Economics and biblical studies can be strange bedfellows, but this Notre Dame dissertation proves that even strange bedfellows can learn to appreciate one another. By examining “the full body of literary, archaeological, and documentary evidence” at Qumran, this book attempts “to review closely the complete range of material about wealth” in order “to reconstruct … the economic attitudes and practices of the communities that gathered and used the Dead Sea Scrolls” (p. 22). Obviously this is an ambitious goal, and for the most part one competently pursued. The author presumes that literary traditions are shaped by socio-political pressures within real-world communities. She also presumes that religious symbols are easier to access than economic systems, and that students of the latter too often succumb to the temptation to construct “realities” which do not, in fact, exist. Thus the goal of this book is twofold: (a) to gather into one place all the important economic texts from Qumran; and (b) to analyze them via the anthropological theories of Clifford Geertz, particularly his concept of “thick description” (p. 24). Murphy’s intention is “not simply to count the coins at (Qumran) … but … to reconstruct in some measure the symbolic world in and against which the sectarian economy functioned” (p. 24).
Literarily the book stays focused on three documents: the Damascus Document, the Scroll of the Rule, and the Instruction (1Q26; 4Q 415–418). It also gives attention, however, to non-inscriptional evidence, to various economic documents recovered from the Judean desert (e.g., the Babatha archive), and to the secondary testimonies of Philo, Josephus, and Pliny the Elder. Each chapter begins with a workmanlike introduction, then follows through with an informed exegesis of the “economic” passages, then ends with a concise summary. Appended to the end of the book stand 242 pages of appendices (including helpful synoptic layouts of all known witnesses to CD, the Rule, and Instruction), ten photographic plates (e.g., a clear photo of the “Yahad Ostracon”), transcriptions of these plates, a good bibliography, two maps, and four indices (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek terms; scriptural and other ancient sources; modern authors; and subjects). This is perhaps the most comprehensive study of Second Temple economic texts ever gathered together into one place.
Chapter 2 sets the tone with a nuanced discussion on “wealth” in the Damascus Document. Reconstructing the text from CD A+B + the Cave 4 fragments, Murphy offers a brief introduction to CD’s textual and redaction history, then proceeds to exegete each of its “economic” passages. Thoroughly engaging the secondary literature (esp. J. Baumgarten and L. Schiffman), she casts a rather large, amorphous net over CD (the legacy of Geertz’s “thick description”), then tries to pull out of this net a maximum of information.
For example, several passages in CD give clues to the economic history of the community in ways which may suggest “the social situation of the author or the document’s adherents” (p. 34). Within this category Murphy places CD 19.5–11; 19.15–24; and 13.9–10, then concludes from her “thick description” that “wealth was at some point an issue in the separation of the Damascus Document community from society, in its self-understanding as a community of the poor ones, and in its organization as a redeemed community” (p. 45). Other passages, she thinks, imply less about CD’s history than its attitude toward commerce in general, and here she posits four subcategories: (1) commercial transactions between community members (e.g., CD 9.8–16); (2) sacrificial expenditures of community members (e.g., CD 16.13–20); (3) wealth in familial matters (e.g., CD 13.15–18); and (4) transactions between community members and outsiders (e.g., CD 12.6–11).
Some of her findings have potential significance for NT studies. Stern warnings against lying about wealth, for example, stand at the beginnings of the penal codes in both CD and in 1QS, and this implies not only the pervasiveness of the problem of lying about wealth, but also the persistence of the יחד in confronting it head-on. NT students will note immediately that the same problem appears near the beginning of the book of Acts (see B. Capper, “The Interpretation of Acts 5:4,” JSNT 19  117–31), and Murphy is aware of these possibilities (pp. 10–11, 388). Yet Murphy is quick to dismiss Capper’s suggestions in her desire to stay close to Geertz, and this sometimes pushes the evidence too far. To argue, e.g., that “the absence of revealed commercial law … is to be explained not by the acceptance that law enjoyed in the sect but rather by the hidden revelation of an alternative economy” (p. 61) is suggestive, but wholly unsubstantiable. None of these economic passages definitively tells us whether there is an “alternative economy” at Qumran (alternative to what, exactly?), and there certainly is not enough hard evidence here to describe this “alternative economy” with historical precision.
Chapter 3, “Wealth in the Rule of the Community,” lists fourteen “economic” passages in the Rule and notes that at least one of them (a) appears in all four major sections of the Rule, and (b) appears in all five of its generic subcategories: introduction, covenant initiation/renewal, rules of communal organization, rules of communal discipline, and guidelines for the wise leader. For Murphy, this implies not only that “passages mentioning wealth are present at every redactional stage and in every generic category of material,” (p. 161), but that “an interest in members’ wealth as a symbol of their communal identity remains constant” throughout the entirety of the Rule tradition (p. 115). Comparing CD to the Community Rule, she goes on to assert that whereas CD puts “the emphasis … on socio-economic critique,” the Rule gives “priority … to the alternative ideal community where a different economy obtains” (p. 162). But this, too, stretches the evidence too far, and one has to wonder at this point whether her repeated attempts to posit an “alternative community” at Qumran relies less on sociohistorical analysis than it does on Geertz’s radical cultural relativism (see the devastating critiques of Geertz in M. Harris, Theories of Culture in Postmodern Times [Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira, 1999] 151–58; and K. Windschuttle, “The Ethnocentrism of Clifford Geertz,” The New Criterion 21 [Oct. 2002] 5–12).
One of the least investigated Qumran traditions is the sapiential-apocalyptic document called “Instruction” (4Q415–418, paralleled by 1Q26 and a few other fragments), and Murphy makes an engaging attempt to unravel its mysteries (see now the long-awaited monograph of E. J. C. Tigchelaar, To Increase Learning for the Understanding Ones: Reading and Reconstructing the Fragmentary Early Jewish Sapiential Text 4QInstruction [STDJ 44; Leiden, Brill, 2001]). Here, as Murphy notes, the economic melody line modulates into a non-sectarian key as the writer admonishes the wise man to live within his means, to avoid indebtedness, to acknowledge and accept whatever poverty comes his way, and most importantly, to recognize that all wealth comes from a God who uses wealth to fill up “all the deficiencies of his secrets” (כול מחסורי אוטו see 4Q 417 1.2.2–3). As Murphy points out, אוט is not only a rare Hebrew word, it’s unique to 4QInstruction in the Qumran corpus. Along with ישר (“riches”), דל (“poor”), and מחסר (“lack”), these terms weave together an idiosyncratic semantic pattern among Qumran’s “textual tapestries.” As in the previous chapters, this one makes an admirable attempt to align the text’s relevant “economic” passages into identifiable subcategories for easier interpretation: (a) references to wealth in the cosmological/eschatological introduction; (b) explicit advice to the poor man about economics and finance; and (c) instructions about the proper way to handle agricultural produce.
This is a well-written dissertation, and though it could have benefited from another editorial pass or two, its major problem seems to be the way it tries to distinguish “economic” from “social,” “cultural,” and/or purely “political” texts (see, e.g., the rambling discussions on pp. 35–36, 40–41, 52, and 61). This in turn seems directly related to the book’s uncritical acceptance of Geertz’s concept of “thick description.” To cite two examples: (a) it’s difficult to see how a text like CD 19.5–11 even belongs in a discussion about “economics” just because it includes a biblical citation about the “poor ones of the flock” from Zechariah (pp. 35–36); and (b) the argument that the phrase “chains that bind” in CD 13.10 refers in some way to “economic” chains (because “wealth” occurs in the next line) simply begs the question. This dissertation would have been much stronger had it (a) more sympathetically interacted with the sociohistorical analyses of A. Baumgarten on Graeco-Roman voluntary associations and J. Neusner on the relationship between the יחד and the חברה; (b) more intentionally tried to explain Qumran’s economy alongside other ancient economies (cf. the important work of Michael Hudson, most recently Debt and Economic Renewal in the Ancient Near East [M. Hudson & M. van de Mieroop, eds.; Bethesda, MD: CDL, 2002); and (c) more critically employed the theories of Geertz about how cultures (especially “utopian” cultures) socioeconomically interact with the economies of their neighbors. Yet these are the reflections of an appreciative reader. This book fills a gaping hole in contemporary scholarship and is by far the most comprehensive study of Second Temple economics ever attempted. For its literary insight, its historical depth, its anthropological sensitivity (even if a bit uncritical at times), its scholarly thoroughness, its helpful indices, and its sheer doggedness at tracking down sources, Wealth in the Dead Sea Scrolls is a major step forward in our understanding of Second Temple economics.