Sectarian Marital Practice: Rethinking the Role of Sexuality in the Dead Sea Scrolls

in Dead Sea Discoveries

Abstract

Dead Sea Scrolls scholarship has historically emphasized a binary between the celibate yaḥad of the Community Rule and the marrying edah of the Damascus Document and Rule of the Congregation. An early focus on celibacy has given way in recent years to arguments for the near ubiquity of marriage in the scrolls movement. In place of dichotomies of marriage and celibacy, the complexities of sexuality in the scrolls are best understood in terms of a sexually-limiting sectarian marital practice. This marital practice is grounded in a theology of perfection and is best understood in light of sociological approaches to the evidence in the scrolls. In addition to better explaining the evidence for sexuality in the scrolls, a reading from this perspective may, potentially, shed light on the perennial question of whether the movement began with marriage or celibacy as its prevailing social norm.

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