Dear Russell,

The cemetery at Qumran belongs to a type of burial ground that is well 
established in the Eastern Mediterranean. In recent years, graves of the type 
found at Qumran have been discovered at several sites in (el-Ghuweir, Safafa and 
more) AND outside Judea (I only mention Khirbet Qazone, literally hundreds of 
these graves were found in Nubia around 1900). Despite the fact that not all of 
these graves were used at the same time (the Nubian ones are later; Kazone was 
occupied longer than Qumran) and despite some local typological variations in 
grave architecture, the typological similarity is so striking that it allows us 
to define a second type of graves next to the well-known chamber tombs. Both 
types of gaves were certainly used by Jews, but not invented by them nor 
restricted to them. IF you want to hold up the "Essene" character of the Qumran 
cemetery, you MUST get your criteria from elsewhere (maybe the scrolls found 
nearby?). Neither the graves (including their contents and form), nor the shape 
of the cemetery is in any way sectarian. This -in my opinion- is the fundamental 
disagreement I have with Joe Zias on the Qumran graves. 

I agree with you that one should indeed be careful with nomenclature: The only 
justification for calling these graves "Qumran type graves" is -nostalgia: that 
they were first extensively discussed in relation to Qumran, and not that the 
features discovered at Qumran (abnd repeatedly mentioned by Joe Zias) are in any 
way constitutive. You'll find the same features within reasonable parameters at 
many more sites. I would rather prefer the more neutral term "shaft tombs" (but 
cf. how Bennett struggled to find a proper term; German: Senkgräber). However, 
one has to keep in mind that this term would comprise several sub-types (e.g. 
with or without side niche etc. - just as the graves found at Qumran are not 
uniform!).
I also agree with you that the "poverty" of the graves is a tricky issue, because 
there never is a direct way from grave contents to either theories of social 
stratification or ideological orientation of the interred (see authors like Ucko 
or Saxe). The discovery of a zinc coffin might indeed help us finding a more 
complex picture of life at Qumran. I very much sympathize with the concluding 
sentence of your reply: 

> It seems to me that regional archaeological patterns and connections have 
> been historically somewhat neglected in favor of a sectarian interpretation 
> of the Qumran site.  

More on Jericho will follow with private mail. 

All the best, 
Jürgen

 

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