Qumran Cave 12: Update 2

James VanderKam, via University of Notre Dame

In a short interview published by the University of Notre Dame, James VanderKam urges caution about labeling the recent Dead Sea find as “Cave 12.” Comparisons have previously been drawn between the new find and Cave 8, which comes inside the numbering but contained no scrolls.

VanderKam comments,

In 1952, after the earliest scrolls finds, archaeologists made a survey of hundreds of caves and openings in the general vicinity of Khirbet Qumran…. Some 230 of them contained nothing of interest, but 26 housed pottery like that found in the first scrolls cave…. [G]iven the fact that other caves in the district, besides the 11 that held the Dead Sea Scrolls, contained pottery of the same sort as Qumran Cave 1, it seems a bit premature to call [the new find] Qumran Cave 12.

Whether the new find should indeed come inside the numbering of the scrolls caves would apparently depend on how things settle out regarding: (a) material apparently blank on visual inspection but needing to be subjected to multispectral analysis, (b) any contents that can be linked chemically or otherwise to other finds in other caves where texts have been recovered, or (c) other texts previously thought to have come from other caves but that might be demonstrated to have come from the new find.

Incidentally, the point about the comparison with Cave 8 (e.g., Hebrew University of Jerusalem) is the absence of scroll-type texts in what was recovered from that cave. Although not scroll-type texts, five fragmentary texts were recovered from Cave 8 (cf. The Dead Sea Scrolls). On this basis, all caves in the customary 11-fold accounting would share in common the fact that texts were (identified as) recovered from them—something that it can’t yet be said for the new find—rather than simply that texts had likely been stored there at some point.

(N.B.: My earliest post on the new cave find initially commented imprecisely that “no texts were found in [Cave 8].” I’ve now corrected this statement to reflect more properly that “no scroll-type texts were found in [Cave 8].”)

HT: Jim Davila. For the full text of piece containing VanderKam’s reflections, see the Notre Dame website. For previous discussion and further links about the new Qumran find, see Qumran Cave 12Qumran Cave 12: Update, and LogosTalk.

Qumran Cave 12

Working under the auspices of Operation Scroll, archaeologists have discovered what is being numbered as the twelfth scroll cave in the vicinity of Khirbet Qumran.

New Qumran cave location
New Qumran cave location. Photo credit: Randall Pierce, via theLAB
Entrance to Qumran Cave 12
Fault cliff and cave 12 entrance on the left. Photo credit: Casey L. Olson and Oren Gutfeld, via Haaretz

Work in the new cave has produced no new texts, but both linen (characteristic of scroll wrappers found elsewhere) and blank parchment fragments suggest that texts probably were stored in the cave at some point. Since no [scroll-type] texts were found in this cave, as with cave 8, the new cave’s designation will likely be Q12 rather than 12Q. [Updated 15 February 2017. For explanation of this correction, please see Qumran Cave 12: Update 2.]

Remnant of scroll found in Cave 12. Photo credit: Casey L. Olson and Oren Gutfeld, via Haaretz
Blank, rolled parchment remnant found in Cave 12. Photo credit: Casey L. Olson and Oren Gutfeld, via Haaretz

At this point, the total contents of the cave seem to be:

  • Two mid-twentieth-century pickax heads (presumably from previous looters of the cave)
  • Remains of six jars of the same type as those containing scrolls in other caves
  • Linen fragments
  • Papyrus and parchment fragments
  • Connecting fragments
  • A leather strap and string consistent with those used with scrolls
  • Arrowheads and knives
  • A carnelian stamp seal

This new cave find and its contents are definitely interesting. But, for texts that have reached the market through Bedouins, the discovery—and apparent prior looting of the new cave—also opens new questions about the accuracy of standing assessments of the caves in which these texts were found.

At least one of the team that has excavated this twelfth cave, Randall Price, professor and museum curator at Liberty University, thinks he has a lead on a thirteenth cave with a currently-obscured entrance. Whether that lead will pan out is yet to be seen, but a twelfth cave’s discovery is certainly exciting in itself.

For further discussion and original reports digested here, see Craig Evans (Twitter, theLAB), Dan Wallace, Haaretz, Hebrew University of Jerusalemi24newsJerusalem Post, and Jim Davila. For well-put humor, see Ian N. Mills.

Wright, “Following Jesus” for free

N. T. Wright, This month, Logos Bible Software’s free book is N. T. Wright’s Following Jesus: Biblical Reflections on Christian Discipleship (SPCK, 1994). The book falls into two parts:

Part one outlines the essential messages of six major New Testament books—Hebrews, Colossians, Matthew, John, Mark, and Revelation. Part two examines six key New Testament themes—resurrection, rebirth, temptation, hell, heaven, and new life—and considers their significance for the lives of present-day disciples.

The companion volume for $1.99 is Wright’s Who Was Jesus? (SPCK, 1991).

HT: LogosTalk