The Battle of the Scrolls

For nearly 2000 years Jews habe built their way of life, and way of looking at life, around a legend; but recent interpretations and decipherings of the Dead Sea Scrolls have turned that legend into real, inscribed facts. That is the view of Mr. Raphael, a Briton who combines a career in Her Majesty’s Civil Service (Treasury) with writing. This article deals with some of the questions raised in his new book, THE TENDER BRANCH : AN EXCURSION INTO JEWISH HISTORY,to be published later this year by Alfred Knopf.

by Chaim Raphael

IF WE were going to drink a single toast to celebrate the anniversary of the finding of the scrolls, we would have to raise our glass to that innocent Arab boy, idly throwing a stone into a cave at Qumran, by the Dead Sea, in the spring of 1947. But looking back over the twenty years, we have seen not one but three dramas of discovery played out in this area — Qumran itself, Masada, and the astonishing finds of the Bar Kokhbah period (132— 135 A.D.) in the Judaean desert close by. Though separate, they overlap in content and are unified in significance. Taken together they emerge as a celebration of history, almost as much in the way the discoveries were made as by what they reveal to us.

No one caught the flavor of the first phase better than Edmund Wilson, whose book Scrolls From the Dead Sea (published in 1955 after serialization in the New Yorker) brought the good news to many people. At that early stage, the high drama seemed to lie in the meaning for Jesus and Christianity of the doctrines revealed by some of the scrolls that emerged from the Arab boy’s cave. Of course, even without this, the discoveries were full of wonder. Here unearthed were biblical books, in Hebrew, used by Jews when the Temple still stood, and 800 or 900 years older than anything previously known. There were hundreds of fragments too of other ancient texts, whose discovery solved many mysteries of absorbing interest to scholars. But it was the sect which had lived at this remote spot, and whose library these scrolls formed, which raised the really startling questions. Was this settlement at Qumran, on a high cliff overlooking the Dead Sea, the direct source of Christianity? The pious Jews of this “monastery” had lived under vows of poverty, a strict discipline of study, with “baptism” and “ritual meals” and a strong apocalyptic faith. The scrolls referred to their leader as the “Teacher of Righteousness,” founder of a “New Covenant.” A saint to his followers, he had been put to death by his enemies. Did the Christian faith merely pick this up? Was the Teacher of Righteousness perhaps John the Baptist? Could Jesus have lived in the settlement? Did the Church simply expand the ideas of this Jewish sect?

For many people this became the central, the abiding, question of the scrolls. It is fair to say that while scholarship since those early days has deepened the knowledge of the period enormously, it has also tended to lessen the force of the great question — the wild surmise. The parallels, when pursued, turn out to be not so exact or exclusively Christian. The unique role for believers of the actual life and death of Jesus is left intact.

To a Jew, the drama of the Dead Sea discoveries can have a different focus, and this is partly because their character has been so immensely broadened.

Before talking of the later discoveries in the way I like to think of them — as an adventure with overtones — let me first shock my fellow Jews (or some of them) by saying that if I shift the focus of interest on the first phase from Jesus, it is not to diminish his significance but to elevate it to another level altogether. I think it misleading to think of the Qumran sect and its scrolls as a way of “explaining” Jesus because nothing documentary can account for the unique appeal of the story of his life, or “explain” the extraordinary influence of the Christian faith on mankind.

To me as a Western man, the power of Jesus and Christianity over the mind and feelings of mankind is a mystery far too strong to be amenable to “explanation.” Literary and historical puzzles are always interesting. What song the Sirens sang and what name Achilles assumed when he hid among women are (we are assured) subjects not beyond conjecture. But the source of the ideas made manifest somehow through Jesus, plus the subsequent effect of his life on the conduct of untold millions of men and women throughout our history, is a puzzle of a different order.

The Dead Sea Discoveries Reconsidered

To use a metaphor which is by no means irrelevant, a boy’s love for his mother is not affected by discovering, as he will, that she was in a human sense merely the child of this or that background, that she had feet of clay, that she did not emerge uniquely to bear him. To the boy she remains unique; and so with Christianity itself. It cannot be shown to have this or that source by some agreed standard of scholarship; nor can it be given some kind of general approval because it is “good” for people to respond to its moralities. It makes claims at quite a different level:

That God was made in Palestine,
And lives to-day in Bread and Wine.

Christianity can never be less than this; and hovering over what is a gigantic act of faith for the believer is the evident validity of so much that has flowed from Christian worship, doctrines which are profoundly related to man’s nature — the notion of sin and suffering, intercession and Christlike love, as direct and universal in their influence as the picture of the Mother and the Babe which all of us have grown up with.

This is not to say that Christianity, as practiced by its adherents, has been a universally beneficent force. Not all Christians, to put it mildly, have been saints. But all human history is a story of violence and murder softened by a groping for something better; and over 2000 years, enough emerged from Christian practice to testify that something new was in the air. In this sense it is not really helpful to “explain” Christianity simply as a modification or “improvement” of the Judaism from which it sprang. There is absolutely nothing in the Jewish tradition, then or later, which has the force of the really characteristic doctrines of Christianity or their mysterious power to transform men’s lives. This is evident in what is recognized uniquely as “Christian” action — service, theologically motivated, carried to the level of abnegation or selfsacrifice — or if we call to mind the extraordinary fertilizing effect of the Christian tradition on music and the arts.

There is no valid way to link this “Christian” influence to the Jewish tradition, which has had an equally powerful, and beneficent, effect on its recipients, but from a different angle altogether. For whereas the Jewish tradition sees all human history as an endless kaleidoscope of God, Christianity deals with an Event which, if one thinks it happened, stopped human history in its tracks and turned all subsequent history into a continuing symbolic repetition of the same drama — Christ, or his Gethsemane, being born in everyone. This (to a non-Christian) seems to be the force of the Christian revelation. That it took root as it did bears little relation to the activities of a Jewish sect.

And most particularly this sect; for having argued that nothing “explains” Jesus, I would then say, exaggerating for the sake of paradox, that everything else in the real Jewish tradition helps us to understand Jesus better than the Scrolls of Qumran. Where many writers on this subject — including, to some extent, the admirable Edmund Wilson — went wrong was to be so bemused by the sudden emergence of a “monastery” in the time of Jesus, a few miles from Bethlehem, with prayers, hymns, and visionary beliefs that can be “fitted in” to Gospel words, that they saw this place and this sect as of special significance. With eyes glued on Qumran — and how understandable it was — they stopped for the moment looking at the broader picture of Jewish life at the time.

But if we are thinking of the man Jesus, as distinct from the mysterious figure we have envisaged above, it is the human earthy background which gives us the clue, not a narrow, inhuman, untypical, and, it must be said, boring sect of fanatics in the wilderness. Leaving the mystery of Christianity on one side, there is, at the center, the story of a man, told with quite extraordinary human appeal. Every saying, every encounter, every adventure, which comes through makes him a man of the people living among the people, his mind open to every influence around him. His words, his poetry, his imagery are all related to the bustling, lively culture whose child he was. This would not in itself be unreconcilable with the idea that he might have absorbed some doctrine from a sect of this kind and even visited the place. But the sect and its outlook cannot have been the molding influence of the man we read about in the Gospels.

Certainly there are phrases in some of the Qumran writings which, taken out of context, fit in with Gospel words, both when they talk of love and brotherhood and when they are very militant against “the wicked,” as they so often are. But for every one of these parallels, there are infinitely more telling parallels in the rabbinic writings generally. The rabbinic tradition, which later began to emerge in writing in the Talmud and the Midrash, was in its formative stage during the life of Jesus, in the teachings of the Pharisees. Jesus, as we know from the Gospels, was in conflict with the Pharisees. But he was, in human terms, a child of the same background, concerned, as the Pharisees themselves were, not merely in abstract religious speculation but in the intricate and earthy humanities of daily existence, reinterpreting the received tradition in terms of the practical problems of ordinary people and not of austere sectarians living cut off in the wilderness.

Some “modern” Jewish scholars (largely in the last hundred years) have indeed rather taken Jesus over in this way as the quasi-Pharisee, with the desire, not always unconscious, to show that he was after all a very human being, with nothing particularly divine or even very original about him. With great detail they illustrate how — even if his claim to be the Messiah, the King of the Jews, the son of God were plain heresy — so many of his “ordinary” sayings and moral teachings are echoed in the rabbinic writings which began to take shape in the same period. But even where Jewish scholarship, in concentrating on this approach, had an ulterior motive of pride and self-justification, it did at least create a full and lively picture of the world in which the man Jesus grew up. It was this living character, and not the quasi-monk of Qumran, who had the power to grip the imagination of all succeeding centuries.

PERHAPS the real mystery, for Jew and Christian alike, is the power that this strange period, the last days of the Temple at Jerusalem, has had in molding history. For Christians, the point is obvious; but for Jews, too, what emerged in the first century opened up a way of life and thought which was crucial to all that followed. The teachers of the time — the Pharisees, whom Jesus both spoke for and quarreled with — developed a way of looking at life which carried an astonishing power of evolutionary reproduction. If the subsequent history of the Jews, and above all their peculiar mixture of moral and intellectual concentration, has some interest for the student of civilization, it is to this period that one must look, with some wonder, for its origin. Yet it was a period which, until the recent discoveries, had to be built up by conjecture, without tangible documentation. To see the conjectures realized, with material evidence, is a drama which a Jew has no right to keep to himself, even though his own relation to it is so personal; for it is, above all, a demonstration of history at work.

It can be put this way. For close on 2000 years, the Jews nursed what can be called a legend — a way of life, and a way of looking at life — whose real authority lay in what one generation handed on to the next. This “legend,” built around the vast corpus of rabbinic writing, was the powerhouse of the Jewish spirit. The scholars lived in it, were drenched in it, every day and night of their lives. Their followers, the untutored masses, breathed the air of this devotion even if they could not participate. The notion of study — the intense pursuit of argument and conjecture — concentrated on what had emerged from this particular period of their past. An immense imaginative structure had been built up, which was not merely intellectual but was connected, in its appeal, with the very human and earthy lives of the rabbis, the “legendary” founding fathers.

Suddenly, in an unbroken succession of discoveries since 1947, the soil and rocks of the Holy Land have yielded up material that clothes this legend with reality. The way of life of these historic characters is there to see. Their practices are recorded. Their struggles — triumphs and failures — are shown to us.

And if one is looking for history at work, there is a peculiar satisfaction in the way the discoveries were made. The emergence of the past was an echo of the contemporary struggle. The heroes of the new State of Israel were the same men who brought the legend to life.

One man in particular stands as a symbol of the story, Yigael Yadin. By now everyone knows something about this extraordinary man, soldier and archaeologist, his work on the scrolls from Qumran, and his unique role in opening up the rock fortress of Masada. What is less well known is the story of his work on the Bar Kokhbah period, and in particular the satisfying way in which the tension of the life-and-death struggle of Israel with its neighbors was re-enacted, less painfully, through the intrigues and adventure of this third phase of the Dead Sea discoveries.

Providence, it must be said, had seemed rather unkind to Israel over the first scrolls at Qumran. Yadin’s father, the eminent archaeologist Sukenik, had been the first to recognize their true age. But the war of liberation was at its height; and when the fighting ended, the source of the scrolls lay in what had become, by an accident of history, “enemy territory,” the State of Jordan. How some of the scrolls were eventually brought to Israel through Yadin’s enterprise in New York is a story told by Edmund Wilson in a manner that no one can improve on. But it must be a source of sadness to the Israelis that they were unable to participate at firsthand in the fascinating developments that were later unfolded at Qumran.

In the seesaw of discovery, the balance was amply restored at Masada, a few miles south in Israeli territory; for here the massive expeditions led by Yadin from 1963 to 1965 uncovered a shrine of living history as momentous to national pride as it is to scholarship. Josephus had told of the luxurious villa of Herod on this rock, and later of the indomitable struggle there of the Jewish rebels who had defied the Romans and chose at the end a mass suicide rather than to fall as captives into their hands. But nothing to confirm this had ever been known. And now we see it all as it was. Yadin’s own book on Masada tells the story: the pathos, with skeletons lying untouched for 1900 years, the discoveries for scholarship — a synagogue going back to Temple times, scrolls in profusion, echoing and complementing those found at Qumran.

THE story of the Bar Kokhbah discoveries had started much earlier. Unlike Masada, it was a longdrawn-out affair, with the seesaw, for Israel, goingup and down. It had begun, as early as 1951, on the Jordan side of the frontier, with clandestine offers by Bedouin Arabs to the scholars there of tiny fragments of Hebrew and Greek writing, and with claims that the source was somehow linked with the searches then being pursued at Qumran. In fact, the trail, when followed, led much further afield; but for several years these offers, and what ensued later, were kept secret. As it began to leak out, what had started on the Jordan side led to corresponding action on the Israeli side. By the time the operations on both sides of the frontier were completed, nearly ten years after the original dealings in 1951, history had been enriched not only with a great deal of valuable new information on ancient biblical scrolls, but by the documentation with tangible evidence of a subject known directly hitherto only through later rabbinic writings — the social, religious, and military history of the period of the “last revolt” by the Jews against the Romans, in 132—135 A.D., under the leadership of the legendary Bar Kokhbah.

At first the honors of discovery and decipherment lay perforce with Jordan. The Bedouin and their Syrian dealers played a teasing game with fragments for a while, but the archaeologists in Jordan finally secured an agreement to be led to what was claimed as the source, some caves in the Wadi Murabba’at, eighteen miles or so south of Qumran, and in an area called by Father Milik, a leading paleographer who took part, “one of the most inaccessible places in Palestine.” Arriving there toward the end of January, 1952, with all the official help they could muster, they still found conditions for search almost impossible: dark narrow tunnels approached on hazardous ledges, blocked by constant and continuing rock falls and infested with the accumulated filth of the centuries. But they got through in the end to recover not only a great mass of “normal” archaeological finds but a hoard of documents clearly identified or dated to the years of the Bar Kokhbah revolt. There were biblical scrolls of very great interest, legal documents of extraordinary variety, and, most startling of all, personal letters from Bar Kokhbah himself. As the material began to be published in the later part of the 1950s, the effect was dramatic, especially in its relation to the Jewish tradition.

To realize why, it has to be recalled that though the character of the leader, the course of the fighting, and the persecution which followed left an anguish-laden mark on Jewish folk memory, exemplified in many stories in the Talmud and Midrash, there was no knowing how legend had embellished fact. Nor was it known how the elaborate legal system projected later in the rabbinic writings was actually in practice in this period, when many of the founding fathers of the tradition lived. And now suddenly it was all given substance.

The legal hoard includes marriage and divorce documents, with full property settlements, contracts for the sale and leasing of land, and many other detailed financial records of the time. To take the marriage contracts alone, the language of any one of them will startle any Jew who has been married in synagogue: the terms—the careful spelling out of the financial obligations, the solemnity, the long rigmarole — are identical. And to see the ordinary business contracts of the time is to understand at last what the rabbis of a later day were talking about with their elaborate rules in the Mishnah and Talmud on how legal documents must be written (with a duplicate copy), witnessed, dated, and “tied” in such a way that the original, in close writing, is rolled up and preserved, while the copy, in looser writing, is left open for easy reference. Here are such contracts in profusion, including a bundle of tenant-farmer leases in the name of Bar Kokhbah, who had assumed all ownership in the Roman Imperial style. It is not easy to take in that something so legendary a few years ago is now so matter of fact:

On the 20th of Shebat, Year II [133 A.D.] of the Liberation of Israel, by the authority of Simon ben Kosiba, Prince of Israel, who resides at Herodium, Judah ben Rabba hereby declares to Hillel ben Garis: I, of my own free will, have today taken from you a parcel of land at Ir Nahass . . I have taken it from Simon, Prince of Israel, and will pay the rent yearly in good and clean wheat, 3 khors and 1 letekh . . after the tithe which you will have taken and sent to the Treasury.......

Signed: JUDAH BEN RABBA, in person
SIMON BEN KOSIBA, by his authority.

Apart from everything else, one suddenly notices that the mystery of Bar Kokhbah’s real name is finally solved. The rabbinic accounts left it open whether “Bar Kokhbah” — son of the Star — was, like “Ben Gurion,” a name assumed for its symbolic ring, in this case a messianic overtone. They thought that the other name they had heard, “Bar Koziba,” was given in derision by his opponents, since it could be read as “son of the lie.” The later Church historians used the messianic-sounding name, and in this way it passed unchangeably into history. But now we know; and there is one fragment which spells it out in Greek letters, so that the pronunciation “Bar Kosiba” (with a hard “s”) is assured.

But more than the name is at stake. The rabbinic legend, while recalling many stories of his courage and strength, was not happy with his character. His contemporaries are said to have hated his cruelty and messianic pretensions. When, hearing of his exploits, one rabbi of the time, the famous Akiba, exclaimed (perhaps only half seriously): “This man must be the King Messiah!”, another, Rabbi Torta, is said to have replied rather sourly: “The grass will be growing out of your cheeks before the Messiah comes.” All the legends, passed down orally over the generations, made him larger than life. Tradition told of the ruthless ways he had devised for testing the courage of his soldiers, and how he had not flinched from putting his own uncle to death for supposed treachery.

It recalled, also, the blasphemy of his devil-maycare prayer on entering battle: “All we ask, God, is: do not help the enemy. Us you need not help.” And now suddenly we can hear him speaking in the same voice in a letter, perhaps even in his own hand, to the leader in charge of one of his military posts:

From Simon ben Kosiba to Joshua ben Galgula and the men of Ha-Baruk: Greeting! I call heaven to witness against me that if any of the Galileans who are with you are ill-treated, I shall put you in fetters as I did to Ben Aphlul.
Simon ben Kosiba

On the Israeli side of the frontier, the Jews, thrilled at so much light being shed on their history, would have been less than human (or perhaps more than human) if they had not at the same time felt a great sense of frustration that they were not making these discoveries themselves. As the documents began to be published in scholarly journals (to be finally edited in magnificent style by Father Milik in a book completed in 1958), they were leading to a host of new conclusions about the social and military history of the period. At the very least the Israelis wanted to find more evidence, if it existed, to get the picture right. And in particular they may well have felt a special sense of irritation over the letters from Bar Kokhbah himself. Two such letters had been found, one mentioned above, the other, in more relaxed style, asking the same ben Galgula for a consignment of wheat, and adding cheerfully: “Be of good spirit, and keep everyone’s spirit up.” It was galling to discover that these two letters had not even been dug up by the Jordan archaeologists, but bought before the expedition from the Bedouin Arabs, whose propensity to wander over the frontier was well established.

It seemed indeed as if, contrary to the assertion of Psalm 121, the Guardian of Israel was both slumbering and sleeping. The Israelis decided to take matters into their own hands. As early as 1953 and 1955, hearing specifically of Bedouin activity in Israel among the caves of the Hever gorge, southwest of En-Gedi, they had done some searches there but with no results. In January, 1960, they tried again further south, and again found little evidence of anything except ransacking by the Bedouin. But their blood was up, and they now decided to make an immediate all-out effort to survey the whole area, with full military support. They divided the terrain, all of the most difficult character, into four sections, each under a competent archaeologist with complete independent authority. Yadin was one of the four, and after the others had chosen, was left with Area D. There must be some bounty of fortune attending this extraordinary man, for it was in Area D that the momentous discoveries were made.

His search lasted thirteen days. As in the caves on the other side of the frontier, conditions were appalling. The searchers were at dizzy heights, with huge boulders blocking access to the cave selected. They could move only on hands and knees from one part of the cave to another, across the bat-droppings of the ages. Given earlier ransacking, their only hope was to find things hidden in minute crevices, buried under stones. It was in such a crevice that on the tenth day they found a waterskin containing balls of wool, jewelry, clothing, small glass vessels, wooden cosmetic utensils, a leather purse, and a packet of letters — fifteen letters from Bar Kokhbah.

There were many other finds, lighting up the history of the Jews who fleel to these caves in the last phase of the war, carrying their personal belongings with them. But it is the letters which fascinate. One is on four slats of wood which open into one, providing a letter beginning in formal style:

Simon bar Kosiba, Prince over Israel, to Jonathan and to Masbela: Shalom!

Simon bar Kosiba, Prince over and to Masbela: Shalom! Israel, to Jonathan The letter goes on to deal with the confiscation of a quantity of wheat and its safe transfer to Bar Kokhbah. Its tone is as firm as the “fetters” letter: “If you do not act accordingly, you will be punished severely.” There are similar threats in the letter to the “men of Tekoa,” who are engaged in “repairing their houses” — presumably instead of fighting. It includes an order to arrest a certain Yeshua bar Tadmorya, to “send him under secure conditions to Ben Kosiba” and not neglect to disarm him.

This is the only letter found here to give Bar Kokhbah the formal title of “Prince over Israel.” But the other letters in the bundle have equal authority. They refer to instructions sent by letter or messenger on military, economic, and social matters, and insist on obedience, under threat of punishment. They are addressed apparently to the same recipients and particularly to Jonathan, whose identification as “Bar Bayah ... of En-Gedi” has particular significance, as we shall see.

On military matters, one letter refers again to the laggards of Tekoa (and also of Tel Arazin) who refuse to fight. Another strikes an equally bitter note:

From Simon bar Kosiba to the men of En-Gedi, to Masbela and to Jonathan bar Bayin: Greeting. You are sitting comfortably, eating and drinking from the resources of Israel, and are not concerned at all about your brothers. . . .

It goes on to ask them to deal swiftly with the consignment on “the ship with you,” indicating that En-Gedi must have been the port from which wheat was brought to the rebel regime from the eastern or southern shores of the Dead Sea.

In the midst of all this urgent communication, one letter reveals the effort made even under these circumstances to keep up the traditional observances, in this case of the festival of Sukkoth (Tabernacles).

It refers to two donkeys being sent to Jonathan and Masbela for loading with palms and citrons, with instructions also to bring myrtles and willows, all part of the traditional ceremonial of the festival. As in the other letters, a tithe is to be taken before they are sent to the camp.

Two of the letters are in Greek; and it is one of these, “from Hanan to his brother Yehonatan,” transmitting orders from the leader, which shows from the Greek spelling the correct pronunciation of his name.

Satisfied for the moment, but anxious, quite literally, to leave no stone unturned, the Israelis mounted another expedition in the following year, in March, 1961. As before, the area was divided into four groups, with Yadin continuing work in what was now known as the “Cave of the Letters.” Once again fortune smiled on him, for if the first year’s search was striking for what it revealed about Bar Kokhbah himself, the discoveries of the second year were equally, if not more, dramatic for the social history of the period.

It illustrates the problem of searching in these caves to mention that the new discoveries were found in the same part of the complex of caves examined in 1960, but only after a great concentration of manpower was decided on by Yadin so as to be able to move every possible stone. It paid off; for suddenly, together with a large collection of personal relics — cooking pots, keys, glass dishes, and coins of the Bar Kokhbah period — a vast archive of documents came to light, recounting in detail the intricate human and business relationships of a whole family, as centered on the personal history of one woman, Babata, the daughter of Simon.

It is hard to contain one’s impatience to see the fully edited transcription and elucidation of these documents, promised by Yadin to be included in Volume II of his work: The Finds From the Bar Kokhbah Period in the Cave of Letters. But the ramifications are so wide that it is easy to understand why it must take a considerable time.

The documents found are in Nabataean, Aramaic, and Greek, with the Greek ones sometimes including subscriptions and signatures in Nabataean or Aramaic. The richness of the archive is due to the fact that Babata came from a family of property in Mahoza and had an eventful personal life, with documents covering her first marriage (her husband died, but there was a son), her second marriage to a man who already had a daughter, and so on. To illustrate the range of documents, it may be mentioned that apart from a variety of contracts for sale and acquisition of property, there are five deeds dealing with the custody of her son by her first husband, two covering property of her second husband’s daughter, and five claims by members of the family against Babata in connection with property of which she obtained possession after the death of her second husband. There are the wedding contracts of her second marriage and of her stepdaughter. Even in his preliminary report, Yadin is able to produce a full genealogical table for the family showing links with others mentioned in other documents, and in particular, with the same Jonathan bar Bayah who was the recipient of the Bar Kokhbah letters found in the first expedition. The Guardian of Israel had apparently woken up.

What is one to make of all this Dead Sea Scrollcry, using the phrase to cover all that has been going on since that fateful day in 1947? All archaeological discovery excites the imagination, but it was clear from the beginning that in this case more was likely to be involved than the mere satisfaction of historical curiosity.

For some, the special shiver of inner excitement still rises from the sight of biblical scrolls that were read with love and devotion while the Temple still stood. The agelong link of the Jew with the Bible seems mysteriously reinforced.

For others it is the sect of Qumran, so “Christian” in some ways, that arouses wonder. A strange thing happened here as scholars, with different backgrounds and motivations, began to concentrate minute attention on all the apparent parallels, to see where the Jewish background left off and a proto-Christian outlook emerged. The process, far from being divisive, has been cooperative. Apart from a few scholars with axes to grind, argument about the period has become much less parti pris. It is a common background out of which each faith began after this period to fashion an outlook which was then to develop its own inner force.

For others again, a sense of awe in these discoveries hovers over what has now emerged for the Bar Kokhbah period. This is not merely for reasons of patriotic pride: it relates, as we have seen, to the background of the Talmud. One does not need to be a Talmudist to recognize that the devotion with which rabbinic literature was studied and enjoyed through all the dark centuries was a potent source of courage, intellect, and faith. To see the background of the founding fathers illuminated and somehow justified is immensely satisfying.

But there is more to it. Even without the religious connotations, things have emerged which touch the mind oddly. Here, briefly, are two examples from opposite ends of the spectrum.

The first is from Jordan. The archaeologists were looking in the caves of Wadi Murabba’at for material of the second century A.D. and suddenly found something a thousand years older—a papyrus, with writing going back to the eighth century B.C., the days of the early Kings of Judah. For the paleographers this is perhaps the most dramatic find in all the expeditions. There have been no documents found in Palestine going back anything like as far. Will more now emerge, preserved, as this was, in the stifling dust of the southern caves? The line to antiquity seems to stretch out endlessly.

The other example has become familiar now, but it still touches the heart. It seems modern by contrast — a moment at Masada. Yadin describes how, in a corner away from everything, they found a pile of eleven small shards, each bearing a name in Hebrew, one of which was Ben Ya’ir, the commander of the doomed community. Josephus tells us that the last ten men left alive at Masada drew lots to see “whose lot it was to kill first the other nine and then himself.” Were these the lots they drew?