The Legacy of an Error in Archaeological Interpretation: the Dating of the Qumran Cave Scroll Deposits

In this article, delivered as a paper in 2002 at a Qumran archaeology conference and published in 2006, I argued that the scholarly belief in the dating of the scroll deposits in the caves around Qumran at the time of the First Revolt (66-70 CE) is without evidence and probably wrong, and that more likely the scroll deposits in the caves were completed by about the end of the first century BCE.

Gregory L. Doudna, “The Legacy of an Error in Archaeological Interpretation: the Dating of the Qumran Cave Scroll Deposits, in K. Galor, J.-B. Humbert & J. Zangenberg (eds), Qumran: The Site of the Dead Sea Scrolls: Archaeological Interpretations and Debates: Proceedings of a Conference held at Brown University, November 17-19, 2002 (Leiden: Brill, 2006), pp. 147-57.

It is a curious paradox that scholarly constructions often retain momentum after the original reasons which created them are acknowledged to be mistaken. There was no actual basis in the data for de Vaux’s confidence when in 1952 he announced the first findings at Qumran and declared that the scrolls of Cave 1 were deposited as late as the first century C.E., since the dating of the locus 2 scroll jar was uncertain. But de Vaux did not know this . . . the perception of certainty surrounding the First Revolt date for the scroll deposits remained uncorrected down to the present day. The first century C.E. dating of the Qumran text deposits is a classic example of a mistaken scholarly paradigm filtering subsequent perception of data (archaeological, paleographic, and radiocarbon), creating illusions of independent corroboration . . . 

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