Qumran Cave 1 Questions, Part 3: Is Cave 1 Really Cave 1?

This is the third in a series of questions relating to the source of the first seven Dead Sea Scrolls to appear on the market in 1947. The first post dealt with the Genesis Apocryphon, and the second with the Thanksgiving Scroll.

Now I move on to some questions about the cave itself. The cave we call “Cave 1” is generally regarded as the find spot of the first seven scrolls that showed up on the market in 1947, which we have been discussing:

Rule of the Community (1QS)
The Habakkuk Pesher (1QpHab)
The Great Isaiah Scroll (1QIsaa)
The Thanksgiving Hymns (1QHa)
The War Scroll (1QM)
A second copy of Isaiah (1QIsab)
The Genesis Apocryphon (1QapGen)

What do we know about this cave? It is thought to have been “visited” on several occasions before being excavated by professional archaeologists. Here is an extract from John C. Trever’s outline of events relating to the discovery of the scrolls, The Untold Story of Qumran (1965), pp. 173-180:

1946, November – December (or possibly January – February 1947)Ta’amireh Bedouins (Muhammed edh-Dhib, Jum’a Muhammed and Khalil Musa) happen upon Cave I near Khirbet Qumran and discover three manuscripts in a covered jar. They remove these and two complete jars.
1947, May or JuneTa’amireh Bedouins take [George] Isha’ya to cave. Later [when? — BN] Isha’ya and Khalil Musa secure four more scrolls, three of which they sell to Faidi Salahi, another Bethlehem antiquities dealer. The fourth scroll is kept by Kando.
1947, AugustIsha’ya takes Father Yusif from Syrian Monastery to visit Cave I.
1948, August(?)Apparently during second truce [during the Arab-Jewish conflict] Isha’ya visits cave again and secures Daniel and Prayer Scroll fragments and a few others, which are turned over to St. Mark’s.
1948, NovemberIsha’ya, Kando, and others “excavate” cave and secure many more fragments
1949, JanuaryDr. O.R. Sellers and Yusif Saad seek to locate cave. Isha’ya demands payment, and negotiations cease.
1949, January 24Captain Philippe Lippens elicits aid from Arab Legion to relocate cave.
1949, January 28Captain Akkash el-Zebn rediscovers cave near Khirbet Qumran
1949, February 15 – March 5Cave I (1Q) excavated. Fragments of about seventy scrolls recovered, and pieces of fifty pottery jars and covers.

So, the cave that was excavated by de Vaux and G. L. Harding in February-March 1949 was said to have been “rediscovered” after several visits by looters (and apparently “rediscovered” without the aid of any of the previous visitors). Here is how Harding summed up matters in the first volume of DJD:

“Then a Belgian observer on the United Nations staff, Captain Lippens, who had become interested in the story of the find, raised the question with Major-General Lash of the Arab Legion. Lash offered, …to send a small contingent of men to the area where the cave was believed to be located in order to try to rediscover it. This was done at the end of January 1949, and the cave was actually found by Captain Akkash el Zebn after only two or three days’ search. The discovery was duly reported back to headquarters, and I went down to examine the place. At first I was sceptical whether it could really be the right cave, but the presence of many potsherds and fragments of linen showed that it had at least been occupied and must be investigated. Accordingly on 15 February the Jordan Department of Antiquities in collaboration with the École Biblique et Archéologique Française and the Palestine Archaeological Museum started work there and continued until 5 March 1949.”

Harding was satisfied that they were in the right place by the evidence of occupation. His supposition seemed to be confirmed by the discovery of two small bits of the War Scroll (1Q33) among the fragments in the cave. And yet, the cave was very clearly a contaminated context, as Millar Burrows vividly describes in his account of the excavation in The Dead Sea Scrolls (1955, p. 34):

“Much recent evidence of depredation was found also. Mixed up with the ancient debris were found exasperating remains of the disastrous efforts of the treasure-hunters the previous winter. There were bits of modern cloth, scraps of newspapers, cigarette stubs, and even a cigarette roller bearing the name of one of the illegal excavators, which Mr. Harding returned to its owner.”

I truly love that detail about the returned the cigarette roller. But I am less happy from an archaeological standpoint. The fact that the site was so very contaminated decreases the value of 1Q33 as a connection to the find spot of the War Scroll. Harding’s quotation above certainly makes it sound like the excavators were looking for a single, isolated cave that had housed manuscripts, and they were happy when they found one fitting that description. But as we can tell with the benefit of hindsight, there were actually many caves in the region that held manuscripts (and jars and textiles, etc.). So, what was the potential for other depositions in the immediate vicinity of “Cave 1”?

Looking at a typical map of the Qumran caves, the obvious answer would be “Cave 2”:

Map of Qumran region adapted from Philip R. Davies, George J. Brooke, Phillip R. Callaway, The Complete World of the Dead Sea Scrolls (Thames & Hudson, 2002)

Cave 1 and Cave 2 really are quite near one another:

Qumran Caves 1 and 2; image courtesy of Qumranarchive © Alexander Schick, Sylt / www.bibelausstellung.de

So, now comes my first question. When we read about Cave 2 in the traditional story of the scrolls, it is described as not being “discovered” until February of 1952–e.g. in Trever’s timeline: “1952, February: Ta’amireh Bedouins discover Qumran Cave II (2Q) close by 1Q.”

First question: February 1952 is when archaeologists first learned of Cave 2, but is there any actual evidence for the date when looters found it? Might it have been before February 1952?

When archaeologists did arrive at Cave 2, it was thoroughly picked over. In the words of one of the excavators, “signs of illicit digging were very much in evidence” (William L. Reed, “The Qumrân Caves Expedition of March, 1952,” BASOR 135 [Oct. 1954]). In his discussion of the excavation, de Vaux put matters more starkly: “The cave had been entirely emptied” by clandestine diggers (DJD 3, p. 9). Elsewhere (Revue Biblique 60, 1953, p. 553), de Vaux mentions two small manuscripts found in the spoils left behind by the looters.

Second question: Is it right to say that only two of the texts that we call “2Q” can actually be archaeologically connected to the cave we call “Cave 2”? And what are these two?

It seems at least possible that “Cave 2” materials could have been confused with “Cave 1” materials at some stage on their travels through the antiquities market. And to judge from the results of the survey of caves undertaken in 1952, there were at least a few other places in the neighborhood of Cave 1 that could have been sources for “Cave 1” materials. There are several other areas in the vicinity of Cave 1 that de Vaux identified as having been “utilized by the community at Qumran” (Archaeology and the Dead Sea Scrolls). These sites are highlighted in red in the map below.

Adapted from Roland de Vaux, Archaeology and the Dead Sea Scrolls (British Academy, 1973)

In DJD 3, de Vaux noted the types of finds in these areas, which include “Qumran” style ceramics. So it appears again that Cave 1 is not the only possible source of some of the well preserved scrolls generally associated with that cave. And there is some further confusion in the early stories.

It is well known that Muhammad ed-Dhib changed his story about the date of the discovery. After relating to Harding and others in 1949 that he had found the first scrolls in 1947, in a later interview (conducted in 1956) Muhammad ed-Dhib claimed he found the scrolls in 1945. Once again Trever sifted the relevant evidence in an article and confirmed the date of discovery as spring 1947.

John C. Trever, “When was Qumrân Cave I Discovered,” Revue de Qumrân 3 (1961), 135-141

It seems to be less frequently noted that in the 1956 interview Muhammad ed-Dhib also identified a different place of discovery. As Trever pointed out in the article on multiple occasions: “His description of the entrance to the cave is clearly not that of Qumrân Cave I…Again he is not describing Cave I.” Trever was referring to the fact that Muhammad ed-Dhib’s account did not at all match the “Cave 1” excavated by archaeologists in February and March of 1949, with its distinctive rock formations and openings. Could Muhammad ed-Dhib have misremembered? Trever mentions a conversation he had with de Vaux:

“On May 15, 1958 I discussed the matter with Father R. de Vaux at the École Biblique in Jerusalem, and he told of sitting with adh-Dhib on a large rock within a few feet of the entrance to Cave I and listening to his account of the discovery…”

Sidenote: I wonder if this was the occasion of this photograph of Muhammad ed-Dhib at “Cave 1”:

Alleged discoverers of the first Dead Sea Scrolls at the entrance to “Cave 1”; image source, Gary & Stephanie Loveless Present: Dead Sea Scrolls & The Bible: Ancient Artifacts Timeless Treasures (Southwestern /baptist Theological Seminary 2012)

What are we to make of the messy state of the archaeological evidence and these conflicting stories? In response to the suggestion by Weston Fields that some of the scrolls normally associated with Cave 1 might have been found elsewhere, the authors of a recent thorough and informative treatment of the assemblage from Cave 1 (Joan E. Taylor, Dennis Mizzi, and Marcello Fidanzio) dismissed the idea in a footnote:

“While Fields (2009) has done an excellent job in documenting the evidence, his final conclusions that there may have been scrolls from a different cave that has been confused with Cave 1Q seems unnecessary to us, and creates complexity as a result of affording weight to less reliable anecdotes.”

Unreliable anecdotes are one thing. But the seemingly widespread archaeological contamination at the relevant sites is not so easily brushed aside. When it comes to the first seven scrolls, we are dealing with looted materials, and as a result, unreliable anecdotes are all we have. That and a couple scraps of the War Scroll that were found in a thoroughly disturbed site in close proximity to several other sites that were occupied at the same time, potentially by the same groups of people.

So, third and final question (for today): On a scale of 1 to 10, how confident should we be that all seven of the scrolls on the market in 1947 came from the cave that we now call “Cave 1”?

This entry was posted in Antiquities Market, Archaeological context, Dead Sea Scrolls, Find Stories. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Qumran Cave 1 Questions, Part 3: Is Cave 1 Really Cave 1?

  1. Eibert Tigchelaar says:

    Before addressing your questions, we need to have clarity about the extent and timeline of the “Cave 1” materials. There clearly is a discrepancy between Trever’s outline and the DJD 1 statements. DJD 1 states explicitly that apart from fragments, and (in the case of 1QS) columns, that had broken off the large scrolls (1QS, 1Q8, and 1Q20) and were kept by Kando, 1Q5 frag. 13, and the few fragments from the last illegal excavations, published in DJD 1 as appendices, all other fragments had been found by the archaeologists. This does not match with “Isha’ya, Kando, and others “excavate” cave and secure many more fragments”. Which “many more fragments”? Certainly not those published in DJD 1. There is, except for the few fragments mentioned above, no report or evidence of Ta‘amireh excavation of other fragments, or of Cave 1 fragments traveling through the Antiquities market. Or, for that matter, of any Cave 1 materials on the market after the 1947/48 selling the materials to Mar Athanasius and Prof. Sukenik, and the (1949 or 1950?) acquisition of the broken off sections of 1QS, 1Q8 and 1Q20 by the Palestine Archaeological Museum.

  2. Dan Machiela says:

    Thanks again, Brent. It seems to me that we are inescapably dealing with probabilities here, not verifiable yes or no answers. Of course, it is *possible* that not all of what we call the Cave 1 materials are actually from Cave 1, but on balance of all the evidence I find it still to be the most plausible explanation. You offer a good reminder, however, that we need to maintain some circumspection when we write and speak about these scrolls.

  3. Eibert Tigchelaar says:

    The question whether all seven “Cave 1” scrolls actually derived from only one “Cave 1” is legit, given the dissenting reports about the 1947 finds, and I am not entirely confident that they all came from the same cave. The question whether some of the “Cave 1” scrolls might have been found in what we now know as Cave 2 is more problematic. Perhaps the most plausible hypothesis would be to assume (1) that some of the “Cave 1” scrolls had actually been found in Cave 2 at the latest in 1947; (2) that the Ta‘amireh realized from the archaeological excavation of 1949, and the Museum’s late 1951 acquisition of the fragmentary finds of late 1951 (Murabba‘at), that not only scrolls, but also fragments were valuable; (3) that they returned to Cave 2 which they already knew, did a thorough cleaning of the cave—and salvaged all but two tiny fragments which they left in the rubble—rumours of which reached the archaeologists, as reported, in February 1952. De Vaux reports both in RB (see post above) and in DJD 3 (p. 3) on two small inscribed fragments found in the rubble, but there is no published evidence which these two were. The pottery remains found outside Cave 2 attests to the cylindrical jars commonly called scroll jars. This scenario does not require the problematic assumption that what we now know as the Cave 2 fragments were already removed from the Cave much earlier than 1952.
    As for the suggestion that only two manuscripts could be archaeologically connected to Cave 2: Given that we do not know which two tiny fragments were found, and if they could actually be associated with any specific fragment manuscript among those excavated by the Ta‘amireh, and given the situation in 1952 and as long as there is no plausible alternative, any suggestion that the published Cave 2 materials are not from the cave we now know as Cave 2 is overly skeptical and also unnecessary for the Cave 2 origin of some Cave 1 scrolls.

  4. As some here know, a small help: “Occasionally the letters G, for government purchase, or E, for excavated fragments, were used to designate the origins of fragment collections. These letters were used to mark photographs, and in some cases G was stamped on the back of fragments.”
    Stephen A. Reed, “Survey of the Dead Sea Scroll Fragments and Photographs at the Rockefeller Museum,” Biblical Archaeologist (March 1991) 48.

  5. Eibert Tigchelaar says:

    Two different things are indicated in the quote from Stephen Reed.
    The first is that the first two series of photographs of the Cave 4 materials, namely those acquired by the Jordanian Government in 1952 and those which were excavated by Harding, de Vaux, and Milik, were referred to as the G resp. the E-series (see Strugnell in Companion Volume to the Dead Sea Scrolls Microfiche Edition, p. 131).
    The second is that some (generally larger) Cave 4 fragments were stamped with a letter on the verso indicating the institution that contributed to the purchase of a specific lot of fragments (see Companion Volume, p. 17). The publicly available photographs rarely show uninscribed verso images, but see, e.g., https://www.deadseascrolls.org.il/explore-the-archive/image/B-283867 which shows three stamped “S”s on the verso of the large 4Q417 fragment, or https://www.deadseascrolls.org.il/explore-the-archive/image/B-370751 with stamped “V”s).
    However, this is only a small help for a part of the Cave 4 materials.

  6. Pingback: Biblical Studies Carnival 170 (April 2020) | PeterGoeman.com

  7. Prof. Claus-Hunno Hunzinger stamped the fragments, which had been bought from Kando with the money from Germany – it was brought by Prof. Karl Georg Kuhn in the summer of 1955 from Heidelberg – with an “H” on the backside of the fragments. The lot from Cave 4 was bought for 40.000 DM, which Kuhn brought from Germany. I have nice pictures of Joseph Saad, Claus-Hunno Hunzinger and Karl Georg Kuhn in the PAM sitting on a desk and cheking and stamping the “Heidelberg”-fragments, as Prof. Hunzinger told me with an “H”. But I have never seen any backside of a fragment with an “H”. If anybody “discover” such a fragment in the Leon Levy Digital Library it would be nice to get a notice. My e-mail: Schick.Sylt@gmx.de

  8. Eibert Tigchelaar says:

    This is getting more-and-more off topic, and utterly eccentric (apologies to Brent). Except for opistographs, of only few fragments photographs of the backside of the fragments have been made accessible on the Leon Levy Digital Library, often because traces are visible on the backside, or in the case of large fragments. I have gone through most of them (google search: “verso 4Q site:.deadseascrolls.org.il”) and have only found examples with the stamps S, V (a few) and G (more), though some G stamps might be mistaken for E or Q stamps. Two interesting cases are https://www.deadseascrolls.org.il/explore-the-archive/image/B-370765 (three G’s) and https://www.deadseascrolls.org.il/explore-the-archive/image/B-370877, which has a join of two fragments, one stamped with S, the other with G. Note by the way that there are some errors with regard to “verso” and “recto” in the Leon Levy Digital Library, so I may have missed some with this search.

  9. Thanks a lot for the answer. I was only interested in this question, cause of the pictures we have in the archive from this “stamping” and I thought you know more when we. Thanks again for your answer and the links. But you are totally right! It has nothing to do with the topic, if Cave 1 is really Cave 1. Nobody can answer! It is a nice academic – but sorry to say – fruitless question, cause all the eyewittnesses are dead. And what makes the difference, if they come from 1Q or 2Q? We know them and this is the importance.

  10. Pingback: Qumran Cave 1 Questions, Part 4: Sukenik’s Isaiah Scroll | Variant Readings

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