Carmen Palmer, Converts at Qumran: The Ger in the Dead Sea Scrolls as an Indicator of Mutable Ethnicity (University of St. Michael’s College, 2016).
The Qumran movement, with its heightened levels of purity and social closure, has been commonly considered closed toward Gentile converts to Judaism. The present dissertation, however, argues that the term ger—the term understood to have shifted in meaning from that of “resident alien” within scriptural tradition to “Gentile convert to Judaism” by the time of rabbinic literature—in fact represents the latter meaning of the Gentile convert to Judaism in the scrolls. However, a convert’s inclusion in the movement would hinge upon overcoming all purity concerns, in other words, overcoming a Gentile nature. This means that a conversion, where permitted, must consist of a mutable ethnicity, which is my conclusion drawn concerning the ger found on thirteen occasions within scriptural rewriting in the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Chapter 1 finds that the majority of scholarship concludes that the Qumran movement uniformly excludes Gentile converts to Judaism from its midst. I question, however, such a conclusion, when Hellenistic influence upon late Second Temple Judaism facilitates a notion of mutable ethnicity through the newfound ability to “choose” one’s own law, citizenship, and connection to land, religious practice, and even kinship, which are all features of an overarching ethnic identity. Because the term is known to change from a meaning of “resident alien” to one of “Gentile convert to Judaism” over the span of scriptural tradition, could not the same phenomenon be happening in the scrolls? I outline my method, by which I will conclude that the scriptural rewriting of the ger in the DSS produces such a change, by comparing these passages against identifiable scriptural predecessors (scripture from the Masoretic tradition which became the majority canon).
Chapter 2 assesses each of the occasions where the term has been employed within scriptural rewriting in the DSS, first to see whether each text may fit within the general timeframe of the Qumran movement, and second, to see whether the texts may correlate with either the two dominant rule traditions within the Qumran movement, the (D)amascus Document and (S)erek ha-Yahad. These two traditions comprise two major rule perspectives within the movement, with different levels of permeability exhibited between the two. Correlating the attitudes toward the ger within each text, combined with whether the texts find affinity with the D or S traditions, assists in revealing more than one attitude toward the ger within the movement. The correlations to the D or S traditions are made by means of a comparative assessment of literary devices, paleography, and orthography.
Chapter 3 completes the task of comparing the occasions where the ger is employed in scriptural rewriting in the DSS, against majority scriptural predecessors. The chapter discovers that the scribal technique of scriptural rewriting is used to purposefully change the meaning of the term from its scriptural sense of “resident alien,” to its later sense of “Gentile convert to Judaism.” Nevertheless, differences in attitude toward the ger exist between the traditions of D and S: while in the texts correlated with the D tradition, the ger is always included and seems a full Judean member within the movement, in the texts correlated with the S tradition, the ger appears to be a “convert,” but one who is nevertheless excluded from the movement. Inclusion occurs due to a mutable notion of kinship between existing members and the convert, along with inclusion in a connection to land, and exclusion occurs due to an immutable notion of Judean kinship for Gentiles.
The findings from Chapters 2 and 3 are then collated in Chapter 4. Because a convert’s identity is found to include Judean kinship and connection to land, an existing member’s identity must also consist of these features. The chapter also considers the ethnic feature of common culture, expressed in circumcision, since circumcision is important to Judean identity and conversions more generally, within the late Second Temple period. Mention of physical circumcision in D suggests that circumcision holds cultural significance within this tradition, while a spiritual and metaphorical circumcision identified in the tradition of S suggests that members have undergone a kind of secondary conversion, elevating themselves to a “supra-Judean” status. A convert’s exclusion from the S tradition makes sense in light of the fact that where that tradition is concerned, only Judeans can become supra-Judean; Judean ethnicity is immutable to Gentiles, and thus gerim have never lost their Gentile status in the first place.
Chapters 2-4 provide a literary analysis from which Chapter 5 draws a sociohistorical comparison. Within the DSS under consideration, often the ger is portrayed as Judean kin by means of brotherhood language, and it is this language of brotherhood that becomes the point of comparison between the Qumran movement and Greco-Roman associations. This chapter discovers that, where Greco-Roman associations are concerned, the language of brotherhood expresses a notion of shared kinship, if the group is primarily defined using the features of ethnicity (kinship and culture). Thus, brotherhood language in professional associations indicates sentiments of friendship and honour, but nothing more. Meanwhile, brother language used in Greco-Roman cultic associations, found alongside familial and adoption language, serves to delineate groups of varying socially-constructed kinship formations. This comparison confirms that brother language, often used to describe the ger in the DSS, can indeed signify notions of shared kinship.
The dissertation offers the first complete study to assess, and conclude, that the term ger could represent a convert within the Dead Sea Scrolls. In order to do that, the dissertation also had to establish the nature of a conversion more broadly. The study finds that primary features of ethnic identity for the Qumran movement consist of a shared notion of kinship, a connection to land, and common culture in the practice of circumcision. A Gentile’s conversion, in order for that individual’s inclusion in the movement, would be contingent upon making a change in ethnic identity in these features. Therefore, ethnic identity is mutable where the D tradition is concerned in its inclusion of the ger, and immutable where the S tradition is concerned, where the ger remains an outsider. Most broadly, mutable ethnicity and conversions are indeed embraced within some of the Qumran movement, just as they are across multiple Mediterranean groups.