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Re: Essenes, again.
Ian Hutchesson writes:
> Dear Russell,
> >when would
> >you date the incident when Manaemus the Essene predicted Herod the Great
> >would be king? This took place when Herod was a "boy" (Ant. 15.373).
> Sorry to answer a question with a question, but when do you think the news
> that Sargon of Akkad was fished out of the river as a baby hit the press?
> that Tuthmosis III was told by Amun that he would become pharaoh? I didn't
> think the Menahem story was one that anyone would want to take seriously.
> Herod needed legitimacy when he became king, not before.
According to the story, when Herod was a boy, "Menahem the Essene" slapped
him on the bottom and told him he would be king some day. After he became
king, this event was given great significance, and Herod honored the Essenes
as a result of this early incident. Now I totally agree with you that this
is a legitimacy story and that Menahem was not actually predicting Herod to
become king. And indeed, in the sequel it is evident that Menahem was
embarrassed at this incident being recalled and used to legitimize Herod's
reign. My interpretation is that the childhood incident has some slight
factual basis, and that probably Menahem was joking with the lad. But later
the incident was given great prophetic significance.
I know this explanation superficially sounds ad hoc, but it has dozens of
parallels in classical literature. I've done fairly extensive study on
kledonomancy, which basically was the Mediterranean divinatory practice of
reading great prophetic significance into chance overheard comments (often by
children). The significance of the comments was often not understood until
after some major event to which the comments (by hindsight) was taken to
apply. This childhood joke by Menahem later exaggerated into a deep prophecy
(to Menahem's own embarrassment) I take to be a similar example.
Hence the story, though not to be taken at face value, still speaks to
"Menahem the Essene" being a figure Herod encountered as a child. And
Menahem was hardly invented, given the later meeting of Menahem and Herod the
Great when the latter was king. So the story is still useful as evidence of
Essenes, known by that name, ca. 60 BCE.
> I don't know the prehistory of the Essenes (who does?), and I'm not
> to say that they did not exist before Pompey's arrival, but their
> at that time is just one hypothesis.
> If the non-biblical dss were written starting from the time of Onias III's
> exile, would you want to say that the Essenes were around at that time?
> Essene hypothesis does require that they were around at the start of such
I totally agree that the DSS were written starting the time of Onias III, and
also that the Essenes did not exist at that time. I can see no _evidence_,
even in the most doubtful Josephus references, to the Essenes as a distinct
sect before 100 BCE., or perhaps ca. 130 BCE if MMT was written under
Hyrkanus I. I use the term "Essene" in connection with the second century
BCE only with the greatest reluctance. The first century BCE Essenes claimed
Judah "the Essene" (ca. 100 BCE) as a spiritual ancestor, but whether Judah
or his coreligionists called themselves "Essene" is another matter. The
Essenes may even have claimed to have been the spiritual descendants of the
Hasideans (_if_ this derivation of Essene is correct, which I'm not
asserting), but to call the Hasideans Essenes would be clearly anachronistic.
However, does the "Essene hypothesis" (i.e. the identification of the 1st
century BCE/CE Essenes of Josephus as the perservers of the DSS) really
require the existence of second century BCE Essenes who wrote the DSS? I
don't think so. See below.
Stolen from Ian's discussions with Moshe, Ian writes:
> Though I doubt it, the Essene hypothesis may be correct. This does not mean
> that we can afford to accept it blithely and then interpret everything in
> that light. Let us assume for the moment that it is wrong: everything we
> interpret to fit the Essene hypothesis will mean making the dss
> fit the hypothesis and not making the hypothesis fit the dss. The dss are
> our source material, not the Essene hypothesis. The further you push the
> Essenes the further you go out on a ledge. That is not a safe position.
I'm fairly convinced, having read most of the arguments pro and con starting
from the 1950s, that the Essenes were the inheritors of the DSS -- though
based on MMT the Sadducees may have also had the same practices. But most of
the DSS come from an earlier period, before either Essenes or Sadducees, in
my opinion, except for some late outliers like MMT and some calendrical
Hence I agree with you Ian, on a methodological level. Josephus and his
account of the Essenes are of no relevance in interpreting the DSS. Let the
DSS interpret themselves with no recourse to Josephus, who is describing
later groups and practices. I prefer to use the term "Dead Sea Scrolls
sectarians" to describe the authors of the scrolls. "Essenes" or even
"Qumran sectarians" are at best anachronistic, and probably inaccurate to use
in connection with the authors of the scrolls, who (mostly) predate both the
Essenes and Qumran. But that being said, on a factual level a _separate_
case may still be made that in the first century, Essenes and/or people
associated with the Qumran fortress may have preserved the scrolls. But this
is not useful in interpreting the scrolls themselves.