Social Changes in Late Second Temple Judaism in Light of the Dead Sea Scrolls



The Dead Sea Scrolls (or Qumran texts) contain an enormous amount of crucial first-hand evidence from the late Second Temple period (c. 200 BCE–70 CE), providing access to information for scholars interested in a great variety of topics, from the formation of the Hebrew Bible to issues concerning ideological developments during this period as well as everyday practices.

Understanding the social movement that produced these ancient scrolls has become to a turning point. No longer is the “Qumran community” seen as one remote and withdrawn sect, but the texts are considered as reflective of a wider socio-religious movement, and more variety in the movement is acknowledged.

This project seeks to promote social-scientifically informed understandings of the religious group phenomena in order to facilitate discussion about the nature and activities of the Qumran movement and to connect to a wider interdisciplinary discussion on religious movements.

The scrolls’ evidence is to be viewed not only as a reaction to the social and ideological changes of the period (such as Hellenization, fragmentation, increase of literacy, new halakhic interpretations, the governance under Hasmoneans, the advent of the Romans) but as contributing to them. The project aims at bringing into light several processes of change and illuminate the relevance of such information for our understanding of the period at large.

First, the understanding of the editorial and intertextual processes of the central Qumran texts leads to the investigation of ideological, social and scribal transformations. The War Scroll is studied by Hanna Vanonen from this perspective. Patterns have been suggested that show, for example, a redaction with a more dualistic ideology and language. Furthermore, poetic texts and their reworkings offer another important perspective into the life and thinking of the Qumran movement. Mika Pajunen will be finishing his dissertation with new results on non-canonical psalms.

Secondly, prophecy did not end with the canonical prophets but various forms and transformations of prophetic activity can be discerned throughout this era. Katri Antin will investigate the Hodayot (Hymns), viewing prophecy widely in the Ancient Near Eastern context.

Thirdly, rituals play a central role in the life of a religious movement, not only its identity construction and boundary marking, but also its responses to societal changes and in the transmission of religious knowledge. Ritual theoretical perspectives and cognitive science of religion will be utilized by Jutta Jokiranta in the investigation of the nature of the ritual system in the Qumran movement, its patterns of behavior, and transmission of traditions.

The project is led by Jutta Jokiranta, and it includes three PhD students, Katri Antin, Mika Pajunen, and Hanna Vanonen.
Gällande start-/slutdatum01/01/201131/12/2014