Converts in the Dead Sea Scrolls
The Gēr and Mutable Ethnicity
- ISBN: 9789004378179
- Published By: BRILL
- Published: October 2018
Converts in the Dead Sea Scrolls: The Gēr and Mutable Ethnicity, seeks to reconsider the meaning of the term gēr when it appears within the Dead Sea Scrolls. The term itself, a scriptural term denoting a “resident alien,” undergoes a significant sociohistorical shift within the rabbinic period to denote a “Gentile convert to Judaism.” The aim of this study is to examine the usage of the term in the Qumran corpus vis-à-vis how the term is employed within the Hebrew Bible. The goal of such a study is to illuminate what the term gēr specifically denotes within the Dead Sea Scrolls and what this might tell us about the Qumran movement’s thoughts on matters of inclusion and exclusion. In the end, Palmer concludes that the term gēr does indeed denote a “Gentile convert” within the Scrolls, but importantly, the Scrolls do not, as argued by some, present a singular, negative attitude towards the gēr.
Palmer begins her study with an introductory chapter providing an overview of contemporary scholarship on the utilization of gēr in the biblical tradition and the Dead Sea Scrolls. Regarding the latter, Palmer notes that while there is no unified opinion on the meaning of the term in the Scrolls, the overall scholarly assumption is that the term does not refer to a “Gentile convert” given the socially closed nature of the Qumran movement. Palmer concludes the first chapter by outlining her understanding of key theoretical terms, such as “ethnicity” and “conversion,” along with the methodological underpinnings of the study.
In chapter 2, Palmer takes a preliminary step by examining the provenance and dating of the Dead Sea Scroll texts in which the term gēr is either preserved or reconstructed. Paleography, orthography, and various literary devices (thematic, historical, and literary allusions) are utilized to determine whether the texts can be connected to the Qumran movement as well as how they correlate with the Damascus Document (D) and the Community Rule (S), which Palmer determines to be two separate traditions within the Qumran movement. Here, texts are categorized as: (1) those texts influencing the D and S traditions; (2) those correlating with the D tradition; (3) those correlating with the S tradition; and (4) those whose correlation with the D or S tradition is indeterminate.
Chapter 3 compares the utilization of the term gēr within Scrolls texts that engage in “scriptural rewriting,” or as Palmer puts it, “a recognizable reuse of scripture” (p. 93) vis-à-vis their scriptural antecedent. Here, Palmer carefully observes the changes made between the “rewriting” and the antecedent concluding that the Scrolls demonstrate a change in meaning away from “resident alien” and towards a “Gentile convert.” For Palmer, this change provides supporting evidence for the mutability of identity within Hellenism and Second Temple Judaism. Palmer further asserts that while gēr represents a Judean convert in the Scrolls, there are marked differences in attitude between the D and S traditions regarding inclusion and exclusion. In short, while the D tradition is inclusive of the gēr as full member of the Qumran movement, the S tradition is exclusionary.
Chapter 4 closely analyzes three central features of ethnic identity: the shared notion of kinship, connection to land, and common culture (specifically the ritual of circumcision). Palmer finds that the gēr’s identification as a non-blood related “brother” supports the notion of mutable identity within the Qumran movement. Moreover, the gēr is included in texts which address connection to the land. Regarding circumcision, Palmer concludes that while the ritual is not explicitly connected with the gēr in either the D or S tradition, there are references to circumcision in CD 16:4–6 and 4Q266 6 ii 6 as well as to a metaphorical and spiritual “circumcision” in texts Palmer associates with the S tradition (1QpHab 11:12–13; 4QCatenaA 9 8; 1QS 5:4–5). For Palmer, this metaphorical and spiritual “circumcision” in the S tradition is significant in that it connotates a transformation to a kind of “supra-Judaism,” a form of Judaism to which the gēr is excluded.
Chapter 5 offers a sociohistorical comparison of the element of “brotherhood” within the Qumran movement to the “brother” language found in Greco-Roman professional and cultic associations. Palmer concludes that the language of brotherhood among group members, especially that of the formal title “Adopted Brothers” in cultic associations of the Bosporus region, reflects a notion of shared kinship that bonds members into a shared identity. The implication is that a disparate group can attain a group-specific and socially constructed sense of shared kinship. For Palmer, this supports the proposal that the gēr can attain a shared kinship and consequently a shared ethnicity with other members within the Qumran movement.
There is much to commend in Palmer’s book. The study is focused and carefully constructed, bringing past scholarly engagement regarding the term gēr into new focus alongside the current discussion. Texts in the Qumran corpus are judiciously analyzed and are astutely placed in conversation with one another and with their scriptural predecessors. The result is a nuanced study which advances our understanding of identity and ethnicity in the Second Temple period.
Michael DeVries is a PhD candidate at the University of Birmingham, UK.Michael DeVriesDate Of Review:May 18, 2022