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Re: Josephus & DSS
> First, I would suggest that you virtually disregard Josephus as a credible
> witness to the Essene movement or anything else. There is an astonishing
> idea among some scholars that Josephus is reliable history. This is simply
> not the case. Josephus was biased and his works were simply self serving;
> in short, he is as historically reliable as something like the Biblical book
> of Acts.
Well, yes and no, Jim. Yes, I definitely agree that Josephus has his
own agenda and certainly shapes "history" to fit that agenda. BUT, I
wouldn't want to dismiss him altogether. A more useful perspective
might be to say, "I know the following things about Josephus' bias, now
what predictions can I make about his versions of things?" Thus, we can
say (just for the sake of an example)
that the Pharisees, Sadducees, etc. WERE important groups of first
century Jews (as J. says), but this should also raise a whole host of
- when Josephus says "party" or "philosophy," what might he mean?
- what groups are going to be highlighted b/c they fit J's picture?
- what groups will be swept under the rug?
> Once Josephus has rightly been abandoned as a historical source one is freed
> from his fetters to understand the Qumran documents on their own terms.
Again, yes and no. I think that it's important to make use of whatever
evidence we have, even when that evidence is profoundly, significantly
flawed. Don't throw it out, just don't claim that it stands as The Truth.
Read it, for what it's worth, but always be conscious of
your doubts (that is, the specific doubts themselves, and not just the
fact that you have them).
> Thus, one should begin with a thorough reading of the documents themselves
> (and I recommend Garcia-Martinez's translation). Doing this will enable you
> to hear the documents themselves without Josephus whispering in your ear.
OK, I definitely agree with you there (on reading the texts first; I
have no opinion about specific editions at this time) -- try to let each
item speak for itself, and then try to think about how all the evidence
contradicts (and why it might) and how it fits (and why it might).
Also, let's not forget that Pliny and Philo also mention some
movement(s) called Essene. Of course, we can't read their accounts as
transparent communication of historical reality, either (but none of us
would do that sort of thing in any case, would we? ;> ). It's a matter of
treating *all* of our evidence (*including* the Qumran documents
themselves!) with a hermeneutic of suspicion.
Eager to hear other responses,
(another humble grad student)