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Out of the Cave: A Philosophical Inquiry into the Dead Sea Scrolls Research [Hardcover]

Edna Ullmann-Margalit

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Book Description

June 14 2006

More than fifty years ago the discovery of scrolls in eleven caves beside the Dead Sea ignited the imagination of the world--and launched a vast academic field. Expectations abounded that the scrolls would reveal actual contemporaneous accounts of the birth of Christianity, perhaps even of the life of Jesus. The research that followed--its inner logic, and what its impassioned and often highly controversial theories reveal about the framing of facts and the interpreting of texts--is what interests philosopher Edna Ullmann-Margalit in this thoroughly absorbing book.

Since the inception of Dead Sea Scrolls research, a central theory has emerged. Known as the Qumran-Essene Hypothesis, it asserts that the scrolls belonged to the Essenes, a sect whose center was at the nearby site of Qumran. In Out of the Cave, Ullmann-Margalit focuses on this theory and the vicissitudes of its career. Looking at the Essene connection, the archaeology of Qumran, and the sectarian nature of the scrolls community, she explores the different arenas, and ways, in which contesting theories of the scrolls do battle. In this context she finds fascinating examples of issues that exercise philosophers of science as well as the general public--issues that only amplify the already intrinsic interest of the Dead Sea scrolls.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 168 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (June 14 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674022238
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674022232
  • Product Dimensions: 23.7 x 16.1 x 1.8 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 386 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #2,669,166 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


Ullman-Margalit says that '[m]y subject matter is not the scrolls but the study of the scrolls; I engage in research about scrolls research and delve into its inner logic.' I think she has successfully carried out what she intends to do, and she has done so in a clear and appealing style. I know of no other work like it. It provides sensible, honest evaluations and comes to reasonable conclusions. (James VanderKam, the University of Notre Dame)

There is a lull in Dead Sea Scrolls scholarship now, and this book tells us where we have been and what we need to do. It may well provide a theoretical impetus to further reflection. It also offers an interesting test case as to how 'scientific' scholarship works in literature, history, and archaeology regarding methods, achievements, and limitations. The book is well informed, clearly written, and understandable for nonspecialists. The blend of Dead Sea Scrolls scholarship and analytical philosophical reasoning makes an interesting and unique combination. No other book examines in such depth the logic underlying the debates about the Dead Sea Scrolls and why they remain so controversial. This book represents a good summary of where we have been and might provide a bridge to future scholarship. It will interest Dead Sea Scrolls specialists, biblical scholars, and archaeologists, as well as the general public. It is a readable and stimulating work, which might play a salutary role in the history of Dead Sea Scrolls scholarship. It identifies the problems, and clarifies what we know and do not know, and tells us why. (Daniel J. Harrington, Weston Jesuit School of Theology)

[Ullmann-Margalit's] critical study goes far to explain why even today the Scrolls remain objects of fierce controversy...For all those interested in the Dead Sea Scrolls, Out of the Cave provides a lucid intellectual structure for the classification and evaluation of Qumranologists. But the book could also serve as an introductory text in philosophy of science. Introducing, with an admirably light touch, classical theories from Bayes to Popper and currently popular models of inference to the best explanation, the author uses scrolls research as a test-bed for the logic of discovery and argument in the human sciences. (Anthony Kenny Times Literary Supplement 2008-10-24)

About the Author

Edna Ullmann-Margalit is Professor of Philosophy at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

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Amazon.com: 3.5 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Analyze the Analyzers": a brilliant and well written examination of the motivation-driven evidence investigation. June 19 2010
By delphiz99 - Published on Amazon.com
Why "reasonable" people so often disagree? Isn't the "evidence" for or against a particular position there for all to see? Dr. Ullmann-Margalit makes a conjecture that helps to understand the phenomenon: the way even the scholars view the evidence is heavily, and often decidedly influenced by their prior assessment of the likelihood (or probability) of the phenomenon the evidence is confirming. "Their very description (or "framing") of the evidence will depend on their degree of belief in the theory being tested".

The overall aim of Dr. Ullmann-Margalit is to examine the field of Qumran Studies, and specifically the Essene connection to the Dead Sea Scrolls. For this, in the first chapter she briefly, but succinctly, sets out to acquaint the reader with the background facts, including the history of discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls, and the subsequent scholarship. The main controversy surrounding the Dead Sea scroll study is whether or not they can be attributed to the Essenes - a Jewish sect residing in a nearby settlement - Qumran. Whereas the Qumran-Essene connection is currently the prevailing view, Dr. Ullmann-Margalit points out numerous inconsistencies in the evidence. Specifically, as pointed out in the review of the book by the pre-eminent philosopher Sir Anthony Kenny "...Ullmann-Margalit claims that researchers, instead of respecting the independence of the sources, have allowed them to contaminate each other. Thus the archaeological data are presented not neutrally but in the light of an interpretation of the Scrolls... Instead of a convergence of evidence, she claims, we meet an interpretive circle". (The Times Literary Supplement, October 24, 2008).
In the monumental second chapter, Dr. Ullmann-Margalit attempts and succeeds in taking a "Hard look at the "hard facts"": by analyzing the actual archaeological findings and their interpretations by different scholars. In a wonderfully clear and precise language, she explains the concepts of prior and posterior probabilities for hypothesis formation (the Bayesian theory) and proceeds to demonstrate in specific concrete cases how these prior assessments critically affect conclusions made by different scientists based on the same evidence. The examples include "negative findings" - contradicting the Essene hypothesis, such as some military objects which contradict a description of Essenes as peace-loving people, and "affirmative findings", such as ritual baths. Dr. Ullmann-Margalit proceeds with her analysis and, drawing from wide range of concepts including philosophy, statistics, and psychology, shows how these same facts are interpreted by scholars depending on their own pre-conceived ideas. One interesting general example of this mechanism is the so-called "confirmation bias": a tendency of people to pay more attention to the evidence that confirms, rather than contradicts their own hypotheses. By analyzing the evidence itself, and the various interpretations, Dr. Ullmann-Margalit says that "....when a find is consistent with the researcher's favorite theory, the confirmation bias will make them consider the find as supporting the theory. When the find is not merely consistent but also unique .... the researchers will tend to consider the support this finding lends to the theory all the more dramatic or striking. A find that is inconsistent with one's favorite theory, on the other hand, needs to be explained away. But when inconsistent finding happens to be unique .... it becomes that much easier for the researchers simply and safely to ignore it. In other words, unique items somehow seem to score extra points when they are positive, and to be more easily discarded when they are negative". Thus, Dr. Ullmann-Margalit points out that the controversy reflects the disagreement of the scholars about the evidence, because of the interdependence of theories and the evidence.
In the third chapter, Dr. Ullmann-Margalit shows that the scholars even disagree on how to name the sect that wrote the scrolls, finally settling on what Dr. Ullmann-Margalit calls "a circular and vacuous label": the scroll sect. Noting this, Dr. Ullmann-Margalit then proceeds on her own to question even the assumption that the scrolls are written by a "sect", and specifically by a sect leading to Christianity, as advocated by some Christian scholars.
For the conclusion, I will quote again Sir Anthony Kenny: " For all those interested in the Dead Sea Scrolls, Out of the Cave provides a lucid intellectual structure for the classification and evaluation of Qumranologists. But the book could also serve as an introductory text in philosophy of science. Introducing, with an admirably light touch, classical theories from Bayes to Popper and currently popular models of inference to the best explanation, the author uses scrolls research as a test-bed for the logic of discovery and argument in the human sciences".
3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars some inaccuracies Dec 16 2007
By Stephen Goranson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
A Philosophical Inquiry into Dead Sea Scrolls Research is a good idea; we could use more research on the history of scholarship. Unfortunately this book is insufficiently acquainted with the history. For example it repeatedly leads the reader to think that de Vaux called Khirbet Qumran a "monastery," though he did not, and this has already been discussed in the literature (see, e.g., Revue Biblique 1966 page 229 and New Testament Studies 1966 page 99). It is part of hearsay or myth that de Vaux wrote that, but analyzing hearsay as if fact has little prospect to help. On page 56 we read of "the total absence of the term 'Essenes' not only from the Dead Sea Scroll corpus but also from the entire rabbinic literature." No reference is given. In order to determine whether the original source is present, one would need to determine what spellings are possible and then look for them. Did this happen, or was hearsay accepted? Actually, there have been over 60 different published proposals for the name Essenes and Ossenes and their several Greek spellings. While there is no consensus on this, a scholarly proposal made as early as in 1532 and in every following century before the Qumran discoveries and gaining adherents since the discoveries is 'osey hatorah, observers of torah--which is indeed in the scrolls, as a self-designation, in texts (the pesharim) considered Essene on other grounds. Rabbis of course did not agree to call them this, but Rabbinic literature may have belittling references to the name ("those who say what is my duty that I may do it"). The book is reluctant to accept that Essenes were at Qumran and wrote some (not all) the scrolls. (For more on this history, see the online paper "Jannaeus, His Brother Absalom, and Judah the Essene" [if interested google the title]. The book properly distinguishes description from identification, but seeks much caution in the Essene case but not with equal standards of evaluation treatment to the Sadducee proposal--though second temple period Sadducees were a small aristocratic conservative group, that Josephus tells us persuaded "few," a group preferring Torah-only, not books with named angels, predestination, resurrection, apocalyptic, messianism--the very things found at Qumran. Sadducees, though they may have agreed with Essenes on this or that legal question, did not own or approve of such books. Retrojecting later, broader and looser definitions of Sadducees helps little. The book is concerned that if one accepts that there was sectarianism then, that might imply there was also orthodoxy. Might this be another retrojected worry in part arising from the author's contemporary political commitments (to limit government aid to Orthodoxy)? The book lacks sufficient attention to history of scholarship before 1948 (basic works lacking in the bibliography include S. Wagner, Die Essener in der wissenschaftlichen Diskussion, vom Ausgang des 18. bis zum Beginn des 20. Jahrhunderts; eine wissenschaftliche Studie and the Adam and Burchard collection of ancient texts on Essenes), which greatly affected presuppositions about the scrolls (e.g., many looked for an Aramaic rather than Hebrew source for "Essenes")--there was no one Jewish nor one Christian viewpoint. One can look to see if elements of a hypothesis form a vicious hermeneutic circle, but ought one then also check to see if multiple confluent attestation makes for highly plausible history? (to be continued)

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