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Re: Josephus & DSS

At 08:44 PM 9/18/96 -0400, you wrote:
>Thank you for responding to my query:
>I understand you to be saying  that, because Josephus has a discernible bias
>toward certain parties  about whom he writes, and writes, to some extent, for
>self-vindication,  he cannot be trusted to convey reliable information about
>anything or anyone.  

Yes.  That is, Josephus should not be taken as a "historian".  He is more,
in modern terms, a "novelist".  His stories may perhaps be "true to life"
but they are not thereby necessarily "true".  Whether or not he is
"reliable" depends on what you mean by that word.  I think he is not.  A
case in point: Jospehus says that at Masada hundreds of Jews were killed.
But the archeological evidence shows this to be impossible (disregarding all
the gymnastics undertaken to show otherwise).  Thus, Josephus is here
unreliable.  His descriptions of Jewish sects were intended to curry favor
with Rome; his description of the Essenes included.  They are therefore
biased and likewise unreliable as source for historical reconstruction.

>Would that not hold true for any other ancient (or modern, for that matter)

Yes- every historians wok must be placed under examination.  Why are people
so willing to believe something simply because someone else says it?  Eduard
Schewizer told us one time that Americans are footnote crazy.  That is, we
listen without thinking critically about what is said.  Was he right?

>Will you similarly discard any evidence provided by Thucydides, Pliny,
Origen or
>Eusebius because they had their own perspectives and agendas? 

Yes.  If what they say cannot be verified, it is simply so much novella.

>Now it seems as though you are suggesting that an unknown, unnamed author of a
>text found at Qumran is more reliable than Josephus is. 

FIrst, you must be assuming that I desire to use the Qumran texts to
reconstruct the whole of Jewish history.  I am not.  I am simply saying that
if you want to understand what someone has said you must read their words
and not someone's interpretation of those words.  (ad fontes!!!!!)

> Having read some of
>these texts already

Some?  To gain a complete understaning one must read them ALL.

>, I certainly do not see their author(s) as being "objective"
>in any sense of the word about the era in which they lived or their
>religio-political enemies.  

You make my point for me.

>How can I arbitrarily decide that they are to be
>believed, Josephus is not?


>And besides (to return to my original question to which you responded),  the
>author(s) of the scrolls never claim in any document thus found  that they are
>Essenes.  Josephus is our primary source for information that there ever was a
>group called "Essenes."  So how can throwing out Josephus and his evidence
>"prove" that the Qumranites were Essenes? 
>                                                 Respectfully,
>                                                 Beruriah Bloom

You can't!!!!  But which do you wish- to understand the Qumranites as they
understood themselves or as Josephus the novelist understood them?



Jim West
Professor of Biblical Languages, CCBI
Adjunct Professor of Bible, Quartz Hill School of Theology