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 June||Ta’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, August||Isha’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, November||Isha’ya, Kando, and others “excavate” cave and secure many more fragments|
|1949, January||Dr. O.R. Sellers and Yusif Saad seek to locate cave. Isha’ya demands payment, and negotiations cease.|
|1949, January 24||Captain Philippe Lippens elicits aid from Arab Legion to relocate cave.|
|1949, January 28||Captain Akkash el-Zebn rediscovers cave near Khirbet Qumran|
|1949, February 15 – March 5||Cave 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”:
Cave 1 and Cave 2 really are quite near one another:
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.
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.
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”:
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”?