Schools, Archives, Libraries
It has long been recognized that the contents of the Hebrew Bible were composed, edited, and transmitted within communities of literate individuals, mostly employed in the service of court or temple. These ‘scribes’ (or ‘wise’: sopherim or hakamim) were the public ‘intellectuals’ of their societies, responsible for the creation and preservation of literary documentation, such as annals, myths, laws, liturgies, oracular collections, and whatever else served the functioning of the state apparatus. Such scribal communities almost certainly centred their activities in schools, which served as a matrix for both teaching and ‘research’; and for both purposes libraries were indispensable. The scrolls in these libraries were both the resource and the product of the activity of such schools.
But until the discovery of the Qumran scrolls, physical evidence of the literary activity of such communities was lacking. Indeed, we cannot be sure whether the Qumran scrolls represent the library of a single community (and whether such a community was in fact based at Qumran), or a collection of libraries stored for safe keeping in a remote location. But the contents correspond perfectly to what we would expect a learned community to possess, copy, and compose: documents that belonged to what we might call the national ‘canon’ alongside those of more relevance to the particular character of the community/communities. The existence of multiple copies also shows us simultaneous signs of ongoing editing; and so, while we can only speculate about or infer biblical sources and ‘redactions’, in the Scrolls we can see this process taking place. Different manuscripts of, for example, the Community Rule and the War Scroll illustrate how these texts went through several editions, and perhaps never achieved any ‘definitive’ form. As a model for the process by which the biblical literature took its shape, the Qumran library or libraries and the associated communities provide a very important resource.