directly northwest of the Qumran settlement just below the limestone cliffs but hidden behind a natural bluff. I enlisted Joe Zias, anthropologist from the Israel Antiquities Authority as a partner in investigation. The idea was to take soil samples from several of the areas outside the settlement, including our the flat level area to the northwest and test to soil to see if we might find any evidence of ancient human waste in concentrated amounts. Our assumption was that the use of a confined latrine area for over a century by the Qumran community would likely leave detectable remains. We published our results in 2006 in an article in Revue de Qumran but I offer a brief technical summary here based on Joe Zias’s initial field report[22].

Figure 1. Looking northwest from the Qumran settlement with the natural bluff in the upper right foreground.

Figure 2. Standing in the level plain area looking back southeast toward the settlement. This is the area where we took the soil samples.

Soil samples were collected from three major areas around the settlement including the northwest sector specified above. Loci were examined for the presence of helminth eggs, which are excreted from the human body during defecation. For this purpose, 10 g of a soil sample from this locus was rehydrated in 0.5% aqueous trisodium phosphate solution and 5% glycerol was then added. After ultra-sonification the solution was filtered through a column of four sieves with decreasing mesh sizes of 315, 160, 50 and 25µm and the sediment from the two last sieves was examined under a stereo-microscope (magnification x30).  Microscopic examination revealed the eggs and embryophores of three helminthes: the roundworm, Ascaris sp. with a mammilated coat and measuring 66.5 x 51 µm (Fig. 3), embryophores of the tapeworm, Taenia sp. with a thick, radiating membrane and hexagonal spines (Fig. 4); and  the whipworm, Trichuris sp. with its lemon-like shape and measuring 57 x 30 µm; (Fig. 5).

Figure 3. Egg of the roundworm, Ascaris sp. with a mammilated coat and measuring 66.5 x 51 µm.

Figure 4. Embryophores of the tapeworm, Taenia sp. with a thick, radiating membrane and hexagonal spines.

Figure 5. Egg of the whipworm, Trichuris sp. with its lemon-like shape and measuring 57 x 30 µm.

Ascaris sp. has two potential hosts; humans are infected with Ascaris lumbricoides and  swine with Ascaris suum.  Owing to dietary laws prohibiting the consumption of pork (Leviticus XI: 7, Deut. 14:8) and the fact that pig remains have not been reported from the site, one can rule out the presence of Ascaris suum.  Therefore, as only ruminants and ungulates were authorized for consumption, the embryophores of Taenia found in this sample probably belong to the beef tapeworm, Taenia saginata and originated from the consumption of undercooked beef. The skeletal remains of cattle, which frequently appear in the excavated soils, support this assumption. The third helminth, Trichuris sp., which is a common parasite of a variety of animals and humans, is consequently also of human origin and therefore belongs to Trichuris trichiura. Lime also appeared in the fecal samples, possibly used to reduce the odor emanating from the feces and to diminish the attractiveness of this odor to flies as flies are known to passively transfer human pathogenic microorganisms. Identical findings of liming ancient toilets have also been reported from a 7th century BCE latrine in Jerusalem.

Heavy infection with Ascaris lumbricoides and Trichuris sp., can result in chronic anemia, diarrhea, dysenteric syndrome and abdominal distress thus, making it difficult for those infected to walk the proscribed distance and to defecate in isolation. Burying the feces in an area remote from habitations normally would be hygienically sound, however due to canyons and steep cliffs surrounding this settlement, the number of places suitable for toilets was severely limited. Thus, the inhabitants would have been obliged to defecate in soils, which were earlier contaminated with fecal material from the sect, which contained eggs of helminthes.  In effect, this meant that there was a constant danger that individuals walking barefoot through soils previously contaminated with feces would transfer helminth eggs back into the small community. An additional environmental hazard predisposing the community to continual recontamination was the mandatory Essene practice of bathing after defecation.

Bathing themselves after defecation was hygienically sound, if there were perennial springs like those of the city of Jericho, 14 km to the north. However, in Qumran no fresh water supplies were readily available, thus the inhabitants were dependent on runoff water collected from the winter floods. After defecating, they were obliged to bath in communal pools found at the site, which could remain standing for up to 9 months between rains. Furthermore, men were expected to enter these communal baths for ritual purification, which entailed total immersion twice a day before meals.  As the portal of entry for both Ascaris lumbricoides and Trichuris sp is oral, immersion in these pools or simply washing the hands and face was probably enough for contracting these parasites or other pathogens such as entero-pathogenic microorganisms responsible for cholera, hepatitis A and shigellosis. In addition, the water, which was used for purification and ritual immersion, could at times be used for drinking. The harsh environmental conditions of the Dead Sea Region, consuming but two meals a day and fasting on Friday, so as not defecate on the Sabbath, coupled with parasites competing for nutrients made Qumran an environmentally challenging habitat.


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[1]Divine Drudgery: On the Comparison of Early Christianities and the Religions of Late Antiquity (Chicago, 1990).

[2]Excavating Jesus: Beneath the Stones, Behind the Texts (New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 2002).  See also the more sensational and less successful attempt by Richard Batey, Jesus and the Forgotten City: New Light on Sepphoris and the Urban World of Jesus (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1992).

[3]See the excellent survey by James Vanderkam and Peter Flint in The Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls (New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 2002), 34-36, to whom I am mostly indebted for the following references. Compare Jodi Magness, The Archaeology of Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans, 2002), 22-24 and bibliographical notes, 29-30.  More generally see Neil Silberman, Digging for God and Country:P Exploration, Archaeology, and the Secret Struggle for the Holy Land, 1799-1917 (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1982).

[4]“Relation du voyage,” Voyage autour de la Mer Morte et dans les terres bibliques, exécuté de décembre 1850 àvril 1851 (Paris, 1853): 2:165-67, published in English (London: Richard Bentley, 1854), 55-68.

[5] Voyage dans le Haouran ex aux bords de la Mer Morte, exécuté pendant les années 1857 et 1858 (no date), 223, 227.

[6]Claude Condor and Horatio Kitchener, The Survey of Western Palestine (vol. 3 Judea; London: Palestine Exploration Fund, 1883), 210-211. Tywhitt-Drake died of malaria on the expedition and was replaced by Kitchener.

[7]“Kumrân,” Archaeological Researches in Palestine During the Years 1873-1871 (2 vols., London: Committee of the Palestine Exploration Fund, 1896) 2:14-16.

[8]See Palestine Exploration Fund Quarterly Statements from 1902-1913, especially 1902: 161-62; 1903: 265-67.

[9]Une Croisiére autour de la Mer Morte (Paris, 1911), 164-68.

[10] Palästinajahrbuch des Deutschen evangelischen Instituts für Altertumswissenschaft des leiligen Landes zu Jerusalem 10 (Berlin: Ernst Siegfriend Mittler, 1914), 9-10; 16 (1920), 40.

[11]Das Buch Josua (HAT 7; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1938), 72.

[12]See Stephan Pfann, “Sites in the Judean Desert Where Texts Have Been Found,” in Companion Volume to the Dead Sea Scrolls on Microfiche Edition (ed. Emmanuel Tov with Stephan Pfann; 2nd rev. ed.; Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1995), 110.

[13]Pfann, “Sites in the Judean Desert,” 110.

[14]David Horowitz, Thirty-three Candles (New York: World Union Press, 1949), 35-47.

[15]Norman Gold, Who Wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls (New York: Scribner, 1995).

[16]Pauline Donceel-Voûte, “Les ruines de Qumran reinterprétées,” Archeologia 298(1994): 24-35.

[17] Yizhar Hirschfeld, Qumran in Context (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson, 2004).

[18]See particularly Jodi Magness, The Archaeology of Qumran (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002) and Magen Broshi, “Was Qumran, Indeed, a Monaste4ry? The Consensus and Its Challengers, an Archaeologist’s View,” in Caves of Enlightenment: Proceedings of the American Schools of Oriental Research Dead Sea Scrolls Jubilee Symposium (1947-1997), ed. James H. Charlesworth (North Richland Hills, TX: Bibal, 1998), 19-37. Israeli archaeologists Yitzhak Magen and Yuval Peleg support Hirschfeld’s view based on their latest findings at the site, namely jewelry and precious glass.

[19] See Magness, Archaeology of Qumran, 13.

[20]On toilets and toilet practices at Qumran see especially Albert Baumgarten, “The Temple Scroll, toilet practices and the Essenes” in Jewish History 10 )1996): 9-20 and most recently Jodi Magness, “What’s the Poop on Ancient Toilets and Toilet Habits?” Near Eastern Archaeology, 75: 2 (June 2012), pp. 80-87.

[21]3rd Judean Desert Exploration Survey, December 31, 1991-January 19, 1992, with Robert Eisenman; northern caves, December 26, 1995 through January 10, 1996, directed by Magen Broshi of the Israel Museum, Hanan Eshel of Bar Ilan University and with James Strange of the University of South Florida at the Qumran settlement itself when the  two ostraca were found, one of which possibly refers to one Honi giving over his goods and lands to the Yachad, dated “year two” of the 1st Revolt (See Vermes, The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English, pp. 596-597).

[22]“Toilets at Qumran, the Essenes, and the Scrolls, New Anthropological Data and Old Theories,” with Joe Zias, Stephanie Harter-Lailheugue, Revue de Qumran 22:4 (2006): 631-640. My thanks to Zias and Harter-Lailheugue for their skilled technical expertise on this project.

10 thoughts on “Texts without Qumran and Qumran without Texts: Searching for the Latrines

  1. Are you aware of the views of Gabriele Boccaccini, as laid out in Beyond the Essene Hypothesis?
    Regarding the specifics here, what conclusion are we meant to draw? What kind of evidence (re: disposition of latrines, parasites) should we expect to find if Qumran was not a sectarian settlement? Do your results differ from this, and if so how?

  2. Good question C.J. My guess is that if the settlement was a farm, clay manufacturing facility, country villa, or whatever, the inhabitants would unlikely hike that far, precisely to the NW. The area was, as Joe called it, “a toxic waste dump.” If you read the published article, which has much more, in RQ, you will see that Zias also checked other flat areas all around the settlement and they were sterile of human waste deposits. The main point of the article is to play with the idea of “site” and “text” and how one can sometimes direct, supplement, and even shape the other, back and forth. The danger of course is one making assumptions, as is so often the case in “Biblical” archaeology that is “text” driven, so that one always “finds what one wants” so to speak. In this case I don’t think we fell prey to that.

  3. P.S. Yes, on Boccaccini. I think the whole “Essene” discussion can be a mincing of words, as I try to express here, maybe not adequately, since how one gets ones definition/impression of what is an “Essene” is drawn from classical sources, and is thus cast in a hellenistic philosophical typology-so of course, that “type” (Pythagorian, Gymnosophist, etc.) would not fit the “sectarian” literature-not to mention genre differences between Pliny, Josephus, Philo, etc. and the ways in which they draw upon the use of the “Essenes.” I think the parallels that Charlesworth, VanderKam and others have made is impressive enough to at least say we have two very different ways of referring to the “same” group.

  4. Thanks for your reply, James.

    It seems to me that GB’s category of Enochic Judaism shows a way forward while still taking into account the typological treatment we find in the sources. There’s been a lot of articles and blogs on the DSS and Qumran over the past few months, and I’ve yet to see even one engage with Boccaccini. I find that surprising. Can you tell me, in general, are scholars unaware of his work, or are there other reasons why it has not been received well?
    Again on the latrines: one of the things that has struck me about the study of Qumran is that possibly the site’s most distinct feature is just how extensively it has been excavated. You say it’s your belief that the inhabitants of a mercantile or agricultural facility “would unlikely hike that far,” but is that based on data? Has anyone gone to this kind of trouble to locate latrines associated with any relatively mundane site from the period? My guess would be that they haven’t, and so I sometimes wonder, when this or that “unique” or “distinctive” feature of the settlement at Qumran are trumpeted, to what extent it is known how distinctive it is. Where no comparison or broad survey has even been attempted, when no other site has been examined to such minute detail, how is it valid to claim that this single site is unique?

  5. Thanks James. Very interesting article.
    1) Minor point. It was Dio Chrysostom (rather than Dio Cocceianus) who mentioned Essenes by the Dead Sea. I like that you mentioned Dio, who is an often under-appreciated source for this subject. Joan E. Taylor, in her new book, Essenes, the Scrolls, and the Dead Sea (Oxford U. P., 2012) chapter 6 makes a good case that “Dio Chrysostom, a contemporary of Joseph and Pliny, is an independent source on Essenes.” (p. 165) If so, and I think Joan is right about this, his account of Essenes by the Dead Sea, not quoting Pliny (or Pliny’s source Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa), provides additional attestation.
    2) Among those agreeing with us on the etymology of Essenes is James VanderKam, in his 2012 book, The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Bible, pp. 100-104.
    More than 60 (!) different Essene etymology proposals have been published, ranging from guesses in Akkadian to Persian Avestan. One self-identification found in the scrolls was proposed in 1532 and in each following century before the Qumran discoveries. The medieval book Yosippon had replaced Essenes with Hasidim (which can’t be the source), following rabbinic disinclination to use the name Essenes (not allowing that Essenes were the observers of Torah), and the modern Hebrew Issim is merely a modern retroversion from the Greek.
    In 1532 Ph. Melanchthon wrote “Essei / das ist / Operarii / vom wort Assa / das ist wircken.”
    1550 “…to declare the straitnesse and severitie of lyfe with the dede, and would be called
    Essey, that is workers or doers, for Assa, whence the name commeth, sygnifieth to worke…”
    1557 David Chytraeus [Kochhafe], Onomasticon. ESSENI seu Essei, id est, operarii.
    1559 M. Flacius Illyricus et al. Ecclesiastica Hist., Magdeburg Centuries. Basel.
    [1573-75 Azariah de Rossi. Me'or Enayim. Mantua. Aramaic proposal]
    [1583 J. Scaliger, De Emendatione Temporum. on hallucination proposals]
    [1605 Scaliger, Elenchus Trihaeresii. different view]
    1619 Sixtinus Amama ed. De Sectis Iudaicis…, Arnheim.
    1674 J. Lightfoot, Horae Hebraicae et Talmudicae, on Lk. xv, 7.
    1680 Johann H. Willemer. Dissertatio…Essenis….
    1703 J. Triglandius ed., Trium Scriptorum…Judaeorum Sectis…Delft. 107: Essenes as factores legis, doers of the law.
    1743-4 J.C. Happach. De Essaeorum Nomine. Coburg.
    1745 Johann Ulrich Tresenreuter
    1839 Isaak Jost, Die Essaer…, Israelitische Annalen 19, 145-7.
    1858 S. Cohn; David Oppenheim, MGWJ 7, 270-1; 272-3.
    1862 L. Landsberg, Allgemeine Zeitung des Judenthum 26/33, 459.
    1864 C. D. Ginsburg, The Essenes
    1875 J. Lightfoot, Saint Paul’s Epistles to the Colossians…appx.
    1881 A. B. Gottlober, …B$M KT H(SS(N(R )W (SS((R HaBoker Or [Warsaw] 170-1.
    1881 Rev. Et. J. 3, 295.
    1894 Kruger, Theologische Quartalschrift 76 [&1887, 69]
    1938 H.M.J. Loewe in Encyclopedia Britannica (14th ed.) 718. (includes `asah as a possible etymology, soon before the Qumran discoveries).
    Then in Qumran pesharim appeared the self-designation, `osey hatorah

  6. Here’s a provisional review of Joan E, Taylor, Essenes, the Scrolls, and the Dead Sea (Oxford UP, 2012):
    Joan Taylor in this book strengthens the (already-strong) case that some Essenes lived at Qumran and elsewhere for parts of the first centuries BCE and CE. The book covers much ground, and has strengths and weaknesses.
    Taylor provides detailed analysis of the earliest sources on Essenes. Of course these have been studied often before, but one of the best sections of the book, in my view, is her discussion of Dio Chrysostom on Essenes. Among her conclusions: “Dio Chrysostom, a contemporary of Joseph and Pliny, is an independent source on Essenes.” (p. 165) If this is true, and I think Joan is right about this, and Dio was not quoting Pliny (or his source, Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa in my opinion), then Dio adds additional early attestation of Essenes by the Dead Sea, and for several reasons, the northwest part of it, which includes Qumran, where scrolls were found. She gives many other good reasons that link Essenes, Qumran, and many of the scrolls.
    She goes on at length about healing-a subject admittedly of interest to most religious (or even non-religious) groups-but has little to show that healing was a remarkably characteristic feature of Essenes, beyond a few passing words-not specific to the Dead Sea-in Josephus. Previously, the announced title of the book listed on her online CV was The Dead Sea Essenes and Ancient Healing. I think it was a wise choice to change the title to de-emphasize healing. But that leaves the discussion as rather an orphan. She cites a YouTube video by John Allegro (who did say Essenes were healers, but on other days said other unreliable things) averring that Essenes grew healing herbs at Ain Feshkha (p. 306). She writes of “4QTherapeia”-4Q431, 4QM130 (M for a text assigned to J.T.Milik, but traded to Allegro) that J. Naveh and J. Greenfield et al. consider a writing exercise-in a most curious manner, leaving unexplained whether she regards it as evidence for Essene healing (pages 306 & 329-inaccurate in the index). 306: “…Allegro noted texts from the Dead Sea Scrolls that seemed to have associations with healing, particularly a text once known as 4QTherapeia.” 329: “Specific medical or pharmacological terms have been suggested in only one text, originally called 4QTherapeia (4Q341). Allegro was particularly interested in this, reading it as designating a variety of medications. However, because of the difficulty in comprehending this, the identification of it as a writing exercise is currently assumed.” Given Taylor’s claims about healing, leaning on so little, a reader might expect to hear if she considers Therapeia an appropriate name, and why. She cites J.H. Charlesworth (though not J. Greenfield), in a publication of small distribution, without informing readers that he retracted his support for the “Therapeia” reading. She speculates that some empty glass vessels from some (late?) period at Qumran may possibly have once contained medicine. Well, maybe, maybe not. Diagnosis: a weak case. Further, though her survey of the Dead Sea area and its botany may be of interest to some readers unconcerned with the scrolls, her own survey (with S. Gibson) showed that Qumran had no good roads or dock installations, and they concluded that Qumran was not a major trade or commerce center, but was, relatively, isolated. Of course Essenes lived elsewhere, too.
    Similarly weak is any suggestion that the name Essenes came into Greek and Latin (in various spellings) from the Aramaic for healers. And that outsiders named them is mere asserted speculation. I call Joan Joan, but I did not name her Joan. The etymology of Essenes is probably from Hebrew ‘osey hatorah (observers of torah), as is self-attested in Qumran Essene texts. Her dismissal of the evidence is meager. She cites J.B. Lightfoot (1875!), who chose another etymology (one she does not accept anyway). Lightfoot raised no philological objection to the now increasingly recognized etymology, but dismissed it on now-invalid historical grounds. If Lightfoot had lived to see the in effect pre-1948 predictions for ‘osey hatorah appear in the Qumran texts, I suggest he might have changed his mind. She ventures into the realm of multiple meanings for Pharisees/Perushim but without citing A. Baumgarten JBL 1983 on specifiers and separatists. Consider rabbinic texts that list types of separatists including those who boast “what is my duty that I may do it?” (E.g., Sota 22b)
    The book makes a doubtful assertion that Herodians in the New Testament (Mark and Matthew) were Essenes called by another name. The publisher apparently advertises this book as the solution to “the mystery” (“a solution to the mystery of the Dead Sea Scrolls”)-as if there were one and only one mystery obtaining here. She credits Constantin Daniel (RQ 1967) with the proposal, not listing his other, sometimes bizarre, hidden-naming New Testament proposals. The proposal had already been made by Ernest von Bunsen in The Angel-Messiah of Buddhists, Essenes, and Christians (1880) p.264. She does not cite the directly-relevant text by Y. Yadin, The Temple Scroll: The Hidden Law… (1985) 80-83 (much less my Biblical Archaeologist 1985 p. 127 review of it, already raising doubts). Herodians are included in her section of sources on Essenes, distorting her composite reconstruction of them. It might have been fairer to analyze recognized sources on Essenes first, then turn to the Herodian conjecture. She claims Herod’s descendants continued to honor Essenes; she asserts (p.120) “The Herodians simply cannot be Herod’s officials in Mark.”
    The book sometimes reads as an academic “corrective,” starting with an exaggerated wrong view that Essenes were small and disconnected, then delivering a vision of Essenes as the opposite: large and intensively connected. (I do agree that Essenes were more numerous than Sadducees.) If Pharisees turned to Herodians (healers?) for political help (there is no penalty for disagreeing with just Pharisees), those Pharisees (and those Pharisees were no friends of Essenes!), then oppose Jesus’ healing-and this imagines Essenes (healers?) plotting against Jesus? Rather, among the minority of Jewish followers of Jesus were some Essenes, and Paul, said to be a former Pharisee (and no Sadducees). Faith and works arguments pre-dated Jesus. Her analysis of Philo (who used a source, maybe Posidonius or Strabo) suggests-against centuries of readers-that Philo did not present Essenes as peaceful. In her reading she says that peacefulness “evaporates.” (p. 33) But, e.g., Josephus called Essenes “ministers of peace.” (War 2.135) She rightly dismisses the misreading of Josephus of a rebel leader “John the Essene.” She cites S. Mason that this was rather John of Essa (a place)-in effect according again with peacefulness. Actually an earlier scholar (A. Schalit) saw that, in a volume of the Josephus Concordance edited by K. Rengstorf who asked, in the late 1950s, where was the name Essenes in the scrolls, which is answered above. Yes, the War Scroll raises questions, of a war that never happened, a war like one in the worldview of Daniel and John’s Apocalypse in which the evil empire will be destroyed, but largely predestined through God and angels.
    She does not cite J. Zias (and others) on the great probability that the east-west oriented burials containing women and children were later bedouin (not Essene) burials. She speculates that the tombs excavated might not be a representative sample, and women (of what time period?) might be present in greater proportion. Maybe, maybe not. About pre-1948 scholarship, she briefly notes debates about faith versus works, but slights the great debates pro and con on monasticism (Philo has the earliest known Greek uses of “monasterion”) in which much discussion of Essenes occurred (including guesses that Hebrew was little-used then so Aramaic might be the name-source).
    She uses the word “importantly” a lot-which is fine, but, importantly, she does not feature the great importance to this history of the scrolls’ Wicked Priest and Teacher of Righteousness-identified, in my view, online in my “Jannaeus, His Brother Absalom, and Judah the Essene.”
    Was Azariah de Rossi’s Me’or Enayim published in 1567 (p. 5) or 1576? Does the Adam and Burchard collection of ancient texts include German translations of all of them (p.21)?-not my copy. Did S. Pfann suggest cave 3 and 11 deposits were made by second century zealots (p.288 n68) or first century ones? (Pfann, BAIAS 2007 p.167: “…caves 11Q and 3Q derive from priestly and lay Zealot parties at the end of the First Revolt.”) Taylor somehow proposes a later (than most think), post-70 possible end-date for deposits. I do agree with her against the view once expressed online, not by her, that all eleven-cave scroll deposits was “ONE EVENT.”
    The book’s weaknesses on etymology and Essenes-as-healers and Herodians should not keep readers away from the book’s many strengths on Essenes, Scrolls and the Dead Sea, all three. It includes much of interest and should be obtained by all major university libraries.

  7. Interesting article, but hasn’t “the Holy Land” been called Israel for over 60 years?

  8. Thanks a lot, James.
    Now a correction to my review of Joan Taylor’s substantial new book (above). I made a mistake.
    Though Joan (on page 85) did cite the proposal by A. Schalit and S. Mason that “John the Essene” may be a mistranslation for John from Essa (a place), she rejected that proposal.

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