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First, I want to thank Robert Kraft for taking the time to write his message
relating to Pliny. Last year I did something similar but in no sense as
complete. Essentially, what I did related to Pliny's use of the word "infra"
through several chapters of his work.
I did want to question the statement made by Kraft that he "would doubt that
the [use of] 'socia palmarum' requires palm trees in Pliny's understanding -
it may simply be an idiom describing the solitariness and lack of social
contamination of this people." My observation would be that using "palms" as
a idiom for solitariness would, it seems, be somewhat inconsistent with the
role that palms play in this area of the world. For example, the three
places discussed where palms are found are Jerusalem, En Gagdi, and Jericho.
These are not solitary places. Nor is an oasis generally considered a
solitary place but rather a place for social interaction. Had Pliny said
that Essens were among the caves or living with the lizards these might have
been idioms for solitariness.
It seems to me that it is more likely that the reference to palms was literal
and, as I suggested earlier, may indicate a religious significance. Is there
anything in the Qumran cache of scrolls discussing palms?