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VanderKam on the Essenes/community
As it seems necessary, I will attempt to make a critique of VanderKam's
statement of the Essene hypothesis.
1) He seems to assume a necessarily religiously-based community with a
causal connection to the dss.
2) He takes Pliny's much quoted passage regarding Essenes as a means of
establishing that religious community and at the same time that that
community was Essene.
3) He assumes unity of position within the dss, as though it is one body
representing basically one point of view, so that one can necessarily use
any one document to represent the opinions of the religiously-based
community he assumes at Qumran. He also basically assumes uniformity of
deposition -- that for example the fragments in caves 7 and 8 belong to the
same period as all the rest.
4) He is prepared to overlook a number of problems he himself is aware of.
(See part B of Ch 3 of "dss today") I'll let VanderKam speak for himself here.
5) He assumes that he can apply what Josephus says to a period that was
perhaps 200 years earlier, without considering the effects of an attempted
forced hellenization, forced conversions to Judaism, internecine struggles,
or Roman capture of Jerusalem and the ensuing pollution of the temple.
6) He dismisses two other theories in an all or nothing approach. The useful
things from those theories go by the wayside, just as the problems with his
7) He disregards the dss self appellation of "sons of Zadok" which would be
applicable only to the high priestly family.
Let me come back to Pliny. Pliny sees the Essenes as an isolated group
("tribe") living in the wilderness, which is totally contradicted by
Josephus. He says this community was above Ein Gedi, and, given the vicinity
of Qumran to Jericho, it would make much more sense to talk of "below
Jericho" if he was in fact talking of Qumran. Given that the sea level was
much higher at the time, Qumran was much closer to the water and the
"noxious exhalations". He talks of "only palm-trees for company" to the
Essenes, which makes sense if that community was much closer to Ein Gedi.
He criticizes Golb's saying of Pliny's description that the location doesn't
match Qumran and thus the community referred to by Pliny. However, using his
logic, he would have to accept the conflicting view of an earlier scholar
who said Qumran was in fact Gomorrah (due to location and linguistic
connection). Genesis says it was basically there, just as with a bit of
tweaking Pliny says the Essene community was there. VanderKam puts the onus
on Golb to show that Qumran was not the place referred to by Pliny: on such
evidence VanderKam would be laughed out of court.
VanderKam does not confront the serious problem of the multiplicity of
hands, as with the other supporters of the Essene hypothesis. It's better
not to talk about it. Let's assume an incredibly high literacy rate at
Qumran. Let's assume that almost no single member of the community who wrote
wrote more than once and that that writing indicated enough calligraphic
skill not to make many writing mistakes.
He does not answer at all Golb's statement that "no documentary texts, that
is, contracts, letters, business documents, and so on, were found at Qumran"
-- a statement that clearly follows from a well-organized community as the
one that VanderKam assumes. There were in fact no texts found among the
ruins. The so-called "writing-desks" interpretation that suited de Vaux is
now somewhat farsical. As to Roman type inkwells, well, we know that the
Romans did spend some time there.
A good scientific approach is to take the best of all hypotheses, not to
casually overlook that which doesn't subscribe to ones held position. He
finishes with "In sum, Schiffman's theory is not a genuine challenge of the
Essene identification..." meaning he can explain away the relationship
Schiffman makes between MMT and the Sadducees -- a relationship that I would
consider the temple status quo 175 bce. "...and Golb's hypothesis fails to
account adequately for the consistent character of the Qumran corpus [a
consistency not totally justified], for Pliny's statement [though better
than VanderKam], or for the Qumran buildings [notice the onus put on Golb]."
Pliny cannot be manipulated to justify an Essene identity for a community at
Qumran. Nevertheless, *even if he could*, one would have to prove the
continuity between the pre-Herodian dss and the post-Herodian "community",
and I have seen noone attempt to supply what that takes. We would be left
with Josephus, if we could make a connection between the dss, the Essenes
and the location.
Unfortunately, VanderKam, whose book I find very useful, doesn't make his
case for the Essenes or the community. Without knowing anything about the
sects prior to what Josephus says he is willing to project them back into
the dss without any yardstick to measure his conclusions by. We have no
known documents of any of those sects anywhere near the time of writing of
the dss. Both his and Schiffman's theories founder on this fact: they don't
know what they are talking about here, because they have no contemporary