Classics and Religious Studies


Date of this Version

January 1991


Response presented at a symposium in Philadelphia in 1991. Published in The Bible in the Twenty-First Century, edited by Howard Clark Kee (Trinity Press International: Philadelphia, 1993). Copyright © 1993 American Bible Society. Used by permission.


In my response, I will discuss three points raised by Professor Fitzmyer: the identification of the Qumran sect as the Essenes, Jerome Murphy-O’Connor’s hypothesis of the Babylonian origins of the Qumran sect, and the impact of the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls on Old Testament textual criticism.

I would suggest that the group of Jews who inhabited Qumran may have evolved over time, from a group with deep roots in Palestinian Judaism, who split with other Jews over such disputed things as law and calendar, to a sect with highly developed doctrines of, for example, predestination and angelology, which set them apart from other Jews. This is the group that Josephus is describing. Therefore, I would argue for the continuing identification of the Qumran sectarians with the Essenes.

Murphy-O’Connor bases most of his theory on evidence from the Damascus Document. It is not yet clear what Damascus stands for in the Damascus Document, but a second century Babylonian origin for the group at Qumran seems untenable.

The field of Old Testament textual criticism has also undergone a revolution owing to the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Scholars who had discounted the reliability of the Septuagint were put to shame by the existence of Hebrew texts at Qumran which appeared to be prototypes of the Septuagint translations. The discovery of the Qumran texts has increased our knowledge about Second Temple Judaism exponentially.

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