Cave 7Q-9Q dispute

Written by Michael Moore

March 31, 2008


A publication by H. Eshel and M. Broshi makes a claim that Cave 7Q is east of the location marked, and caves 8Q and 9Q have been switched.

This statement is incorrect. I have based the identifications of the caves on de Vaux’s descriptions. The actual location of these three caves with respect to the site and with respect to one another can be deduced from de Vaux’s early publications. The most useful are Revue Biblique 63 (1956), pp. 572–73 and DJD III (Oxford: 1962), pp. 27–31. (Access to his notebooks, I believe, is unnecessary to determine the exact location of these caves.)

Beginning first with the location of cave 8Q, it is “Au sud-ouest de la grotte 7Q” (DJD III, p. 30). It is also “à côte de la précédente” (i.e., cave 7Q; RB 63 (1956), p. 572). Combining these two descriptions, we should understand that cave 8Q is “to the southwest of cave 7Q and (immediately) beside it”. Therefore, cave 7Q cannot be east of the location marked on the photograph since it must be adjacent to 8Q.

Cave 9Q is “un peu nord de la grotte 8Q, sur le versant ouest de l’éperon” (DJD III, p. 31). It is also “communiquant avec la précédent (i.e., cave 8Q) à un niveau un peu plus élevé” (RB 63 [1956] p. 573). Combined and in translation these statements indicate that cave 9Q is “interconnected with cave 8Q at a little higher level and a little to its north, on the western slope of the spur.” (9Q is not to the south of 8Q, as the reader contends, but the opposite according to de Vaux). From this description, the three caves form a rather tight triangle with respect to one another.

Regarding the location of cave 7Q, and thus all three interrelated caves, de Vaux writes that it is “à l’extrémité de la platforme qui s’etend au sud du Khirbeh. C’était une chambre arrondie dont tout le toit, toute la partie sud et une partie du sol se sont effondrés dans le Wady Qumrân. On y accédait par un escalier partant du bord de la plateforme, au nor-ouest de la chambre; les marches inférieures de l’escalier sont seules conservées” (DJD III, p. 27). “A l’extrémité de l’esplanade qui s’etend au sud du Khirbet [spelling: sic] et dominant le Wady Qumrân” (RB 63 [1956] p. 572). Combined and translated: “At the end of the platform/esplanade that extends to the south from the khirbeh and overlooks the Wadi Qumran, there exists a round chamber whose entire roof, entire southern part and a portion of the floor had collapsed into the Wadi Qumran. One reached it by a staircase which started from the edge of the platform, to the northwest of the room; only the lower steps of the staircase are preserved.” Therefore the identifying criteria for cave 7Q are: (a) The form of cave 7Q must be round. (b) Only its southern side wall, which overlooks the wadi is entirely missing. (c) Its roof must be entirely missing. (d) Its floor must be partially missing. All these features indeed fit the cave identified as 7Q, and no other cave, in the photograph.

Some confusion derives from problem that the present staircase which leads to this cave from the edge of the platform descends from the northeast and not the “northwest”. Since the actual cluster of caves can only be the three which have been identified in the photo, (with floors and doors of each nicely highlighted by the sun), there are only two possible explanations for this apparent discrepancy. (1) The described “original staircase” truly descended from the northwest but is no longer visible. (2) The word “northwest” is in error and should be corrected to “northeast.” I prefer the latter explanation since “the last steps” of the present stairway, which follows a sensible course from the edge of the platform, can be identified in most photos.

Perhaps I should include these paragraphs in the discussion, since recent publications indicate that there is still some confusion as to the location of these and other caves. Indeed, the official French volume of de Vaux, Humbert and Chambon, unfortunately may be, at least in part, the source of this confusion. Their publication exhibits inexactitudes in the artist’s drawing of the features of the marl formation resulting in erroneous identifications of caves 4Q (a and b), 5Q, 7Q, and 10Q (cf. R. de Vaux, J.-B. Humbert and A. Chambon, Fouilles de Khirbet Qumran et de Ain Feshkhah, Vol. 1 NTOA Series Archeologica 1, University Press Fribourg, Switzerland/Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen, 1994: plate II). In the Foreword to the English Annotated edition, acknowledgment was made by Humbert of my aid in the correct identification of the caves in the marl formation (The Excavations of Qumran and Ein Feshkha (Revised English Edition), NTOA Series Archeologica 1B, 2003: p. xv). This identification is based on the real features that exist, as evident from the photographs. Unfortunately, the NTOA series has not yet corrected the inexact drawings. Other scholars have tried their hand at identifying the location of these caves but have evidently built upon the erroneous identifications of the earlier publications (e.g., Broshi and Eshel, “Three Seasons of Excavations at Qumran,” Journal of Roman Archaeology. p. 322, fig.1) There the authors, without explanation, have re-identified cave 7Q as cave “H” and moved 7Q further to the east.


Humbert/Chambon: left; Broshi/ Eshel: center; Pfann, according to de Vaux’s description: right

If another collapsed cave does indeed exist to the east of the cluster 7Q-9Q, it was overlooked by de Vaux and his team, since they wrote nothing about it. If the new cave contains ancient material remains, then it comprises a new discovery worthy of being added to the list of Qumran caves. (This is not to ignore the valuable contributions of Broshi and Eshel’s work as a whole).

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