Published online by Cambridge University Press: 08 March 2010
This chapter deals with a specific phenomenon, namely the Qumranites in the late Second Temple period. In our discussion of the inner dialectic marked by a tendency towards conservatism and also by the development of new theological concepts, it is assumed that the Qumranites do not stand alone. The tension between both poles might be a useful frame of reference for the understanding of other religious phenomena. Here it will be discussed within the limits of one distinguishable group.
As such the Qumranites were an actual part of the religionhistorical scene of their time. Though confining ourselves to some aspects of this group, we would like to call to mind some of the characteristic elements of the broader situation which might have influenced the thoughts of the Qumranites.
Right from its beginning the period of the Second Temple was marked by an ongoing debate about Jewish self-definition. This debate has different strands. The Babylonian exile contributed markedly to the self-awareness of Israel confronting other nations and religions, and by doing so sharpened later controversies during the Hellenistic period. Hellenistic culture was a real challenge by its sheer presence as well as its possible influence upon Judaism. This had consequences for Israel's relation to other nations as well as for the growing ‘nationalism’, though the forms of contact with Hellenism and Hellenistic people did not necessarily define the amount of cultural influence.