Sukenik and the Dead Sea Scrolls, Part I

Virtually every book on the Dead Sea Scrolls recounts the story of Eleazar Lipa Sukenik’s role in the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls.  Indeed, Sukenik’s contribution is usually discussed as threefold: 1. He was the first to recognize the antiquity of the scrolls, 2. he managed to purchase some of the first scrolls for the state of Israel, and 3. he was the first to identify the scrolls sect with the Essenes.  Often, the latter contribution is not even mentioned.  Virtually no recent studies have delved into the contribution of this leading scholar of Jewish archaeology – indeed, the founder of the Jewish archaeology of the Land of Israel – to the publication, interpretation and historical conceptualization of the scrolls.

Sukenik and the Biblical Scrolls

Sukenik quickly observed that these texts illuminated the manifold Talmudic discussions of the correct manner of preparing scrolls.  He showed this by quoting the specific scribal halakhot as he described the manuscripts.  In addition he also discussed parallel practices known from Greek papyri.  He described the loose practices of the scrolls regarding paragraph spaces, indeed a contrast with later Torah scrolls and medieval Biblical manuscripts in codex form.

Sukenik did not see our scribes as only craftsmen.  He quoted Ben Sira regarding Scribes, but thereby alluded to the entire notion of Soferim as scholars, a view held already in ancient times and greatly expanded in modern critical scholarship, especially regarding the scribes of the New Testament.  He supported this view by calling attention to the accuracy and beauty of the texts, and at the same time to the correction techniques employed in the scrolls.  He noted parallel use of dots for correction in masoretic texts, and cited Rabbinic texts discussing this procedure.  (He did note, however, that the scrolls deletions were dotted above and below, whereas the masoretic / Rabbinic examples were dotted only above.)

In dealing with the value and significance of the scrolls, he wrote that very little of Second Temple literature was preserved, mostly in Greek or other foreign (non-Semitic, non-original) languages.  Further, he realized that our biblical manuscripts were carefully standardized so that the ancient state of textual variation was obliterated.  His terms for canonical and non-Canonical – הספרים הגנוזים, ושלא נגנזו- matched well his sense of the scrolls constituting a genizah, yet at the same time he saw the scrolls as a “missing link” in the history of the Hebrew language (and literature).

In this context, he took his Isaiah scroll, our Isaiah B, as reflecting a pre-masoretic text.  This text, in his view would help to clarify the relationship of the Masoretic Text to the Septuagint. (He also noted the biblical quotations in the other scrolls.)

He saw this discussion as intimately linked with that of the Nash Papyrus that had been published in 1903 and that had resulted in a number of contributions by important scholars.  He discussed it in detail, providing also his corrections to readings and a full transcription and photographs.  (He also surveyed the debate over its use, since it contains Shema and the Ten Commandments, as well as the issues pertaining to it, links to the Masoretic Text’s two versions of the Ten Commandments and the Septuagint.) He noted that the papyrus was much closer in orthography to the Masoretic Text than to the scrolls, what we today call the Qumran writing system, and he dated the papyrus to the first century C.E., which effectively was a middle position.  He noted that the letters resembled those of the scrolls, but some were somewhat different. With one exception, medial and final letters were distinguished, a phenomenon generally found in the scrolls.

3 Responses to Sukenik and the Dead Sea Scrolls, Part I

  • John Stuart says:

    To Prof Lawrence H. Schiffman

    Are you aware of a Kings Calendar within the Damascus Document as well and the Damascus Document.


    John Stuart

  • Yes, Sukenik identified the association with Essenes; and, perhaps independently, so did those who had the other batch of Cave one scrolls (Burrows, Brownlee, TRever).
    In 1532 Ph. Melanchthon wrote “Essei / das ist / Operarii / vom wort Assa / das ist wircken.”
    In a 1550 history: “…to declare the
    straitnesse and severitie of lyfe with the dede, and would be called
    Essey, that is workers or doers, for Assa, whence the name commeth,
    sygnifieth to worke…”
    1557 David Chytraeus [Kochhafe], Onomasticon. equated Essenes with “factores legis,” doers of the law (Torah).
    Similarly e.g.:
    1839 Isaak Jost, Die Essaer…, Israelitische Annalen 19, 145-7.
    1858 S. Cohn; David Oppenheim, MGWJ 7, 270-1; 272-3.
    1862 L. Landsberg, Allgemeine Zeitung des Judenthum 26/33, 459.
    1864 C. D. Ginsburg, The Essenes
    1938 H.M.J. Loewe in Encyclopedia Britannica (14th ed.) 718. (includes ‘asah as a possible etymology, soon before the Qumran discoveries).
    Then in Qumran pesharim appeared the self-designation, ‘osey hatorah.

  • John Stuart says:


    I forgot to put in my original statement is the Damascus Rule alongside with Damascus Document.

    I have a copy of the Damascus Document in my possession however in the Damascus Document it speaks about the Interpreter of the Law or Expounder of the Law this was a allusion to Book of Genesis Chapter 49:10-11 where it was said about Scepter and Staff this symbols relates to King David and to his Chief Priest Zadok.

    I believe this was to the originator of the High Priesthood was awarded to Onias III as a good candidate for Teacher of Righteousness.


    John Stuart

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