Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Schiffman - Golb (2) - Who Was The First To Explain What "To Prepare The Way In The Desert" Meant?

Schiffman (see his book, Reclaiming the Dead Sea Scrolls, 1994, p.95) where he discusses a passage from a scroll (the Manual of Discipline, 1QS 8.12-15) which had long been understood to mean that members of the brotherhood should go to live in the wilderness (literally). But, Schiffman stated (without acknowledging that Golb had said so years before) that the passage had to be interpreted symbolically. “To prepare the way in the desert”, he wrote, “means to interpret the Torah, specifically to explain it according to sectarian interpretations.”

Golb had expressed precisely this view a long time before Schiffman (see his 1980 article, The Problem of Origin and Identification of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, Vol.124, No. 1, p.16).  Golb says about the same passage that the authors were freely assigning a metaphorical interpretation to it. Further he says that there is nothing in the passage (quote) “to imply even remotely that those who would have followed the rules in the Manual actually believed they should go and live in the desert.” This conclusion Golb drew on the basis of the specific wording in the manuscript which he translated:

1QS 8:12-15: “When all these become a Unity in Israel, they will be separated through these rules from the settlement of the men of wickedness, going to the wilderness to clear there the way of the Lord, as is written (Isaiah 40.3) ‘In the desert clear ye the way of the [Lord], make ye straight in the wilderness a path for our God’ – this is the expounding of the Torah which [the Lord] commanded through Moses to do according to every revealed thing, season by season….” [square brackets represent missing text in the manuscript]

Golb says in his 1980 article that the authors of the Manual (1QS) merely interpreted the quoted words of Isaiah as a metaphor. This was (I quote Golb) “the virtue of studying the mystical teachings of the Torah espoused in various pages of the text.” Why didn’t Schiffman acknowledge this original work of Golb’s?

Vermes is a proponent of Scrolls produced at Qumran by Essenes. Vermes’s translation of the 1QS 8.12-15 is interesting:
“And when these become members of the Community in Israel according to all these rules, they shall separate from the habitation of unjust men and shall go into the wilderness to prepare there the way of Him; as it is written, ‘Prepare in the wilderness the way of …., make straight in the desert a path for our God’ (Isa. Xl, 3). This (path) is the study of the Law which He commanded by the hand of Moses, that they do according to all that has been revealed from age to age, and as the Prophets have revealed by His Holy Spirit.”
Here Vermes’s translation is coloured by his preconception of Essenes at Qumran.  He makes a difference between separation and obedience of the rules (the law).  For him separation is a literal departure into the wilderness.  His translation makes no connection between separation and ‘the path’ - the study of the law. Was Vermes bending the text to suit his theory? This raises questions about the integrity of current translations. The method of separation was the study of the law, as Golb clearly showed back in 1980.

An even more biased and vague translation of 1QS 8.12-15 is that of Martinez who must also be a supporter of Essenes writing at Qumran:
“And when these have become a community in Israel in compliance with these arrangements they are to be segregated from within the dwelling of the men of sin to walk to the desert in order to open there His path. As it is written (Isa.40:3) ‘In the desert, prepare the way of ****, straighten in the steppe a roadway for our God.’ This is the study of the law which he commanded through the hand of Moses, in order to act in compliance with all that has been revealed from age to age, and according to what the prophets have revealed through his holy spirit.”
Martinez makes no connection between ‘a walk to the desert’ and the study of the law. He takes the meaning of ‘a walk to the desert’ literally. What does he think the vague ‘in compliance with these arrangements’ means, if not the law?

So what does this tell us about where the scrolls were produced, if not at Qumran? There can only be one place, the centre of such activity, Jerusalem. Schiffman wrote (well after Golb had said so), that “to prepare the way in the desert” meant to interpret the Torah. He was thus implying that the members of the community did not go out into the desert, because “to prepare the way in the desert” didn’t mean that literally. But Schiffman likes to have his cake and eat it, because he then added, “specifically to explain it according to sectarian interpretations”. He just had to keep the ideas of a ‘sect’, and ‘a sect at Qumran’ at that, probably to retain credibility with all the other 'pro sect at Qumran' supporters. He was thus contradicting himself. Almost all of those who attended Schiffman’s 1985 New York conference on the Dead Sea Scrolls used typical language consistent with a sect at Qumran, such as: ‘Qumran ideology’ (Baumgarten), ‘the Dead Sea sect’ (Collins), ‘the Qumran sect’ (Levine), ‘Qumranic tendency’ (Maier), ‘Qumran’s purity laws’ (Milgrom), ‘the priesthood at Qumran’ (Newsom), ‘the sectarian scrolls from Qumran’ (Schiffman), ‘what is meant when Qumran is termed a ‘priestly’ community’ (Schwartz), ‘the Qumran sect’s foundation’ (Strugnell). The ground was ready for Schiffman’s 1994 revelation. He had some ready listeners. Schiffman claimed as his own that “to prepare the way in the desert” meant studying the Torah, but by a sect at Qumran. In reality, he had stolen Golb’s original theory without giving due credit, and applied it (inconsistently) to a hypothetical Qumran sect. If I was Norman Golb, I would feel very cheated. And members of the family who were taking an interest obviously felt cheated too.