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A Brief Response to the Reviews of Qumran Revisited by Magness (RQ 104, 2014: 638-646) and Mizzi (DSD 22, 2015: 220).

See Also: Qumran and Vicinity: The Caves as a Key to the Enigma

By David Stacey
14 Burling Court
Independent Scholar
June 2017

Following the publication, on this website, of Qumran and Vicinity: The Caves as a Key to the Enigma by Claude Cohen-Matlofsky I drew attention to certain topics, explored in Qumran Revisited: A Reassessment of the Archaeology of the site and its texts. (2013) BAR International Series 2520 by Stacey and Doudna, which seemed relevant to some of Prof. Cohen-Matlofsky’s arguments as they undermine the Qumran-Essene hypothesis, a hypothesis that nowadays might be considered as ‘fake news’!

This is a brief response to two ‘hostile’ review articles of our publication. My contribution to the book looked at the archaeology within a perspective of the regional economic developments and industries affecting Qumran, a site that must be understood in relationship to the nearby Royal Estate in Jericho. The reviewers Jodi Magness, UNC-Chapel Hill and Dennis Mizzi, University of Malta, made a number of comments that ignored the regional situation and the site of Jericho, - with which, incidentally, I am familiar as I helped excavate it over a ten year period, - and I wish to address them briefly in this rebuttal.

Strangely neither of these reviewers refer to the construction of a dam at Qumran to which I devoted three pages (QR 15-18). For technical and historical reasons given in my text I believe this to be the work of Herod and should be dated c. 20-15 BCE. It would have been the most innovative building project at Qumran, yet it gets not one word from the reviewers; could it be that neither was physically familiar with its location? The dam was built to increase the quantity of water that could be steered to the site. It was clearly advantageous to store any excess water and it is logical to assume that that led to the construction of the ‘main aqueduct’ running through the buildings for distribution, and for storage, in a number of large cisterns that were dug following the construction of the dam. Such distribution channels in, inter alia, Hasmonean and Herodian Jericho, and Masada, were always built beneath a floor, just as they would be today. De Vaux, excavating some decades before these sites, could not be aware of this fact and mistakenly assumed that the channel was built freestanding on the floor.

In an earlier article (Qumran Period I: An Evaluation of Several Competing Theories. DSD 2014: 1-42 henceforth Mizzi 2014) Mizzi does acknowledge the dam (ibid 25-6) but attempts to belittle its importance. He writes that I claim “that water retaining dams in the region typically date to the Herodian Period”- which should be corrected to read ‘no earlier than the Herodian period’. He offers no evidence that would contravene this statement nor the likely date of construction to 20-15 BCE. But he then writes that “it is well known that attempts to build water storage systems in the region go back hundreds of years” a fact that I cover in some detail (QR 16-7), and which does not undermine the fact that water retaining dams in the region typically date no earlier than the Herodian period. He continues: “Furthermore, it should be noted that, in comparison with other Herodian water systems, the one at Qumran is quite modest, and arguing that the expertise needed for its construction and the cost required for its upkeep exclude the possibility that the Qumran water system was constructed and maintained by someone other than Herod (such as a sectarian group) is problematic.” Qumran is, of course, a very modest building in the Herodian scheme of things but the dam would, as I claim, have probably needed to draw on Roman expertise to which only Herod would have had access. It is far more ‘problematic’ to see from where some ‘sectarian’ anti-establishment group would have gained this knowledge however wealthy they may have been.

In an earlier article I asked ‘Does Magness, or anyone ese, know of a main aqueduct on a Hasmonean or Herodian site crossing an inhabited, built up area, standing proud of its floor and thus creating a considerable impediment, c. 60 cm high and 1.50 m wide, to movement around the site?’ (Stacey DSD 2007, 254). No one yet has; nonetheless both these reviewers continue to argue that the ‘main aqueduct’ could have been free-standing, either, in the case of Magness, because de Vaux said it was (Magness review 639), or, in the case of Mizzi, because Magness does (Mizzi review 216)!

What is certain, and de Vaux was aware of this, is that, with the construction of the ‘main aqueduct’, the sides of the two Hasmonean pools, L117 and L118, and the cistern L110 were raised, which meant spreading a fill around them up to their new height and covering the channel that fed them. New floors would have been laid over the fill. Over the past two millenia these floors, adjacent to open pools, have eroded away into the pools. In Jericho this was a common phenomenon; for example, around swimming pools, where it was often only those parts of the surrounding floors which had been laid on original ground surfaces that survived. Those laid down over a fill had often been eroded into the pool. This was particularly noticeable around two pools (see QR 14). Near the main swimming pool in the Hasmonean Palace, “As a result of erosion, nothing remains of the original floor of the eastern sector” (Netzer Hasmonean and Herodian Palaces at Jericho. 2001: 86). And along the west side of the swimming pool (A(L)255) in Herod's 2nd Palace most of the floor surface, which was built on a fill to the west of the pool, had long since eroded into the pool (ibid p. 202 Ill. 288 - and personal memory).

This phenomenon is crucial for understanding those loci, in particular, L114, L115 and L116, where a back-fill had been laid. Magness insists that there was only ever one floor surface in L114 (Magness review 641) and that had to be the one associated with the original sinking of cistern L110. Mizzi claims that the ‘absence of an upper floor’ in L116 & L117 ‘contradicts Stacey’s contention that the aqueduct could not have been freestanding’ (Mizzi review 216) although he also offers no examples of such from other relevant sites. That no second floor was noticed may have been partially due to the fairly slapdash archaeological methods employed by de Vaux or, one hopes, to the simple fact that floors laid on fills near pools were often eroded into them.

That this was so means that the pottery found in L114 was either deposited on the lower floor during the active life of L110 before its sides were raised, or it was part of the fill that was poured to support the raised sides of that cistern, and also the ‘main aqueduct, which now supplied water to the enlarged cistern. Magness tries to assign all the pottery to one deposit none of which ‘was “considerable below” the “raised western wall of the cistern” as de Vaux describes the pottery coming to light when the upper edge of the cistern appeared’ (Magness review 641) but this completely ignores what de Vaux actually wrote: “the curved edge of the cistern appears. In the northwest corner several pottery forms and many sherds appear” (L114 22/3/55 ); “..under the potsherds from yesterday, we discovered a deposit of pottery: plates in piles etc” (L114 23/3/55). The deposit of pottery was cleaned on the 24th, and was removed on the 27th and 28th. Beneath it was an iron pick seemingly on the floor. Thus the pottery did indeed come from the surviving top of the cistern down nearly to the floor considerably below it two days later – and, of course, the surviving top of the cistern was not its full extended elevation.

As I date the dam to 20-15 BCE and it is logical to associate the construction of the ‘main aqueduct’ to the same period then the pottery in L114 should date no later than that time. Regrettably only some of the pottery has been published and absolute elevations of its find spots were probably not taken as de Vaux does not appear to ever have set up an absolute datum point. If/when L114 and its pottery is published it might be possible to be more certain of its date although ceramic dating can not be absolutely precise.

As I discuss (14-15) “further compelling evidence that the ‘main’ aqueduct post-dated the earthquake” (of 31 BCE) is given by the fact that the overflow from the pool L117, after it had had its sides raised, ran over the ‘northern rubbish dump’ (Magen and Peleg The Qumran Excavations 1993-2004: Preliminary Report. 2007: 7-8) which was de Vaux’s ‘Trench A’. The pottery from this dump was dated from pre 31 BCE up to the Herodian period. Thus dating the raising of the sides of L117, the ‘main’ aqueduct etc to the period 20-15 BCE is conceivable. Magness makes no mention of this. Mizzi, on the other hand, condemns me for using what he calls ‘ambiguous evidence’ (Mizzi review 216). He accepts that the outlet channel is contemporary with the raising of the sides of L117 and that it runs over ‘Trench A’ which contains late 1st century BCE pottery but then attempts to wriggle out of the obvious conclusion that the channel post dates the pottery in the trench. He gives half a paragraph trying to debunk this with a number of suggestions, for none of which he produces evidence, and none of which come anywhere near to undermining my dating.

Mizzi appears to accept that the damage visible on the northern face of the northern wall of L77 (‘W1’) was indeed the result of an earthquake as I suggest (QR 18) but he questions whether that could have been the one of 31 BCE (Mizzi 216). He hints at a possible iron age date, although this was refuted by the most recent excavators of the area (see QR 18 fn26), or some other unknown earthquake ‘decades before 31 BCE’ for which he produces no evidence. In nearby Jericho we only uncovered damage caused by an earthquake in two locations - the ‘Twin Palaces’ – where it was dated to 31 BCE – and the final destruction of the winter Palaces, dated to 48 CE. The damage to the L77 walls is best assigned to 31 BCE. Mizzi overlooks the fact that technically the construction of the pools Ls 55-58, which had to have taken place after ‘W1’ had been repaired, was also integral with the building of the western wing of the main building, (Ls 1,2,4,30 etc). This was necessitated by the original slope of the site down from north west to south east and the need to raise the elevation of the top of the pools closer to that of the ‘main aqueduct’ in L100 (QR 38-44, drawing on p. 39). A corollary of this is that the cylindrical jar buried beneath the earliest floor in L2 is, within a few years, contemporary with the repair of ‘W1’. The jar is Herodian and it was covered with an opus sectile tile - also Herodian. As Mizzi himself argues that the lower floor “was still in use in the early first century CE” (Was Qumran Abandoned at the End of the First Century BCE. Mizzi and Magness in JBL 135/2 2016: 301-320) attempting to push the date of construction even earlier than 31 BCE is untenable. These pools were built together with the introduction of the main aqueduct which I equate with the construction of a dam in c. 20-15 BCE. Thus the damage to ‘W1’ is likely to predate 31 BCE. Mizzi nowhere gives more than a cursory glance at the construction of the dam and its consequences.

Mea culpa. Why did I quote from L135 whilst writing on L130 as Mizzi points out (Mizzi review 217)? No explanation – must have been tired! However, the north wall of L130 is ‘not so thick, and seemingly without foundation’ as well and was clearly not a freestanding wall – only a retaining wall.

Mizzi says that my ‘assertion that Qumran’s importance waned during the first century CE flies in the face of evidence’ and then draws attention to 1st century CE material culture found at the site. Nowhere do I suggest that Qumran was totally deserted in that period and, indeed, I indicate an influx of ‘refugees’ c. 50 CE (see QR chart p 74) something that in an earlier article he does at least acknowledge (Mizzi 2014: 18, Fig. 9). As Qumran suffered a destruction at the time of the First Revolt one inevitably expects more pottery associated with that event than would be found from occupation in times of peace.

Apparently, I replace ‘a well-established hypothesis …. with one that is completely unfounded’ (Mizzi 217) though he does NOT explain what 'evidence' conclusively supports a well-established hypothesis - (perhaps the sun does go round the earth as was once a well-established hypothesis!). Moreover, for him, my ‘claim that Hasmonean Qumran lay uninhabited for most of the year is utterly unconvincing’ (Mizzi review 217). Nowhere does he seriously consider the impact that ‘the economic and political powerhouse of the Royal Estate in Jericho’ – a site with which he has far less familiarity than do I - would have had on Qumran (QR 71-3). In fact, he rarely refers to Jericho at all. In one context, however, he does – when discussing the architectural elements found, out of their original context, at Qumran “It is probable that these architectural pieces were brought to Qumran (to be used as building material) from the destroyed contexts of other sites in the region, such as Jericho, Rujm el-Bahr, Khirbet Mazin, Machaerus, and ‘Ein ez-Zara” (Mizzi DSD 2014: 39), of which the most likely is Jericho. These architectural pieces did not of necessity come from ‘destroyed contexts’. Some could have been rejects from the quarry in which they were hewn, as is suggested by Mizzi himself in the case of the unfinished Doric capital (ibid 36 fn 133). The opus sectile tiles may have been ‘spares’ at the time that tiled floors were laid in Jericho and Cypros (or even, though far less likely, in Masada or Herodium). Some of the Doric elements, which are rare in Herodian contexts, may have come from the Hasmonean ‘Pavilion’ [A(B) 103] at Jericho (Netzer 2001: 89) possibly destroyed by the earthquake of 31 BCE. Certainly, all the considerable debris was cleared away and Herod built a small columbarium in its place. If these suggestions have validity then clearly there was a close connection between Jericho and Qumran early in Herod’s reign. Many of the non-Doric elements may have come from the destruction and looting of Herod’s third Palace. Fragments of opus sectile tiles were found in piles in Locus B51 (Netzer 2001: 251) which gave access to the northern end of the bridge that crossed Wadi Qelt (leading ultimately to Qumran?). The tiles were clearly ripped up after the death of Herod but possibly not until after the time of Agrippa I (Netzer 2001: 10).

I did not choose to ‘emphasize the processing of wool and leather’ because it would ‘conflict with a sectarian presence at Qumran’ (Mizzi review 217) but because of the indubitable presence in the winter months of transhumant sheep/goats, from which are derived wool and leather, discussed in some detail (QR 52-3) but to which Mizzi gives not a thought. Incidentally I do not dissociate the scrolls with the site, - they were, after all, found there - I just do not believe that the seasonal inhabitants had any direct responsibility for their creation.

I wrote ‘The question as to whether year round occupation was feasible (or desired) is rarely addressed but is of great importance. The site, and the part it played in the local economy, was developed during seventy years of Hasmonean exploitation before the Herodian expansion of the water system and of the number of cisterns and pools. The available water was therefore limited. Is it likely that it was eked out to try to support year round habitation?’ Or was the water that was available simply exploited, as long as it lasted, for water-intensive industries?’ (QR 72). I at least attempt to answer these questions (QR 71-3). Mizzi does not address them. Nor does he explain why the Hasmonean and Herodian Royal Estate in Jericho would have ceded the important water, garnered in Qumran only in the winter, to a group of anti-establishment sectarians.

Comments (3)

David, what you say regarding the dating of the dam and major waterworks and the construction of the buildings makes sense, but it does leave one question: how long was the dam and waterworks in operation, and if so, why is there so little pottery (hardly any) at Qumran from later Herod, the luxury items of HR2 found at Masada? This was the reason de Vaux said Qumran was abandoned during the reign of Herod, though in light of later excavations that would really apply to HR2 not HR1 (de Vaux 1973, p. 24n2, "This palace fortress [at Masada], built by Herod, has yielded a rich harvest of objects characteristic of his reign, which is unrepresented at Qumran").

If the dam/ major waterworks BEGAN at Qumran ca. start of HR2 but the pottery at Qumran shows little from HR2 ... what gives? Was it built by Herod, used for a small number of years and then went out of use quickly and abandoned? Or was there no need for luxury pottery for the type of activities being done at Qumran? Maybe it was in operation until ca. 4 BCE when events overtook the region with some disruptions in operation of the site?
#1 - Greg Doudna - 06/24/2017 - 05:21

Re #1. I suggest that dam probably not intended/expected to last long. Importance from Herod's vantage point was the building and supplying of Hyrcania and, more particularly, Herodium. The latter of particular importance to Herod because he was planning it as his own memorial, and making massive alterations to his burial site seemingly until close to his death. But also a vanity product, to impress his Roman visitors. How long would a dam survive the flash floods (his other two water raising dams were not exposed to such severe floods)? From c 20-15 until his death 10 years later? If he was lucky....
Re pottery:- Remember - NO Hasmonean buildings at Masada - and Hasmonean pottery from very extensive, clean levels not known before our work in Jericho.
Masada a Royal Palace, Qumran an industrial suburb - why expect luxury wares?
V. v. little of QUmran pottery published yet so perhaps more HR2 than thought (check Mizzi' thesis). Hasmonean pottery preserved in quantity due to considerable alterations by Herod. Late 1st CE pottery found because of destruction c. 68 CE.
Re 4 BCE:- following death of Herod Q faded in importance BUT no destruction so little pottery.
#2 - David Stacey - 06/25/2017 - 08:03

May I, being very little informed about these things, ask whether Pliny's remarks about Essenes in the general area are to be regarded as telling us anything about the Qumran site?
#3 - Martin Hughes - 06/28/2017 - 20:26

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