Rel. St. 525January 24, 2006
Book Report by Virginia Wayland
James C. VanderKam, Calendars in the Dead Sea Scrolls: Measuring Time (New York: Routledge, 1998) 116 pp; index of subjects
This book attempts to summarize and analyze the
in the Qumran texts and to place it within the larger historical
framework. There is reason to
calendrical dispute was one factor leading to the physical separation
Qumran community from the rest of Jewish society. The book examines not only the
of time, but attempts to show that for the community at Qumran,
reckoning of time was revealed and conducting one's life in
had been mandated by God.
The book is divided into two parts.
The first part is an introduction to Biblical and
divided into chapters covering the Hebrew Bible, Sources later than
Bible, and Rabbinic literature.
second part discusses the calendars in the Qumran texts within a
the history of modern scholarship.
This section has four chapters.
"The first calendrical hints" discusses the indications of
dispute in Pesher Habakkuk, the Rule of the Community, the War
Hymn Scroll. Chapter 5 "A
of Scholarship on the Qumran Calendars" discusses the progression of
interpretation of the calendrical information found in these
the indications that the Qumran calendar was connected to the
previously known from texts such as Jubilees and 1Enoch. It culminates with the
the Temple Scroll by Y. Yadin and the discovery of the additional
wood and oil) prescribed by this document.
Chapter 6 "The Calendrical Texts" discusses the texts which have become available since 1990, beginning with a summary of the key features that characterize them. The texts list or identify the festivals and sabbaths celebrated by the community 96 often including festivals found in the Temple Scroll, but not in the Hebrew Bible. These also correlate the system of twenty four priestly courses (1Chron. 24:7-18) with the movements of the heavenly luminaries reflecting a conceptual correspondence between heaven and earth. These texts also show a greater coordination of the 354 day lunar calendar with the 364 day solar calendar which early scholarship had identified. Several texts are discussed in detail: 4Q327(4QCalendrical Document Eb); 4Q317(4QPhases of the Moon); 4Q320 (4QCalendrical Document A or Mishmarot A); 4Q319 (4QOtot [3Dsigns]); 4Q321 (4QCalendrical Document Ba); 4Q318; 4Q186 and 4Q561. A list of fragmentary texts is included, and the chapter concludes with a brief description of the sundial found at Qumran. This chapter is the most detailed, and a very useful introduction to both the texts and the types of information contained in them.
The final chapter "Measuring and Symbolizing Longer Units of Time" looks at some of the ways in which long periods of time were described. The chapter discusses 4Q559, which appears to address the issues of the length of the sojourn in Egypt, the chronology of the wilderness wanderings, and the chronology of the period of the judges; the Damascus Document and the history of the sect; the Apocalypse of Weeks (1Enoch 93:1-10, 91:11-17) which sets the history from creation to final judgment within a framework of ten weeks; the Animal Apocalypse; Jubilees; 11QMelchizedek; 4Q180-181; 4Q384-390; and Aramaic Levi. Although the picture is not completely unified, a conception of history extending to the final judgment is reflected in texts presented as predictions revealed to chosen individuals so that they may understand the course of history and the divine plan that drives it. The brief conclusion summarizes the results of the previous chapters and offers a brief hypothesis about the role of the calendar in the origin of the Qumran community.
The book is a valuable introduction to the subject of the calendar as it existed at Qumran and within the larger context of the Second Temple. It provides a useful breakdown of some of the types of issues that are addressed, such as: the alignment of the solar and lunar calendars; the festivals celebrated and their days; the alignment of the religious festival year with the cosmic order; and the understanding of the progression of long periods of time as leading to an end or purpose. Vanderkam does a masterful job of summarizing the conclusions drawn from the initial examination of the texts and qualifying them with information drawn from the texts which have recently become available. The study is a useful overview and introduction that exhibits great restraint in drawing any final conclusions.