Rel. St.  525

January 24, 2006

Book Report by  Virginia Wayland

James C.  VanderKamCalendars in the Dead Sea  Scrolls: Measuring Time  (New  York:  Routledge, 1998) 116 pp; index  of subjects 

            This book attempts to summarize and analyze the calendrical  information in the Qumran texts and to place it within the larger historical  framework.  There is reason to believe  that a calendrical dispute was one factor leading to the physical separation of  the Qumran community from the rest of Jewish society.  The book examines not only the  marking of time, but attempts to show that for the community at Qumran, the  correct reckoning of time was revealed and conducting one's life in accordance  with it had been mandated by God. 

            The book is divided into two parts.  The first part is an introduction to Biblical and Post-Biblical  calendars divided into chapters covering the Hebrew Bible, Sources later than the  Hebrew Bible, and Rabbinic literature.   The second part discusses the calendars in the Qumran texts within a  framework of the history of modern scholarship.  This section has four chapters.  "The first calendrical hints" discusses the indications of a  calendrical dispute in Pesher Habakkuk, the Rule of the Community, the War Scroll,  and the Hymn Scroll.  Chapter 5 "A  History of Scholarship on the Qumran Calendars" discusses the progression of interpretation of the calendrical information found in these early  texts, and the indications that the Qumran calendar was connected to the solar  calendar previously known from texts such as Jubilees and 1Enoch.  It culminates with the  publication of the Temple Scroll by Y. Yadin and the discovery of the additional  festivals (of 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.