Commentary Magazine

Scholars & Scrolls

To the Editor:

. . . How amazed I was to find that Cecil Roth’s “New Light on the Dead Sea Scrolls” [June] was but the reflection of shadows he has already cast in many journals since 1958. Because of the reported findings in Masada, Professor Roth now repeats his contention that the members of the Qumran sect (to be identified with the Masada defenders) are the Sicarri-Zealots. . . .

Professor Roth declares that his conclusion “arrived at by means of the usual historical reasoning, seems . . . inescapable.” . . . But careful reading of Josephus will show that there was a vast difference between the Sicarii and the Zealots and hence these cannot be grouped together.

The Sicarii are to be identified with the “Fourth Philosophy” of Josephus. Thus we find in Antt. 18.1.6:

But of the fourth sect of Jewish philosophy, Judas the Galilean was the author [6 C.E.]. These men agree in all other things with the Pharisaic notions; but they have an inviolable attachment to liberty; and say that God is to be their only Ruler and Lord. They also do not value dying any kinds of death, nor indeed do they heed the deaths of their relations and friends, nor can any such fear make them call any man Lord; . . . and it was in Gessius Florus’s time [64-66] that the nation began to grow mad with this distemper, who was our procurator, and who occasioned the Jews to go wild with it by the abuse of his authority and to make them revolt from the Romans.

Menahem, who was the son of Judas, carried on the “philosophy” which was basically political; in all other matters and observances the Sicarii held the same notions as the Pharisees, except in their political philosophy of “no lordship of man over man.”

In view of this, it is most peculiar of Dr. Roth to declare that the Masada liturgy (yet unpublished) follows the “heretical” calendar of the Qumran sect. During the Second Temple period the calendar determined Jewish observance and practice. The holidays and Temple service were dependent upon the exact date of the calendar in vogue among the spiritual leaders, the Pharisees.

If the “Sicarii-Zealots” agreed with the Pharisees in all religious matters, as Josephus notes, except in political perspective, how could they follow an “heretical” calendar?

As extremists since 6 c.e., the Sicarii used terroristic methods to carry out their political philosophy. When the Revolt began, and their leader Menahem was killed, they fled to Masada, remaining there till 73 C.E. Josephus does not mention the activity of the Sicarii as participants in the war at all.

On the other hand, the Zealots came into being at the beginning of the war and were active throughout, seeking to upset the provisional government and aristocratic peace party. Their political philosophy was one of democratic rule. When Jerusalem was destroyed and the Temple burnt, their hopes came to an end; there was no raison d’être for their existence and they disappeared as a party. Hence to combine the Zealots with the Sicarii in time and place is far from historic truth.

Even more amazing are Professor Roth’s chronology and dates. He asserts that Menahem was killed on Yom Kippur. What is his source? He derives it from B.J. 2. 17.8 which notes that the attack on Menahem took place shortly after the sixth of Gorpiaeus.

The general opinion of historians is that the Syro-Macedonian names of the months are used to represent Jewish months in Josephus’s B.J. Gorpiaeus represents Elul. Others believe that the months used by Josephus represent the Julian calendar proper in which Gorpiaeus corresponds to September.

Professor Zeitlin has shown that the months in BJ were not Jewish months but the months of Tyre. The sixth of Gorpiaeus (twenty-fourth of September) in 65 C.E. was the third of Tishri.

The question therefore is, if the attack on Menahem took place shortly after the sixth of Gorpiaeus, when was it?

If we follow Zeitlin’s view, in 65 C.E. the sixth of Gorpiaeus was the third of Tishri, but in 66 C.E. it was the fourteenth of Tishri. If Menahem was slain a few days later, the event is to be placed in the middle of the Festival of Succoth.

Professor Dupont-Sommer (Evidences, March 1958 [9e an No. 70, revue publiée sous l’égide de l’American Jewish Committee], p. 19) has already shown that Roth accepts Zeitlin’s view that the sixth of Gorpiaeus is the third of Tishri, but that Zeitlin believes that the revolt broke out in 65 whereas others maintain it was in 66. Roth notes emphatically “the revolt against Rome which began in 66.” As such, the sixth of Gorpiaeus was then the fourteenth of Tishri and a few days later would be the middle of Succoth—and therefore not on Yom Kippur.

From any scholarly viewpoint, Professor Roth has erred considerably, even as A. Dupont-Sommer has noted: “on est loin du jour de Kippour.” Professor Roth also notes that the massacre was on Sabbath-Yom Kippur. Neither in 65 or 66 did Yom Kippur occur on the Sabbath.

Referring to Dr. Zeitlin (though not by name), Roth states that “an American scholar . . . stoutly maintains . . . that the Scrolls are medieval forgeries.” That such should be repeated by him and others is incredible, for Dr. Zeitlin specifically wrote, in JQR, 1959 p. 226, in answer to Professor Roth: “I have never said that the Scrolls were forgeries. What I maintain is that they were composed during the Middle Ages.”

It should be clarified to all that the “hoax” or “forgeries” does not refer to anything perpetrated by the medieval writers. The terms apply to the modern majority interpretation, asserts Zeitlin, since modern scholars in their contention that the Scrolls are of the intertestamental period have thereby perpetrated a “hoax” and a “forgery” upon the public.

Professor Roth . . . cites as new evidence the liturgy, hymns, and calendar. As long as photostats have not been published and we cannot examine the paleography and terminology, no judgment can be reached on this. Proof can come from internal evidence—the plene mode of writing, the method of crossing out words and the use of phrases like talmud, bet mishpat, brit, etc.—all of which are very late.

One is therefore astonished at Professor Roth’s “scholarly technique” in identifying the Scrolls with the “Sicarii-Zealots.” Has the dating of these Masada Scrolls been confirmed by the carbon-14 test? Have unbiased scholars examined the full text of any available photostats released? No historian can express an opinion or reach a “conclusion” until all evidence is before him.

(Dr.) Sidney B. Hoenig
Professor of Jewish History
Yeshiva University
New York City



Mr. Roth writes:

The remarks of Professor Zeitlin’s faithful disciple, Professor Sidney B. Hoenig, are surely better suited for a “learned” publication than for the pages of COMMENTARY. I will say only, briefly:

  1. My proposals do not depend on the identity of the Sicarii with the Zealots, which I have not proposed. But if the bodies were not cognate, why are the two terms used interchangeably in contemporary sources?
  2. No serious scholar can accept the opinions of that abominable quisling apologist Josephus, even though we are compelled to rely on him for facts.
  3. I have never stated that Menahem, the Sicarii leader, was assassinated on the “orthodox” Day of Atonement, but only about that time: my authority is Professor Zeitlin.
  4. In my innocence, I assume that Professor Yadin tells the truth, even if what he says is not yet substantiated by infra-red photographs and carbon-14 tests.
  5. Finally, I wish that Professor Hoenig would explain by what miracle medieval documents-forged or no—found their way under the ruins of a building destroyed in 73 C.E.

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