Memory and Oblivion

The Mystery of The Dead Sea Scrolls


Rachel Elior

Publisher Van Leer Institute Press and Hakibbutz Hameuchad
Language Hebrew
Year of Publication 2009
Series Jewish culture and identity Publications, Theory in Context Series

Memory and Oblivion: The Mystery of the Dead Sea Scrolls offers the Hebrew reader, for the first time, a comprehensive description of the Judean Desert scrolls. Its underlying premise is that the 930 scrolls that have survived, wholly or partly, belong to a priestly library that was lost in the abyss of oblivion because of fierce struggles between competing hegemonies in the centuries before and after the destruction of the Second Temple.

The Dead Sea Scrolls express a clear and reasoned worldview, which anchors what is revealed in what is concealed. The book describes the content of the scrolls and emphasizes their priestly and mystical uniqueness: They deal with sacred time, sacred place, sacred ritual, and sacred memory. The sacred time concerns the dispute over the tradition of the calendar; the sacred place pertains to the argument over the tradition of the Merkavah (heavenly Chariot Throne); the sacred ritual is related to the different conceptions of the place of the angels; and the sacred memory concerns the dispute over the origins of the priesthood. The book examines the nature of the struggle between the Sadducean Levite priests—the bearers of a historical memory that is different from that which is familiar from the Masora and the tradition of the Sages—and the Hasmonean priests, in the last two centuries before the Common Era. It explains why the library of the Sadducean priests, the preservers of the written Torah, was transformed in part by the Sages of the Oral Law into prohibited apocryphal books, and why it was shunted out of memory and totally forgotten until it was found by chance in the Qumran caves between 1947 and 1956. The center of the discussion is the struggle between alternative traditions and between different historical memories at the end of the ancient era—a struggle over validity, authority, and hegemony.

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